Friday, November 20, 2009

Nationality is the only identity

I always like to pronounce the name Bal Thackeray because of the Bengali intonation of the word 'Bal'!! I used to like him a lot because he has guts and is not pretentious. He doesn't like Pakistan and he makes it very clear in all possible ways. He did do some good development in Maharashtra when he was in power. Well, that's good, but there's one basic problem in the functioning of people like him - they seem to think that a regional identity is more important than the national.

He suffers from the same cancerous disease that was perhaps introduced for the first time in India by the Tamil leader Anna. I may be wrong, but I don't recall any other leader before him who had put forward a regional identity above everything else. Irrespective of multiple empires rising in India, throughout the history the entire landmass of Indian subcontinent used to be always referred to as a single civilization by the external world. The name India or Indika or Hindustan never denoted any particular empire or group of people. From Chandragupta Maurya to Shivaji every emperor was always an Indian emperor. Though truly regional powers, still the Vijaynagar or the Chola kingdoms were always referred to as Indian kingdoms. Even now irrespective of the religion or language apart from being Indian there's no other identity that an Indian has when he or she is abroad. How many people outside know of so many languages of India. Does it make any sense to stand at the emigration counter in Iceland and say that I'm a Bengali or Tamil?

This doesn't mean that the regional identity is insignificant.

I've been recently reading "Identity and Violence" by Amartya Sen and he has dealt with this very topic in a very elaborate manner. Every individual has multiple identities and all of these identities may be equally important to him or her. Suppressing one particular identity and highlighting another is not a good idea. Different identities have significance at different forums. A person can be a Hindu, but a non-vegetarian, a lover of Qawali music, a gay, an economist, a speaker of Bengali, Hindi and English languages, born to parents who stay in West Bengal, a native of Bangalore for the past thirty years and so on. Each identity has a significance. When the person wants to enter into the Jagannath Temple in Puri his Hindu identity is important otherwise he won't be allowed to enter. When he books a flight ticket he has to inform that he needs a non-vegetarian meal in flight. When there's a function by Rehat Fateh Ali Khan in Bangalore then he buys a ticket because he loves Qawali. When he buys an agricultural land in Bangalore his domicile identity as a resident of Karnataka for the past thirty years is important. Each identity is thus dependent on a particular event or activity.

It's really foolish to flaunt the irrelevant identity at the wrong place. It's foolish to flaunt the Karnataka domicile identity for buying a flight ticket. The only thing relevant here is whether he takes vegetarian or non vegetarian food. Like wise for his employment as the professor of Economics at a university in Timbuktu the only identity that is relevant is his being an economist. It's immaterial if he is a Hindu or a gay or a vegetarian.

Like wise it's totally immaterial whether I'm a Maharashtrian or a Tamilian if I want to reside in Bombay. As long as I'm an Indian or a foreigner with a valid Visa, I can stay in Bombay like anyone else. Sachin very correctly pointed out that he is proud of being a Maharashtrian, but he is also an Indian. He also iterated that Bombay belongs to the whole of India. I wish some one told the same thing to Anna that Madras or Tamil Nadu belongs to India not to someone who speaks Tamil or who have stayed in Tamil Nadu for hundred years!!

If we go back a little, in the pre-independence era, Jawaharlal Nehru and his colleagues in Congress had opted for a strong centralized government with lesser power to the states. Jinnah had opted exactly the opposite - a weak federal government with autonomy for states - something like USA. Fast forward 60 years and we know which is a better model. There's still not much of difference of culture between the people of Pakistan and India. Still Pakistan is on the verge of disintegration and India is still better off, though we do have our own internal problems. The only reason is that Pakistan never had a strong federal government which is very important for such a multi cultural and diverse country. Historically also only those empires became large and successful in India who had very strong federal governments with limited powers to states. Starting from Chandragupta Maurya-Ashoka to Akbar-Shivaji, every where it's the same story. If today we allow the regions to grow stronger than the center then we're also going the same way as Pakistan.

You may argue then why is USA so successful. Haven't you heard of different strokes for different folks? Culturally we're different and much diverse than USA. Europe never became a strong nation, rather remained a cluster of small regional powers for ever because of the same reason. They are also culturally as diverse as India but they very rarely had strong and powerful federal governments like that of Ashoka's or the Mughals or the Government of India in the past 60 years!!

So that's it.... let's really put an end to these silly regional politics. No regional identity should be allowed to rise beyond the national identity. There's no place for a Raj or a Bal or an Anna!! As the Bengalis say, these are all 'BAL'!!

No comments: