ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Calcutta Diary

The prime minister's near-open appeal to all groups of 'militants' in Kashmir to join the peace parleys comes much too late in the day. The invitation should have gone out at least 20 years ago. Now there is unlikely to be any solution to the impasse without the government of India's admitting the essential reality that Kashmir is not, repeat not, an 'inalienable part' of the Indian Union.

That catechism, the unity and integrity of the nation, is wearing thin. Leave out Jammu and Kashmir, even the ‘pacified’ Punjab has a strong contingent of leaders who are once more referring to the Anandpur Sahib resolution. The smaller north-eastern states have always been a no-man’s land, and Assam has now joined their ranks: trains blown into smithereens, ambushes, gory deaths of civilians and military personnel are the order of the day. The Bihar countryside is an open battlefield, and Ranvir Sena goons are fighting it out with Marxist Coordination Committee cadres. Uttar Pradesh, India’s most thickly populated state, hardly belongs to anybody; the 60-odd districts have been sliced up by different political groupings among themselves; even the creation of Uttaranchal will not change the quality of chaos. Because of the crude militancy of one of the partners in the National Democratic Alliance, West Bengal too promises to be unstable from now on. The nature of law and order in the two important southern states, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, is exemplified by the continuous marauding indulged in by the sandalwood bandit Veerappan: the state governments, with occasional assistance from the centre, have tried over the past 10 years to apprehend him. They have failed miserably. His latest exploit, that of kidnapping the film hero, Rajkumar, has added a grisly chapter to the tale. In Maharashtra, Bal Thackeray has once again proved to be a law unto himself, and the Shiv Sena seems to be unstoppable. That apart, large parts of the deep interior of these states and Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh are dominated by stray Naxalite groups. Symptoms in several parts of the country betray the tension roused by linguistic, ethnic and communal passions.

It is therefore a far cry from the idyllic model of a united India. After 50 years of experimentation with a version of adult suffrage-based parliamentary democracy, we are neither united nor convincingly democratic. The persistence of illiteracy, some would say, is the main factor underlying both slow economic growth and spreading disunity. Does that tell the entire story? By taking this easy way out, we are only providing the apology of an explanation. It is altogether pointless to run away from the basic fact that the political unity which the British enforced through fiat has not stood the test of democracy as practised in the country over the past half a century. Politeness here is of little avail. From times immemorial, it has been possible to identify an Indian tradition, an Indian culture, an Indian sculpture and architecture, an Indian music and dance even though divided into a number of strands. But history bears no witness, before the arrival of the British, of a unified Indian polity. Even the Mughal empire had only a perfunctory presence in the Deccan, and the distant east beyond Bengal was a strange foreign territory.

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