The Diversity of India
BY L. F. RUSHBROOK WILLIAMS
THE bitter regional controversies—Maharastra against Gujarat:Bengal against Bihar, Sikhs against Hindus in the Punjab, and the like—which are raging over the recently proposed readjustment of statal boundaries, accom- panied as they have been by rioting and the garlanding of prominent politicians with old shoes, make the foreign observer wonder whether the unity of India, instead of existing today, remains an aspiration. The position in this respect is oddly contradictory. Everywhere in the country one encounters a keen pride in Indian independence; a lively gratification at the influential position in international affairs to which India has been raised by Mr. Nehru's brilliant foreign policy. Yet while public opinion stands firmly united on the main external issues there are disquieting symptoms that the growth of a sense of national consciousness in domestic affairs is a slow process.
The present flare-up of sectional jealousy has followed the publication of the report of the States Reorganisation Commis- sion .appointed two years ago to examine what were called in British times 'provincial boundaries.' The report is ably drafted and statesmanlike. Why, then, has it stirred up India like a stone thrown into a hornets' nest? , Viewed against the background of the past, the passions of the present are not surprising. India is the home of half a dozen major languages, and double that number of distinct racial elements. Under British rule, the ancient sectional diversities were largely overlaid and forgotten because both rulers and ruled tacitly ignored them. A strong central government; administrative divisions which cut across racial, linguistic and cultural blocks; highly organised public services which operated on an all-India basis; these ties pulled the country into effective adminstrative unity for the first time in its long history. On the other side, a growing demand for the ending of foreign rule, shared by all the different peoples of India, drew them together under Gandhi's influence into one great mass- movement which ignored traditional racial, linguistic, and cultural rivalries in pursuit of political independence. The educated classes of every race, too, accepted English as a lingua franca; in fact, without this acceptance, the growth of Indian nationalism would, because of age-old linguistic and racial diversities, have remained slow.
Those who shaped the policies of the Congress Party during the struggle for independence were well aware of the necessity for strong centralised control over the entire nationalist move- ment in every part of the country. They had also to take account of the local patriotisms which were an essential, if potentially fissiparous. element in the strength of the whole movement against foreign rule. It was thus natural for Congress leaders to placate the resentment aroused by the stern discipline which they enforced upon regional Congress Committees by pledging themselves, after independence had been won, to replace the haphazardly-drawn British provincial boundaries (hotly attacked as they were as an outstanding example of Britain's skill in 'dividing' the peoples of India) by new boundaries which should bring people of the same race, language and culture within the same administrative unit.
Accession to power, and the need to enforce mastery over the whole country in order to carry through great schemes of economic rehabilitation, have made Congress acutely aware of the danger of the centrifugal tendencies which appeared when political independence had been attained. They took care, in the new constitution, to preserve the ultimate control; and the ruthless use which they made of the armed forces in suppressing the Princely States' opposition to integration showed that they would brook no resistance.
But the new masters of India could not avoid conferring real powers upon the local units—which now included both the old British Indian Provinces and the amalgamated, regrouped. and integrated Princely States. Moreover the decision to de- throne English automatically increased jealousies between regional languages competing to replace it. The exercise of the powers residing in the new statal units naturally fell to local Congress Committees. Inevitably, they have tended to rally local sentiment behind them by appealing to local loyalties and to local feeling against the appointment of 'outsiders.'
Left to itself, the Central Government would have been relieved to postpone the problem of redrawing statal boundaries along linguistic and /or racial lines until less explosive and more urgent matters—for example, the great campaign to raise the living standards of the Indian masses— were nearer a satisfactory solution. But the ultimate basis of the power of the Congress Party is its local organisations; and these were committed to gratify the forces of local patriotism on whose support they, in their turn, relied. The Centre for some time made a strong stand against redrawing the map of India on racial or linguistic lines; but the stand collapsed suddenly and dramatically when a 'fast to death' took place in favour of a new Andhra State. This concession finally breached the dyke of Central resistance; and to make the best of a bad job, the States Reorganisation Commission was appointed to examine the whole question dispassionately and logically. But naturally enough its report has failed to satisfy conflicting local interests.
Once again, Mr. Nehru is the man of the moment; in the last resort his will is final on how many, and what, changes are to be made in the map of India. He is plainly disturbed by the raging passions which have been loosed, and he is using all his great influence to calm them. In this, he seems to be winning the day. The decisions which he has already announced are bold, as they can afford to be; his 'towering figure has lost nothing of its hold upon the imagination of the masses, to whom he is India, and Indian unity, in embodied form. So long as he stands master of the political scene, he will keep centrifugal forces in check. But the ties of local patriotism and local tradition are strong; they will not readily yield to the larger loyalties from which alone can emerge an India united in spirit as well as in name.