One could argue that India is—relatively speaking—still in its infancy and has to develop into a nation-state that has a weltanschauung of its own that would guide its future.
It is also true that the founding fathers borrowed concepts from the West. But there has always been a comprehension and a well-thought-out quest to nest a nation that was coming out of colonial rule?
It is also true that the India which broke away from foreign yoke is only 76 years old, but the reality is that it is a civilisation that has watered a multitude of contemplation since the existence of time.
After all, even the renowned Indologist Max Mueller under whose erudite direction the magnum opus Sacred Books of the East was prepared had stated over a century ago, “If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered over the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions of some of them which well deserve the attention even of those who have studied Plato and Kant, I should point India.”
Mueller was without doubt referring to an entity whose reach and range incorporated features that was termed as India from the moment the Indus Valley civilisation—in all its manifestation—came to be used not only in scholarly idiom but in an expanse within which the broad geographical contours of Bharatavarsha is referred to.
There was, therefore, clarity about not only what constitutes the physical boundaries of India but the emotional limits as well. This is despite the fact that there was no one nation-state at the time.
There was governance from Delhi, but there were confederacies whose acceptance of even that centrality had degrees of independence.
Assam, for instance was never a vassal of the Indian heartland model, but there were alliances between Thaneswar and Kamarupa and their respective monarchs.
This has been documented by Chinese scholars such as Hieun Tsang who visited India during the reign of Harshavardhan and Bhaskar Varman of the above kingdoms respectively.
He wrote about the manner in which the two rulers cooperated with each other: there is reference about how Harshavardhan and Bhaskar Varman enacted mythological roles that showcased the oneness of a civilisational imperative.
Indeed, it would be of interest to note that Hieun Tsang was sent as an ambassador by Bhaskar Varman to the court of Harshavardhan, the former having entered Kamarupa after his visit to Nalanda.
This aspect gains in significance when viewed from the prism of the antagonism that characterises India and China of the present.
There were also several attempts by the Mughals to politically occupy Assam. But they were beaten back.
However, the Islamic influence, albeit with a tender touch of Assamesehood thrived in the Brahmaputra Valley and even today there are shared surnames such as Saikia and Hazarika that proclaim that togetherness.
It is even said that many Ahom monuments were built by Muslim artisans who had been brought to Assam from the Bengal Subah.
The fact also remains that the civilisational aspects of Assam has to a considerable extent been influenced by mainland India.
Personages such as Srimanta Sankardeva’s travels outside Assam witnessed a happy confluence of Indic thought and the ones that the Ahoms brought from the Shan province across the Patkoi and the Irrawaddy.
But the syncretism that characterised Muslims and Hindus had never been threatened during the rule of the Ahoms.
Indeed, even today (although a change is being witnessed as a result of a racial profiling exercise that has entered Assam of late!) the Muslims of Upper Assam possesses an extremely secular demeanour that would surprise most among many.
It is unfortunate that this wondrous aspect is being sought to be disturbed. This author learnt about this unhappy turn of events when he visited Sibsagar and the home of a respected Muslim journalist in the district.
Independence witnessed unification. Unfortunately, a few mergers with the Indian state continues to be resisted by a group of people of the earlier independent states, perhaps because the neo-Indian ruling class was not quite able to incorporate the outlands into new India’s nation-building exercise.
It sought to, for instance, in the case, of the North East region militarise it instead, perhaps because of the loss of the Tibetan buffer. But that mistake must be corrected now with quiet and soothing balm of accommodation and even out-of-turn development incentives for the region.
The most important aspect, however, should be to incorporate the region into India’s nation building exercise.
The garrisoning exercise led to alienation as one has witnessed, of late, in the years that followed independence.
However, the magnanimity of the Indian state cannot be doubted and there have been sage attempt to redress grievances.
Otherwise, it is difficult to comprehend the fact that an insurgent group like the Mizo National Front—on retuning for “God and Country”—being accorded the mantle of governance with even the ruling party of the day abdicating to facilitate the accommodating posture.
