Sunday, November 02, 2008

Politics of identity and Identity of politics in India

India’s nationhood challenged by multiple identities

Politics of Identity is literally the identity of politics in India

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Assam is burning today. Latest reports suggests that over 75 people have been killed and scores of other injured in the 13 bomb blasts that ripped through several districts of the state yesterday ( October 30th, 2008). The intelligence’s needle of suspicion is on Huji militants and United Liberation Front of Assam ( ULFA). Just a few weeks back, several villages of Muslims were burnt and it looked that Assam might return to the horror stories of February 18, 1983 when in Nellie alone witnessed the worst ever carnage, brutal killings of about 3300 people in just one day.

Assam has been too sensitive to the issue of immigrants and over the past fifty years a huge chunk of Bangla immigrants have infiltrated in the state creating panic of a demographic change in the state. It is not just the Muslim immigrants which the Hindutva organizations often blame, but also the dominance of Bangla speaking people have become a bone of contention in the north east. Last year, the Hindi speaking people from Bihar were targeted in Guwahati and other parts of Assam.

But Assam is not alone in its antipathy towards the immigrants. Maharastra is in the turmoil and the fire is lit by none other than Raj Thackrey and his private limited company ‘ Maharastra Nav Nirman Sena’ or MNS. This time the target is poor taxi drivers, milk sellers, vegetable vendors from Hindi speaking states particularly Bihar and Uttar-Pradesh. The MNS says that these people have over burdened the city of Mumbai and snatched the jobs from the locals. Unfortunately, Raj and his MNS have no complaint against the industries being run by Sindhis, Marwadis, Sikhs, Parsis and Guaratis. It is also interesting that Bombay was actually never really a showcase of Maharastra, as Pune on one side and Nagpur on the other were the true symbol of Maharastra. Every body knows that Maharastra has a big heritage and a pan Indian identity of both the Dalit-Bahujan legacy as well as Hindutva protagonists. In terms of Hindutva, Nagpur became the headquarter of the Sangh and Tilak, Savarkar became the masters of Hindutva in India. But most astonishing part of the Maharastra legacy is the rise of revolt in the form of Ambedkar, Jyoti Ba Phule and Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj. Thanks to rising consciousness among the marginalised these legends are now recognizable faces all over the country.

Language nationalism started from Tamilnadu when Periyar and his self respect volunteers rightfully targeted the imposition of Hindi all over the states where Hindi was just a foreign language. Periyar’s fear was that this Hindisation of Tamilnadu will be a death knell for the Dravidian Tamil culture. There might have been other reasons also for the anti Hindi agitation but there were not many immigrants from the Hindi heartland. The real thing was that Madras, the state capital, had a majority of non Tamil people basically Telugu speaking and they had their own grievances against the dominance Tamil identity. The struggle for Telengana was basically assertion of an identity which looked themselves different from Tamil and the result was the formation of an Andhra State for the Telugu speaking people in 1953.

Similarly, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh were carved out of Punjab to protect the ‘Hindi’ speaking people whose language was not Punjabi. The fact of the matter was that most of them had Punjabi as their mother tongue but they opted for a Hindi state on utterly communal lines. Abohar and Fazilka, the two towns of Haryana became bone of contention in the reorganization of state as Punjab claimed them. Like wise, Kerala became a state for the Malayalam speaking people while Karnataka for Kannada.

Indian people have multiple identities. And the most important one these days were caste identity. A veteran like Editor of Dalit Voice, V.T.Rajshekar says that caste is the most important among these identities as every Indian asserts his/her caste identity more than anything else. Caste surpasses even the religious identities. Interestingly, when the states were reorganized, they thought that the language was unifying force. Definitely not. The interest of the Dalits in Maharastra are very much different than the interest of the upper caste Marathas. In fact, it was the Shiv Sena and its goons that went bloody to oppose the name of Marathwada University in the name of Dr Baba Saheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar University in the mid eighties. Was Baba Saheb not a Maharastrian ? Was he not educated? But then, the Shiv Sena which claims to champion the Marathi Manoos, does not have these identities as main identity. Identity for them is to gain power and serve the interest of their own goons. Otherwise, why has the Hindutva exposed itself at the micro level when it was championing the cause of the ‘Hindus’ of India? It indicates how the ‘nationalism’ cracks in India and simply identify with your ethnic identities. It is used in the regional context if the person claiming its legacy has his option limited to state. So for Raj Thackerey and other in his family pan Hindutva identity remains unbeneficial and therefore they have started this Marathi-non-Marathi debates.

The politics of India has changed very much in the past 20 years. Hence the regional identities have been replaced by the caste identities. There was a time when the language was big meeting point but in the post Mandalised India, it is the caste which is becoming more uniting factor and hence the usage of this identity is not just the domain of the Dalits and OBCs alone but also the Brahmins. Hence, if you go to interior of Tamilnadu today, where the most oppressed Paraya or Arundhatiar may not know anything about the culture of the north, but definitely feel proud in owning Mayawati as his hailing from his community. Similarly, Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh, Gandhi and Subhash have crossed all the boundaries of region and languages. They are not confined to one language and are worshipped by their own followers.

But it is also true that language can be a strong cultural identity as happened during the time of creation of Bangladesh. Pakistan came into being in the name of Muslim identity and Urdu became its ‘national language’ ignoring the vast majority of Bangla speaking people as well as dominating Punjabi Muslims. When Jinnah went to deliver his first lecture as Governor General of Pakistan in the Dhaka University Campus immediately after the creation of Pakistan and declared that ‘Urdu shall be the national language of Pakistan’, the students pelted stones and threw chappals at him. The issue of Bangla nationalism was so strong that Urdu and Pakistan became its first victims. Unfortunately, it is not just the language identity which made some people superior and other inferior. Reading through the texts of some of Pakistani generals felt that the people of East Bengal were inferior to those of West Pakistan. Clear enough, the caste identities of superior race dominated the consciousness of Pakistan and Urdu a language of the pure remained isolated in the Punjabi dominated Pakistan.

