In the Indian context, National Integration is a matter of paramount importance. As an ancient country with mind-boggling diversity of race, religion, language and culture, India relentlessly grapples with fissiparous tendencies. Thanks to a judicious mix of military power, political acumen and sagacious leadership, India has managed to stay united. But challenges crop up periodically from within the country and without. This is the reason why national integration needs to be fostered with the utmost zeal and verve.
In our neighborhood, Pakistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and even China struggle to rein in centrifugal forces that tend to tear apart the country. Even rich and advanced democratic countries like Belgium, Spain, the United Kingdom, Canada experience difficulties to hold together. The mighty Soviet Union imploded without a single bullet being fired. The regions that broke away to become independent countries such as the Ukraine, Georgia etc. have themselves been bedeviled by secessionist forces. Quite inexplicably, even the heavily down-sized and truncated Russia has to contend with never-ending insurgency in the tiny Chechnya which aspires to be an independent nation.
It is essential to examine what binds nations. Is it religion? If so, why did Pakistan brake apart in 1971? Today, Baluchistan wants to secede to form an independent country. Is it the language and colour of skin of citizens that binds nations? If so, why does Scotland want to secede from the United Kingdom? Is it culture? If so, why Ukraine is disintegrating? So, no single factor can be responsible to make or break a nation state.
Political scientists have pondered over the matter for long, and have come to conclude that a combination of un-fulfilled political desires, religious persecution, linguistic hegemony, economic disparity, and above all, an indifferent central leadership can fuel anger and disaffection among smaller ethnic groups to break away from the mother country.
India had its bouts of disruptive upheavals in the past. The Tamils, fearing dominance by the Hindi-speaking North wanted to secede in the years after independence. Nehru smothered the demand through persuasion, patience, and accommodation. When the Khalistan forces reared their head, the government used brute police power (led by K. P. S Gill) to wipe their leaders off the soil of Punjab. The festering Naga problem and the pro-Pakistan Kashmir rebels have been more or less contained. But, has the challenge to the unity of India retreated for good? It would be naive to think so.
It is worth examining the present dangers to national integration in India. What we see today is a growing isolation of Muslims and Christians who find the interpretation of nationalism by chauvinistic Hindu groups too noxious to live with. Efforts have been made to undermine the liberal principles enshrined in the Constitution by various covert and overt methods by self-seeking politicians. This has caused great unease among the minorities and a vast majority of moderate Hindus. Of late, the Dalits, long disenchanted with the polity of the country, have come under attack from a group of ruling party leaders. They have been portrayed as anti-national, unpatriotic, and disloyal to the country. Such uncharitable characterization of Dalits or for that matter, any other group imperils national integration.
A certain political party based in Mumbai claims that the bustling metropolis is meant to benefit only the sons of the soil. Those from other states are treated as interlopers and rent-seekers. Such claims are bizarre, and run counter to the Constitution. To further boost their pseudo-nationalism, the party openly takes avirulent anti-Muslim stand, and goes to the extent of blocking visit of sports teams and artists from Pakistan. The obvious intent is to derive electoral gains, no matter how grievous harm the party does to the unity of the country. Cohesion, inclusiveness, liberal values, and tolerance are alien to the philosophy of such parties.
Another creed of politicians needlessly take un-compromising and rigid positions in matter of sharing of national resources such as river water. Karnataka and Tamil Nadu bicker over Cauvery water in summer. This particular problem has defied solution for years, simply because adopting stubborn position helps the parties in power to project themselves as the protectors of the state’s interests. Such naked provincialism needlessly fuels rivalry between the Kannadigas and the Tamils.
Karnataka and Maharastra are unfortunately locked in a boundary dispute that becomes more and more intractable as the two states harden their stands. For national integration, such myopic approach in resolving contentious issues proves to be a big hurdle.
Another shameful exhibition of intolerance is seen when young students and workers from the North Eastern states are harassed, roughed up in Delhi and Bangalore for the slightest of provocation. The young migrants feel embittered and disaffected. On going back home, they narrate the horror stories before their friends and relations, who seethe in anger against the rest of India. Thus, isolationism grows at the cost of integration.
Almost in the whole of North and in parts of Western India, Biharis are looked down upon as stupid, uncouth, and boorish. This is despite the fact that Bihar produces the highest number of civil service officers and IIT graduates on per capita basis. In doing manual labour in farms and factories, Biharis outperform people from all other states. Such gritty and brainy people from Bihar suffer humiliation because of the entrenched prejudice against them. How can they be expected to be seamlessly integrated to the rest of India when they are treated with scorn and ridicule?
The venomous exchange of diatribes between the Telugus of Telengana and Andhra Pradesh is a unique case of politicians succeeding in separating people with the same blood, same language and the same culture. Such is the power of self-seeking politicians in turning one brother against the other for narrow interests.
It is heartening to note that an institutional mechanism in the form of National Integration Council is in place to address dangers to national integration. Started by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1961, this Council has the chief minister of all the states as its members. The Council deliberates on various issues endangering social harmony in the country and suggests measures to counter them. So far, the results have been mixed, but even its critics concede that it surely has helped in bridging differences and healing wounds in the body politic of the nation.