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Thursday, November 29, 2007

The regional parties are not merely local but they reflect strong local nationalisms

Home > Edits & Columns >Indian Express: Thursday, November 29, 2007 at 0000 hrs
What Dr Singh has put his finger on is the crisis of the Indian nation today. The Constitution presumed that there was a single national purpose that everybody agreed upon and that the Centre would be in charge of expressing that, with the states left to play a minor role to reflect local aspirations. But that story fell apart during the Emergency. The eighties were a false decade, when once again Congress hegemony hid the tensions. But since 1989, there has never been a single national purpose. The BJP has a different definition from that of the Congress, since it has a different story of why India is a nation. The regional parties are not merely local but they reflect strong local nationalisms, which were suppressed during the Independence struggle. The national stories the Congress and BJP tell are upper-caste/upper-class north Indian — indeed Doab — stories. Large parts of India feel left out of it. Tamil Nadu, Assam and even Bengal were never fully part of either the Hindutva or the syncretic Hindu-Muslim unity story which the Congress tells. Nor are groups such as dalits, tribals and many backward castes and religious minorities (as Sikhs tragically demonstrated in the eighties). The debate on Ram Setu showed that even the Ramayana is not a national epic but only a north Indian, non-Dravidian one.
But the flexibility of the Constitution is proven by the fact that what was once thought to be a centralist structure now sustains a diverse decentralised discourse. But the politicians need to acknowledge that a single national purpose cannot be presumed any longer; it has to emerge from daily negotiations and accommodations of local aspirations. India, after 60 years of democracy, will not march to a top-down elitist tune of a single national purpose. A whole new story needs to be created as to why India is a nation with a true and organic unity in diversity and not one presumed.
But this requires a strict adherence to Constitutional norms and not high-handed Central diktat which imposes President’s rule as the UPA did in Bihar. It requires clarifying the rules for unseating incumbent governments to avoid a farce such as the one in Karnataka, and imposing the rule of law that protects Taslima Nasreen from the mob, regardless of whether her attackers are MLAs in Hyderabad or Congress/ Trinamool instigated fundamentalist Muslim mobs.
If anything, the future will contain even weaker ‘national’ parties and stronger local ones. This is not a problem. There is no need to be fearful of India’s unity as Nehru’s generation was. India’s unity has been forged in the crucible of democracy and it can weather a weaker Centre and stronger states. What the Centre must do is to play by the rules and guarantee the Fundamental Rights promised in the Constitution. The writer is Professor Emeritus at the LSE and member, House of Lords

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