Whither idea of India?

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It is happening too often and it is too vicious. Parochialism is rearing its ugly head in Mumbai too frequently. The Shiv Sena is threatening to throw out ‘outsiders’ from the city and the rest of Maharashtra. Self-centred party chief Bal Thackery has created a ruckus once again, this time dragging into controversy Sachin Tendulkar, the world’s best batsman, who said after the 20th year of playing cricket that he was proud to be a Maharashtrian but he was Indian first. How should this remark irritate anybody? Still the shrill voice is coming from Mumbai.

I think it is time that Mumbai be made a Union Territory. Industrially and commercially, it is the hub of India’s financial activity. Delhi is a Union Territory because it is the centre of the country’s political activity. Why should Mumbai, which is India’s financial capital, have a different status from that of Delhi?

People from the various part of the country have settled in Mumbai making large investments and contributing their labour and entrepreneurship for decades to make Mumbai what it is today. More money has come from others, not the Maharashtrians. Even population-wise, my impression is that the non-Maharashtrians are slightly more.

If nothing else, the contributions by ‘outsiders’ should shut up the Shiv Sena and its ilk, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, that they are a burden on Mumbai or that the jobs in the state should be given to the Maharashtrians alone. This pernicious thesis, the son-of-the-soil articulation, was advanced by many states, including Maharashtra, before the Fazal Ali States Reorganisation Commission in 1955. It firmly rejected the various claims and held: “It is the Union of India that is the basis of our nationality.” In its report, the Commission said that “it (Bombay) has acquired its present commanding position by the joint endeavour of the different language groups.”

The proposal that Bombay should be constituted as a separate unit was first mooted by the Dar Commission when the Constituent Assembly was debating in 1949 the formation of linguistic states. The then ruling Congress party accepted the proposal for the reorganisation of states.

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru took fancy to the idea of keeping Bombay apart. He pushed it when Maharashtra and Gujarat were agitating against the Commission’s recommendation to integrate them into one, bi-lingual state. Nehru presented before the Cabinet a proposal to have three units: Maharashtra, Gujarat and the city of Bombay. The then Finance Minister C D Deshmukh, agreed to the formula in the Cabinet. But he changed his stand following the furore in Maharashtra and submitted his resignation from the government. Bombay was made part of Maharashtra.

Linguistic states

Nevertheless, the linguistic states have not been of much help to the country. They are increasingly becoming ‘islands of chauvinism.’ The son-of-the-soil thesis is having precedence. This was the danger to which Nehru drew attention to after new boundaries were drawn on the basis of language. The BJP-run Madhya Pradesh is the latest one to announce that it does not want the Bihari labour.

Unfortunately, the manner in which certain administrations have conducted their affairs has partly contributed to the growth of parochial sentiments. The rulers have an eye on elections, not realising that the idea of India gets defeated if people have the domicile considerations at top. The prosperity of some states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka has raised questions in UP, Bihar and Orissa, the economically backward areas, that they were not getting their due. Relations between the Centre and the states have got strained on this count and they get aggravated when the states are hit by flood or scarcity.

In the late fifties, the southern states generally felt that they were not getting their share. There were agitations and public rallies. Nehru was quick to convene a meeting National Integration Council to discuss the different grievances and points of view. The Council appointed many committees to give their recommendations on how to bring about national integration.

Before they could submit the reports, China attacked India in 1962. All committees made just one comment: The Chinese invasion had united the entire country. Indeed, this was true because all dissenting voices died in no time. Even the Chinese were surprised because their assessment before hostilities was that India was disintegrating.

The country had another jolt in the eighties. The Akalis in Punjab revolted. The state was in the midst of militancy for about a decade. The Sikhs themselves turned against the militants who had made their life hell. Punjab is today one of the peaceful states.

No doubt, the basis of nationality is the Union of India. The states are but the limbs of the Union. Yet the limbs must be healthy and strong. Some states have too many poor people concentrated in their territory. Yet what keeps India together is its diversity. By dividing the country into linguistic spheres or by injuring the rights of those who are in a minority, the parochial elements are posing a danger to the very idea of India. It is better that organisations like the Shiv Sena understand this.

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