Mar 01, 2017

India, Hindustan, Bharat

M. Suresh Rao

At the convent school where I studied in Delhi in the ‘fifties, class began with the prayer “our father who art in heaven….” the set of words were simple, understandable, sensible, save that the prayer was traceable to the Bible. The students of this school, had a moral compass embedded in their impressionable minds that superseded nationalism, the term in currency now. Nationalism can be described as old fashioned patriotism packaged in resurgent Bharatiya ‘thinking’.

For our post-independence rulers, churches or mandirs were not the manifestation of religion as were the Bhakra dam, BHEL, the IITs……which were built as the “temples of modern India”. A revolutionary thought, unacceptable to most Indians, steeped as we are in religious beliefs and practices though there was huge acceptance of the democratically elected leader for his sterling role in the country’s freedom movement.

Today, the ‘winds of change blowing’ across the country are stoking nationalism which holds that the temples of modern India are the temples of Hindustan. This thinking is seen to be espoused by the current democratically elected ruler and his followers. There is a visible, conscious effort at manifesting our religious roots in all walks of life.

However, there is a significant difference in the social mind set then and now. Then, the ‘mango man’ was a humble follower who accepted the wisdom of his party leader whereas today he is a demanding member who expects his needs to be fulfilled by the party leader. This situation has been brought about by India’s political evolution abetted by our declining morality over the years. The result is competitive politics where rules are set not just by the Election Commission. Beliefs vocally espoused by societal elements irrespective of legality, appear to be gaining legitimacy, with tolerance by the state.

The twin trends of nationalism and competitive politics impacting the country are creating a socio-political environment differing vastly from the tolerant milieu that prevailed in post-independence India. How do we describe the state of the nation today? Where could it take us if the trends are allowed to continue, unchecked? Is the situation likely to become alarming enough to strike a severe blow to our national identity – or can our collective common sense safeguard our existence as a diverse nation?

One litmus test is our commitment to a common understanding of secularism. Then, being secular officially meant treating all religions on par and the State committed to influencing reforms in unfair religious practices while distancing itself from religious (Hindu) customs, practices and mythology in education and in the running of the government. Secularism was to mean that, unlike the USA, India was not a melting pot of immigrants but a ‘mixture’ (an all-Indian savoury) of religions and cultures rooted in the soil of the country that retained their individuality and combined to create the unique taste of India. The practice of this concept of secularism would evolve under State guidance, safeguarded by the rule of law.

While enlightened policy formulation is the outcome of a few distilled minds aspiring to shape the destiny of a newly emerging nation, execution on the ground is given to the practitioners of party politics whose simple objective is to be elected. Consequently, secularism in practice, was distorted for political gains. An example being allowing construction of mosques while disallowing temples. Over the years instead of fulfilling the vision of a free and forward looking society, secularism was used to often defend regressive customs. Quite rightly, the term became synonymous with “minority appeasement”, ironically resulting in their continued economic and social backwardness.

The backlash to this perception was only to be expected. More so given the belief held by many Hindus that Muslims were invaders who injected Islam through force. Were not the Muslims in our only Muslim majority state, Kashmir, clamouring for azaadi, if not accession to Pakistan, went the Hindu argument.

The decline of Nehruism propelled the revival of Hinduism, there being no other binding ‘ism’ other than casteism. If as a Hindu I felt self-conscious in following rituals in public then, I flaunt my religion now. Acknowledging minorities and paying attention to their betterment is being ‘sickular’, openly celebrating India’s Hindu culture and attempting to reform outdated practices of other religions (emphasis on Islam) is being secular, so goes the view of a significant number of Indians, cutting across socio-economic categories.

In religious India, Nehruism as a way of life, had little chance to survive after him. Hindu society continued with child marriage, caste discrimination and other customs despite official disapproval. So too, did Islam with its obscurantist customs and Christianity pursue conversion, often through inducements. Only a massive, state sponsored purge of Maoist proportions could have made India a “colourless, odourless, tasteless” society uprooted from its timeless traditions.

Will the manner in which secularism is increasingly practised create the required level of stability in society to foster poverty eliminating growth? This is where the spectre of competitive politics muddies the pool. Are the caste and community based leaders resourceful enough to unleash their demanding followers before elections and leash them after? Can they perform this acrobatic act and also work to alleviate poverty? Or should we be looking for charismatic and clean leaders, to steer us along the path of development for all notwithstanding the growing disillusionment with leaders like Arvind Kejriwal.

What seems clear is that secularism for modern India should be the ‘mixture’ concept instead of the ‘melting pot’ concept (under question in its home base, the US, with immigrants now from non-European and also non-Christian countries). Mixture has distinct ingredients transformed into a recipe by the ‘tadka’. Identifying the sustainable tadka for 21st century India will not be an easy political task, the challenges of competitive politics will be tough to overcome. We will need political leadership with the mission and the mettle to move the people to this purpose with unflinching support from bureaucracy and judiciary.

Litmus test two is our stand on a national language for India.

India is probably the only sizeable country in the world where the majority of the population is ignorant of the languages in which the affairs of state and the economy are conducted. Take English, which has been the ruling language by default – more than two-thirds of the people cannot understand this language. Hindi is barely better – here too the majority is ignorant of the language. And regional languages are restricted to states.

Learning in your mother tongue reduces the stress of assimilation. Communication too is more effective through the mother tongue. Besides, language has largely defined a nation. However, India has several mother tongues! Should our country have one national language? What should this language be? North Indians assume it should be Hindi. Why? Because north Indians spread across four contiguous states, speak in that language. How valid is this argument? Responses range from not at all in states like Tamil Nadu to perhaps in Maharashtra. Hindi is familiar to about 40 per cent of the total population.

Till now, language was not an issue with English as the ruling language equally foreign to all. However, along with nationalism, Hindi is observed to be creeping into the woodwork of the country. Leading this initiative is the Prime Minister himself whose mastery over the language is impressive even though it is not his mother tongue! ‘Imposing’ Hindi along with its culture and mythology is bound to generate upheavals at the ground level in other parts of the country. They know how the adoption of the three language formula in schools was stymied in the North by choosing Sanskrit as the third language instead of a living non-Hindi language. India’s capital also being located in the North only aggravates the problem. Hot headed youth in pursuit of jobs will take to the streets en masse to block these measures. How about the deep felt grievance morphing as a revolt against the colonising of the Dravidians by the Aryans!

Pride in regional language, culture and mythology is alive and thriving in India. English, being the gateway to the world, is really the common language connecting the country. Replacing it with Hindi would mean imposing inequality over 60 per cent of Indians.

Caste and income discrimination, the visible problems facing the country can be overcome through policy implemented with purpose. Religion and language create emotional fissures in a democracy. No country in the world is as diverse as India, what has held it together so far? A democracy that allows citizens to practise their religion and language in the region of their origin and communicate in English beyond.

A medium term solution to a united India would be to re-locate India’s capital to Hyderabad and implement the three language formula in letter and spirit, while retaining the role of English.

Despite border incursions, acts of terrorism, global alignments, India is presently leading with the highest rate of growth. Let that not make us oblivious to the trends that can be ominous if not handled with statesmanship and in time.

Why not rename India as Bharat as part of the ‘deal’?

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