Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Idea of India

Was secular India a colonial dream? Thought up by an English educated elite with no connections with the people on the ground? Were these thoughts impractical, artificial and merely an empty rhetoric?

Time we revisit this, and ask ourselves these questions again and again. The last 20 years have put the Indians in an unique position – with a sense of power and confidence in front of the world, but ever more insecure and confused about their own identity, and what they stand for.

Recently, I have re-read that brilliant essay on Modern India, The Idea of India [by Sunil Khilani]. An wide array of Indian Intellectuals have also written extensively, each trying to reach a definition of Indian-ness. We had various visions and representations of India’s past and its present, and dreams and plans for its future. But, today, it needs a clearer answer – on the wake of the carnage in Gujrat and spreading High Technology industry in Bangalore, the global buzz on India and the decay in its inner cities, the confusion in its higher education and the confidence of its global elite – what India stands for.

On a personal note, I have always been a Bengalee first and then an Indian. I have felt threatened by the advent of Hindi, thought it is unfair to have so much centralization of power in such a diverse country and always felt a certain oneness with people in Bangladesh, who belong to a different nation.

For me, India is not only a geographical entity or a picture in the geography book. It is not a picture of Bharat Mata, nor my ration card [I don’t know why I have one, and why Indians treat that as an identity] nor my passport. It is not my nationality – as I said I am a bengalee first – nor my language [I speak little Hindi] or my culture [I am well versed with Hindu mythology and religious texts, but my culture is more defined by its liberal and humanist interpretations done by 19th century ‘Renaissance’ intellectuals of Bengal].

But, I am an Indian – true to heart. I love my country. That is my identity. And, it is a political one. As an Indian, I am free to have any private religion, but must treat every other religion with respect. I must value humanity, do everything to help peace and prosperity in my community and in others, and I must accept diversity as the way of the world. True to this thinking, I must put my faith in the rule of law and parliamentary process – above my natural tribal inclinations to impose my Bengalee-ness over everyone else.

Returning to the initial question, secularism was central to Indian-ness, a key concept which enabled the political formation. Without secularism and diversity, India will not exist, and will degenerate into tribalism which many newly independent African states have done. It will not be democratic and follow the routes of other states where Military took over as the only force acceptable to everyone. It will not have a rule of law, and since each of the communities are large and self-sustaining, if there is no parliamentary arbitration, it will break up into pieces.

There is only one India, the secular democratic one. We dont have a choice. Far from being elitist and disconnected, the founding fathers have opted for the most sustainable model of the nation which is so diverse.

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