June 29, 2008

Today’s India needs another ‘Iron Man’ in the form of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel!!

Even before the dust over the one and half month long Gujjar agitation, which killed more than forty people and brought the whole of North India’s rail network to a standstill, could end, India is getting besieged again with another round of violent agitation; and this time in its eastern front. With the agitation of the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha taking a violent turn and having called an indefinite strike in the hills from 16th of June, the impending crisis and the fear of the Punjab like situation of the 80s is haunting the Indian government once again. Nevertheless, if one looks in retrospect at the series of events that have been taking place in the last few years, it does not portend good about the future of a country which has for a long period of time boasted of being the paradigm of unity in diversity.

Whether it is the agitations in Maharashtra for giving a preferential treatment to Marathi speaking people, or the age old conflict between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over the sharing of the water of river Kaveri, in each case identity politics is getting the better of economic and national aspects. More unfortunate than this is the fact that in most of the cases (while it suits the regional parties to rake in such emotive regional issues for consolidating their regional vote banks), the common man in each of those states, despite knowing the triviality of such regionalism, unwillingly gets sucked into it. In fact, many of the insurgent groups operating in India are also perfect examples of how regionalism and identity grouping are hitting India from all sides. Take the case of the United Liberation Front of Assam, better known as ULFA. This banned outfit has not only been fighting for a separate state nation of Assam, but has been mercilessly killing migrant labourers who work in Assam. Most of such poor daily-wagers hail from some of the poorest districts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar; and all that is achieved by killing such hapless people of one state in another state is to pit one against the other, wherein the advantage goes to none. No wonder, sooner or later, revenge killings take place and for the fault of some, a few other innocents too pay with their lives. In the same league, consider Manipur, Tripura or Nagaland. While in Manipur, there are seven major militant organisations fighting for secession from the Union of India, Tripura and Nagaland each has two major terror outfits that have similar secessionist agendas based on regionalism. Not far from the place where the agitations for Gorkhaland are going on, people of Kamtapur have been waging a war against the state for a separate state of Kamtapur; and it is reported that they have even joined hands with ULFA and ISI for the same. In Cooch Behar in North Bengal (which was a princely state before independence), similar violent agitations were witnessed a few years back with similar demands. If Gorkhaland is given a nod, then Kamtapuris and people of Cooch Behar too would ask for similar concessions; and consequently nothing would remain of West Bengal.

Though on the face of it, one can see the mindless bloodshed by various insurgent groups and blame them, but then, it is a universal fact that most of such conflicts are politically instigated. All thanks to regional and populist politics that the identity of ‘being Indian’ has been increasingly eroding. Consider Rajasthan. Forget being Indian, unfortunately today there aren’t even ‘Rajasthanis’. They are Rajputs, Brahmins, Gujjars, Meenas or Jats. The fact is that this has gone beyond religion, or about being an upper caste or a lower caste. In-between castes, people are now seeking to be identified as exclusive groups. So, while in Rajasthan both the Jats and Gujjars have OBC status – which incidentally should have united them – at the same time, they fail to see eye to eye, because in this fight over this ‘backward’ tag, it is a mad rat race amongst the caste groups. Incidentally, this Gujjar movement did not get restricted to Rajasthan only. Everywhere, especially in North India, Gujjars were up in arms and happy to get violent, without perhaps even knowing what they were agitating for. And one doesn’t even need to mention separately the bitter experiences of Kashmir and Punjab where too it was a worse form of regionalism leading to a struggle for secession. Similarly, regionalism is getting the better of South India, where it is a known fact that many of the Tamilian civil rights groups and political parties have sympathy for an LTTE state. In the same league of the Gorkhaland agitation, political parties like Telengana Rashtra Samiti have been fighting for a separate state of Telegana.

All in all, looking at the way things are shaping up, it can be said that today’s India does not look very different from India of 1947. One can easily imagine the unprecedented challenge that Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel had to face to negotiate and bring almost 600 princely states together, post independence. And it is indeed unfortunate that all his political successors are leaving no stone unturned to ruin his efforts. No doubt, India can do far better as a nation, but then today’s India needs hundreds of Sardar Patels who can then lead their respective lot of people away from violent regionalism to a better version of India.

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