A well known, very publicity friendly MP from the East Coast of India wrote an article in a newspaper popular in the East Coast of the US where it was called out how Bengal is different from the rest of India – because a certain politician won the election. Subsequent violence that happened in the state was ignored. And this victory was used to point out how Bengal is different.
Every now and then you will keep hearing this narrative. Tamil Nadu is different from the rest of India, Tamil is not an Indian language – and there a certain segment has fantasies of a country separate from India that existed before India herself. Kerala is another state where this narrative has gained ground. Not only is the Keralite different from the rest of India, they are also highly intelligent and every little thing is hyped as “Kerala model” Kashmir (note, not Jammu and Kashmir) has its own unique culture and does not belong to India at all (so says the narrative).
What is common here? What is being said and what is unsaid?
The idea is to create artificial divides in a population that has always been diverse. Remember Unity in Diversity? India has always truly been diverse. The culture, language, dialects, food – yes, we have been different. India has never strived to impose a single culture across the country. So, yes, indeed, every state is different from every other state. Indeed, inside every state you will find differences (including in Bengal, Kerala and Kashmir) and further there are incredible differences in who we are. And thats what makes us so unique.
This is a given. So, why this narrative? The narrative enables these politicians to create divides where none exist. Remember, the BJP wants a Hindu united vote. The others want a united Minority vote. Thus it is stressed that a Bengali is different from others and a Keralite is different from others and so on. The more Hindus buy into this, the easier it becomes for them to get a fractured, divided India where a majority of the minority vote and a minority of the majority vote will see them through to power unlike a BJP which is trying to unite the voters.
Hence this Marathi versus Gujarati story in Maharashtra (Mumbai). And the South India versus North India story. And the Hindi versus Tamil narrative story in Tamil Nadu (though the Hindi imposition did happen, Bollywood has more than erased this issue, but local politicians are still keeping these fires alive) and the Sikhs different from Hindus in Punjab is the latest of these. Caste based parties are another angle of ensuring that this divide continues. Hence this strong us versus them debate is being created as a narrative. And I see reasonably well educated people believe this. This narrative is to create cracks in the United Hindu vote and try to create an entity to oppose the BJP. Simply because it benefits them.
How to counter this narrative? The first is to simply state that yes, India has always been a liberal, diverse country, thanks to the philosophy of Hindus. The second is that as much as we are different, we need each other and most of us are mobile to move across states in search of education, jobs and other prospects. The third is that beneath all this, underlying it, is our strong philosophy – the fact that celebrate festivals at the same time, worship the same gods and so on.
And this will enable them to say that India is not a country at all. At which point it is appropriate to quote statet that Germany was about 300 principalities, almost all independent- which means, Germany could also have been one, two or 300 countries. Did you know that after the 11th century, there is no ‘English’ dynasty ruling England? And that at the First world war did they change their dynasty name from Guelph to the less German sounding Windsor? And that much of Europe was smallish principalities before it became what we know it as today?” “Only about a dozen states can be construed as countries as per your logic that countries have to exist as a country for millenia”, would be a great reminder at this point. (That quote is by Ed Hobsbawm –Nations and Nationalism since 1780).