But in the modern politics of identities in India, it is actually either religious or caste identity that is becoming dominating. The Hindi speaking Uttar-Pradesh is being demanded to be partitioned to at least five states of Harit Pradesh, Poorvanchal, Bundelkhand, Avadh and Ruhailkhand. Uttarakhand, Chhatishgarh and Jharkhand were carved out of their mother states because of ‘distinct’ cultural identity. While Chhatishgarh and Jharkhand had a long history of the Adivasi movement for separate state, Uttarakhand state had anti reservation movement as the focal point of their separation from Uttar-Pradesh which was under the domination of Dalit Bahujan identities. Identities are carefully crafted and hence at the one end when Uttar-Pradesh’s political forces combined Dalit-Bahujan to dislodge to the brahmanical hegemony, polity has taken a completely U turn against the same ideological perception and Bahujan has been recreated as Sarvjan. In the Uttarakhand state, issue of plain verses hill became dominant ignoring the basic difference between Kumauon verses Garhwal. In both the assembly elections Uttarakhand’s Brahmins carefully drafted these identities to benefit them. Hence when Congress was in power it made N.D.Tiwari, the chief minister of the state just ignoring the claim of Harish Rawat, who was the president of the party and led it to the victory and when the BJP came to the power, it made B.C.Khanduri, another Brahmin, but this time from Garhwal, in the name of Garhwali sentiments, as chief minister again ignoring the claim of the Bhagat Singh Koshiyari, who has the majority support of M.L.As.

The BJP created the three states out of its own compulsions. It knew well that it was difficult for it to regain power either in Bihar and Uttar-Pradesh, as both the states have been the biggest hurdles in Sangh Parivar’s agenda for spreading the communal venom. Also, both the states have been successfully able to contain the communal virus because of the massive Dalit Bahujan alliance. Ofcourse, this alliance itself has lot of contradictions which are being used and co-opted by the Sangh Parivar yet both UP and Bihar have shown that caste consciousness in broader sense has been able to contain the hegemony of the brahmanical structure, though the ideology is difficult to get defeated because of the cooption of the political class and our antipathy for the values of human dignity and individual’s supremacy. So, in the name of identity, we have seen the rise of the brahmanical forces in these smaller states. All the three newly carved states of Chhatishgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand are new experimenting ground of Hindutva with tribal, Dalits and OBCs trapped in their various contradictions being used by the brahmanical elites.

While language became the main focus of formation of state but as the new forces of interest are coming in, one hegemony is being challenged by the other one and those who do not have the numbers are the most isolated ones. The problem in the Indian subcontinent is our deep disregard for the minority rights. Experience has shown that the politics of identity is often detrimental for the individuals and minorities unless they have the power to challenge. It has often shown contempt for dissent and often poor people become victim of its ‘ultra-nationalist’ approach. Hence, the slogan of Jai Maharastra is nothing but a signals to those who are not born Marathi that they can not claim the legacy of the state as Marathi nationalism is quintessentially an upper caste Marathi dominance.

At the time when the Dalit-Bahujan consciousness at political level in Maharastra was threatening the status quo, this issue has divided people on language line. Congress used

the growing discontents in the state against the MNS for its own purpose and result would be a compulsion for the north Indians to join forces with Congress to ‘save’ multiculturalism. Already, Muslims are at the receiving end from the Shiv Sena and now this situation has further polarized the society.

Therefore, India needs a state reorganization commission. It need strong secular laws so that narrow chauvinism in the name of identities be dealt with strong hand. Hatred in the name of identity is in fact hidden apartheid where the sole aim of such forces is to maintain the status quo. Demand for separate state like Telengana are quite old but that need to be seen in a different track now. One must not forget that Andhra Pradesh came into being after much struggle in the name of Telugu identity, very similar to Gujarat’s separation from Maharastra. The problem in carving out these states was ignoring the claims of the Muslims and Urdu language. Urdu, a language born in India is slowly dying

Muslims seems to paying a price for the partition of India even after so many years. Every one except the Muslims demand for separate states since others got a right for their ‘legitimate’ demands. The political class in India needs serious thinking and secular law must be implemented because for every parochial demand if we start separate state because all of us do not want any dissent and disagreement will lead to further crisis in India. State can not be created to satisfy demands of a few individuals and their caste fellows. Hence, time has come for government to seriously think over the state reorganization commission and seriously ponder over the issues. A secular India can not allow state hood to fulfill Hindutva’s hidden agenda of brahmanical dominance which is severely under strain after the assertions of the marginalized communities. Any demand for separate state based on communal hatred need to be out rightly rejected. Statehood need to be developed on the rightful demands of the marginalized communities and not to maintain status quo for a few power Hungary politicians and their families.


Anonymous said...

It is unfortunate that the author underestimates the importance of preserving one's identity. At no cost, nationalism (as far as India is concerned, nationalism is nothing but one nation thru one religion, one language and one culture concept) can be made to override regionalism. It is because states are divided on the language basis, still some languages are alive in India. For people who wants Hindi to rule over India, re-organizing the states will be their slogan. Let's tell the world that India is a multi-lingual country and we will not allow a single language to rule over the entire country.

Anonymous said...

Very thought-provoking...
You and your readers will find this interesting: