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Why India Is Not A Nation Of Many States But A State Of Many Nations

Accepting this will quell insecure and false notions of nationalism.

15/09/2017 9:09 AM IST | Updated 15/09/2017 9:13 AM IST
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When a state of India declared itself a country given its unique natural beauty, a kind of heaven on earth, whose citizens have a unique culture and language, no one in India objected or protested.

When part of another state of India declared its desire to be a country, given its unique natural beauty, a kind of heaven on earth, whose citizens have a unique culture and language, everyone in India went into a frenzy.

[F]rom Kerala to Kashmir, Assam to Gujarat, we have countries that have come together to be part of a state; not seeking independence, but needing an independent flourishing...

This contrast to the declaration of Kerala of being God's Own Country and the call for Azadi in Kashmir defines our strengths and weaknesses, confidence and insecurities as a nation. Seventy years after Independence, we need to introspect on our idea of India deeply and reaffirm a commitment to its fundamentals over which we will not compromise, but to do so, we must first understand this anomaly–why do we approve and accept the claim of Kerala being a country, God's or the Communists', but cannot consider the call of Kashmiris as even a debatable proposition?

Beyond the detail that one is a political call of ceding from India, and the other an advertisement copy for promoting tourism, one cannot miss that words have specific meanings and spectacular connotations, and subconsciously betray our innermost fears or fantasies.

Building stronger parts

India is a union of states. A country comprising diverse states, divided and defined based on historic contexts, subsumed monarchies, former Mughal to British administered units, linguistic principles and geographic uniformities. We have made a few additions and divisions, carved a few new states, but the fundamental principle was simple–the nation, majestic and sovereign, has a primary existence and identity, and states, with all their diversities, are a part of it.

The whole that is India is not the sum of all states but larger and more, and these various states are not, in any way, profound autonomous entities but merely parts; their identity, power and purpose clearly subordinate to the nation, the centre.

India is a not akin to an EU—a conglomeration of independent nations—but a state that has been founded by the coming together of many nations which seek growth and existence within it.

With such a definition and assertion of nation and state, our federalism was defined and drawn, central and state powers and division of roles were legislated. India was created as a country, and each state, just a state—akin to the relationship of a benevolent parent and matured children who all sometimes wonder if they are indeed bound by the same DNA.

The truth is that India is a state, and from Kerala to Kashmir, Assam to Gujarat, we have countries that have come together to be part of a state; not seeking independence, but needing an independent flourishing—akin to grown-up grandchildren with varying levels of attachment to a grandparent.

Demonstrated strength vs. hidden bonds

Most, if not all, of India's current states could be viable nations as most modern, mid-sized countries of the world exist. We can call them sub-nations to remove any hint of sedition or notion of an aspiration to break away. The sub-nations have unique cultures, languages, food, geographic features, dress and histories. But India is a not akin to a European Union—a conglomeration of independent nations—but a state that has been founded by the coming together of many nations which seek growth and existence within it.

Such a state-nation would not be threatened by articles of autonomy for Kashmir, but provide the same to every state...

In defining India as such a state, made larger and stronger by its parts, which are and should be powerful entities themselves—non-sovereign, un-independent countries—we will neither look to impose a singular nationality out of an insecure and false notion of nationalism, nor seek to strengthen the state of India, which owns all these inherent countries within in perpetuity.

India holds the fundamental destiny of all its inherent nations within but only over a minimalist scope—the sovereignty function, its defence, its overall secular character, its Republic. Such a state-nation would allow the nations within it to grow as nations would, and could. Such a state-nation would not be threatened by articles of autonomy for Kashmir, but provide the same to every state, thus taking away the speciality of Jammu & Kashmir, and make it the reference standard of the relationship of India-state with the nations within.

The nation-religion relationship

As a secular entity, India allows its citizens to choose to practice, preach, spread, propagate, leave, or change any religion or none. No modern country seeks to subordinate a religion, nor allow a religion to subordinate it. India allows Hinduism or Islam or any other religion to be themselves, as long as they do not try to enter into a realm that is not their legitimate concern.

The Indian states can have a similar sense of existence with and within India—as cultural-linguistic-social-democratic-nations that though they defer to the state-nation in some matter matters (of global affairs, defence, railways, central taxes, uniformity of markets, water sharing, telecom, nuclear energy among others), they also create autonomous sub-destinies.

Greater federalism will strengthen, not weaken, India

As a consequence of defining ourselves as a country of different states, we have for too long been held captive to the idea that weaker states and greater concentration of power in the central government will create a stronger India. We have believed unquestioningly that we represent "unity in diversity." We are actually a diversity in unity. At the core, we have a million differences that had it not been for the spectacular phenomenon called India, would have set us apart as independent nations.

We have believed unquestioningly that we represent "unity in diversity." We are actually a diversity in unity.

We would, had the British not so integrated us, been an entity together over this geography, but not tied so closely as for a central power to decide our foods, our films, our books, our dress, our rights and wrongs.

We are many nations and one state, and it is the time to reassess and recognise that the maximum strength of the state of India would lie when the nations within are strongest. It will allow us the ability to live in greater tolerance of our differences. If one state bans the death penalty while another doesn't, we can make sense out of it without losing our sangfroid.

We can let one local nation impose a ban on cow slaughter while another subsidises beef for its poorest citizens—and we can do this without declaring war on each other. We can de-tense and decongest our national debate with certain priorities pushed to these sub-nations. Like film censorship, for example. Can Tamil Nadu not choose what it wants to see in a film very differently from what a Manipur wishes to?

We can let one local nation impose a ban on cow slaughter while another subsidises beef—and we can do this without declaring war on each other.

Any issue of political significance with great social difference of opinion would remain problems of different parts, each part for itself, without the larger identity threatened. Would India become weaker or stronger if it allows each part to script a particular idea of India within the broader umbrella?

India, Bharat or Hindustan?

This oft-asked question hints that there are three kinds of nations within the greater whole. I believe this construction should be dismissed for its pedestrian logic in the face of the magnificence and largeness of who we are.

We have a common destiny anyway, a history unique; a sense of life, eternity and the ephemeral discovered over centuries of humanity's most fascinating spiritual continuum. India is like the thread that holds the differently fragrant flowers together, and it never needs to be more visible except by its impact of holding them together.

When nothing is imposed by anyone on any one of us, we will be amazed by how much we are all the same, how much we need each other...

And like the past, the future too will hold us together. Our common bemoaning and aspirations, our similar pains and joys, our confusions and insights, our sports and films, our defeats and victories.

When nothing is imposed by anyone on any one of us, we will be amazed by how much we are all the same, how much we need each other, and how much we are all one. We will move beyond the cacophonies of discordant militarised orchestras, as we march ahead together, as we have for many centuries.

We are simultaneously India, Bharat and Hindustan, and more.

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