The other day, I was out with my friends, the four of us were sipping the best possible filter coffee in the South Indian city of Chennai (Madras). The un-Indianness of the city, and the state, never ceased to amaze me and as a staunch nationalist my three friends had to listen to brazen idea after idea of how we could mend it.
As any (North) Indian would testify, making Hindi compulsory is the first solution. Granted that is done and by some miracle a generation later all of Tamil Nadu speaks Hindi, would the nation be any stronger, better off by adding 80 million people to the Hindi-speaking world?
My problem was never the un-Indianness of the southern states or the North Eastern ones, it was the un-Indianness of all of India. What do we, as a nation, believe in? What do we believe is our place in the world? Can we, as a people, pull together and achieve it? But rather more pertinent would be to wonder whether we belong to each other, to the same "nation"? The North to the South and the East to the West. The Hindus to the Muslims and the Buddhists to the Sikhs. The Telugus to the Rajasthani and the Kashmiris to Biharis. Let's leave the more pertinent questions for later, including my statement of the un-Indianness of Chennai. These are deep questions indeed, and hopefully in the course of these posts, I will touch upon them.
By the time the coffee sipping came around, I was pretty deep into my study of ethnicity. My brazen idea that day was to give any child born anywhere in the world, to an Indian parent/s or even a single Indian grandparent an Indian passport - ethnic nationalism. I knew the shortfalls of what I had just uttered. Being Indian is a very hard thing to define. A thousand different languages, the birthplace of four religions and a land inhabited by immigrant upon immigrant were all mitigating factors, let alone the right to self-determinism. Somewhere in the argument I also said India is the land of Hindus, and you can imagine the umbrage of the two Catholics in the group. They said they are just as Indian and they are absolutely right. Generation upon generation has grown up being taught that each of one us, irrespective of caste or religion, is Indian. Nothing Orwellian here folks. All Indians are just as equal.
I will let today's post deal with just one facet of strengthening the national identity - statecraft, India gave it to the world after all. (for the uninitiated, Chanakya pre-dates Machiavelli by more than 1500 years and it is hard to believe Machiavelli didn't read Arthashastra before writing his Arthashastra). That one organ of the nation which remains sacrosanct - untouched by political parties, essentially a propaganda machine. As silly as it sounds, it is the best starting point. To instill pride among a people, we need to be told of our victories, of our greatness; very often. The victories at WTO, where the nation won concessions to well, continue giving concessions to the poor, the Indian aid to build the Afghan Parliament premises, the Indian involvement in Maldives, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh must all be trumpeted. No nation is foolish enough to not act in national interest, but if ever there was one which looks to "just help" and take stock of the situation later, it is India. This must be known to Indians and the world. The treatment of Indian Muslims is perhaps as good as it gets anywhere in the world, including the Islamic world. There are separate Haj terminals at the major airports to facilitate their pilgrimage to Mecca. And we have built them without ever facilitating travel to Amarnath, Kedarnath, Puri or the Kumbh Mela (all Hindu places of pilgrimage/congregations). For the 1 billion plus Hindus, there are no special arrangements to visit any of these places, and yet they are more than happy to accommodate the pilgrimage to Mecca. I don't know of another country which does this. This is not to raise questions about equality, but to re-enforce the truth of our equality. Equality which we give each other, the day we were born, yet we seem to forget it because it is so commonplace. Granted, that is the best form of equality - the unconscious form, but in a nation being put through major sectarian violence at least once every decade, these messages need to be enforced.
Whether Indians following religions other than Hinduism accept they have Hindu ancestry, like some political parties want them to, is immaterial. What is important, is that in this day and age; we are all treated as equals and India's victories are every Indian's victories. Let this be known, Statecraft.
Next in the series: The National Identity II - Look outwards, close by - October 2014