The accent of the day should be one that has in its ambit a conscious move to embrace the periphery with genuineness which would be enduring.
Unfortunately, the accent has—of late—been on political expedience and political arithmetic. Such attitude will never reap dividends and the result would only witness the moving away of the region from the heartland.
Therefore, the algorithm has to be reworked in a system that had characterised the parity that was referred to above in the case of Harshavardhan and Bhaskar Varman.
The exploitative British machinery—or what William Dalrymple terms as “Loot”—had contributed to the coming together of India.
It also brought about a political integration because of the cohesive manner in which Gandhi was able to unite dappled groups throughout the country even when there wasn’t a cohesive political entity.
Indeed, the magic of Gandhi came to the fore when the country needed it most. He forcefully articulated and gave emotional shape to a colossal but loosely established concept.
The founding fathers acknowledged this key notion and ascertained that diversity that had flocked together to drive out the British was the only way by which India could survive as one.
Naturally a narrative, even if it was a borrowed one, had to be commandeered. But the objective was to preserve and nurture the nation that had fought as one like a flower garden, permitting Lotuses, Hibiscus, Dahlia and Roses to co-exist and bloom.
It was that India that the world had watched in wonderment even as it battled the mighty British Empire with an arsenal of Ahimsa.
But sadly, an altogether alien narrative is being engineered in the last decade or so, one which is tearing the India of yore asunder, one which had co-existed in harmony without the notion of “us and them”.
Even the legendary ideologue and one-time Sarsanghchalak of the RSS, Madhav Sadashivrao Golwalkar in an interview to the Organiser had said “Uniformity is a pointer to the downfall of nations. I am in favour of preservation of diverse ways of life. At the same time, we should pay attention to ensure that these diversities nurture unity of the nation.”
Clearly Golwalkar’s followers in present-day India have not read or understood Golwalkar.
On 14 June 2008, the legendary B.G. Verghese visited this author’s home along with his wife for breakfast. He had been conferred an important National Award by the Assam Government.
The Magsaysay Award winner and one time Information Adviser of Lal Bahadur Shastri brought along his latest book “Rage, Reconciliation and Security: Managing India’s Diversities”.
It is a very thought-provoking book and one has read and re-read it. Verghese, who had earlier inaugurated this author’s sixth book in the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi in 2008 was quite clear in his treatise. In his last oeuvre (alas Verghese is no more!) he stressed on the fact that there is naturally great difference in a nation of India’s size.
Even states in the North East were witnessing disparity and divergence. But as Verghese’s book sagely mentions “India’s diversity is not a weakness but an asset.
It imparts colour, vibrancy and hybrid vigour to the nation”.
In any event, Max Mueller’s concept of India was very different from the India that one is witnessing today, or even the one that came into being in 1947.
Naturally much of the Westminster Model was incorporated, albeit actually drove the founding fathers to borrow from an inheritance that they had long been governed by.
But the Indian constitution and the vision of the forebears are quite clear—under the guidance of the Mahatma—that India with its diversity (read: caste, creed, religion) would continue to be the essence of a nation-in-being.
There was never a shred of doubt about the miscellany that would steer its character.
One has to simply recall the immortal hymn that Bapu sang every morning in his prayer meetings and indeed one which this author hears every morning emanating from a nearby school from his small apartment window: Ishwar-Allah Tero Naam, Sabako Sanmati De Bhagawan (Also known as Ishwar (God) or Allah, May He give everyone noble thoughts).
Toddlers, as they queue up before they enter their lecture halls, gratefully are following the footsteps of the “Good Boatman”. However, one wish to query whether the quintessence of that enduring song is being comprehended by the leaders of tomorrow, or is it merely being sung for effect without its spirit being sought to be explained and internalised.
After all, attempts are on to eradicate a noble syncretic concept and superimpose it with one that is alien to India of one’s dreams.
(Jaideep Saikia is an internationally acclaimed Conflict Theorist and Bestselling Author. The views expressed are his own)