Balkanisation is a reality. It scares people the world over. History reminds us that if matters of statecraft are not handled delicately, nations are led to disintegration and destruction.
India is a union of states. At the turn of the 19th century and later in history, there was a debate on whether India was a nation-in-making or it was a great cultural contiguity for centuries. If it’s a nation-in-making, then its fragility as a nation has always been evident. Even as a great civilisation, it could not stop being divided into two nations at the time of its freedom. And in 1971, the other half, Pakistan, further disintegrated into two and Bangladesh was born. So, after 73 years of its Independence, if there are questions about the fragility of India as a nation and it is again going to be tested, then the legitimacy of the question should not be questioned.
This question needs to be probed once again at a time when nationalism is the new theology of the state, primordial identities are on their best (worst) display, the centripetal and centrifugal forces are pulling its innocent soul in two opposite directions and a deep resentment is brewing between the government at the Centre and the states. This tendency reared its most ugly head during the Bengal assembly elections. The Central government and its political incarnation, the BJP, in all its wisdom behaved like an invading army, the state government led by the Trinamool Congress resisted with all its might to save itself from being conquered. The palpable tension between the two is a worrisome indicator for the future. And if good sense doesn’t prevail over the rulers of the country, then sooner rather than later, the clouds of uncertainty over India as a nation will hover perilously.
The Central government led by the BJP has forgotten that it is not ‘THE’ government but it is one of the governments and within the matrix of governments it has to coordinate, moderate, navigate and lead the nation; consensus is the only magic word which can bind them all. The BJP government is committing a blunder by assuming that it is not one of them, and that it has the divine right to lord it over them all. Every opposition state has a reason to feel aggrieved by the conduct of the Central government. There is a definite trust deficit between the two.
In the last year-and-a-half, the Bengal government has been subjected to so much aggression that Mamata Banerjee was forced to say that it seemed as if there was a dictatorship in the country or as if martial law had been imposed; she said that chief ministers were being humiliated and treated like puppets; she exhorted all the opposition leaders to come together as a team and fight.
Not just poll-related
One can understand the bitterness between the political parties during the elections but if the same tendencies are still at play after the election, then it gets very serious. Defying all odds, Mamata Banerjee won Bengal with an improved margin. It was the most humiliating defeat for the BJP since its massive loss in Delhi in 2020. After the election results in West Bengal, the CBI decided to arrest four Trinamool leaders. What clearly smacks of ulterior motives was the way these leaders were picked up from their residences.
Early in the morning, there was a massive deployment of the CRPF, a Central force, around their residences and they were picked up forcibly. Two of them are ministers. These leaders should have been served notice, the state government should have been intimated about the intent, the protection of the local police should have been sought, CBI would have asked the ministers/leaders concerned to present themselves for further probe and had they resisted, then a coercive method should have been used. But none of the obvious protocol was followed.
Mamata Banerjee, as chief minister, had every reason to believe that the Central government was out to seek revenge for the loss and was trying to teach her a lesson. No wonder she reached the CBI headquarters, and squatted there for more than six hours. Similar tactics were employed a year ago, when the CBI had suddenly decided to interrogate the then police commissioner of Kolkata, Rajiv Kumar. In a way, history was repeating itself. The then governor of the state, Jagdeep Dhankhar, has been behaving like an opposition leader and does not lose an opportunity to ridicule his own government.
The troika of central investigating agencies (CBI, ED, IT, NIA), Central forces like the CRPF, CISF and governors are creating havoc in opposition-ruled states. Opposition leaders are hounded by Central investigating agencies, attempts are made with the help of “friends” in the media to discredit them in the eyes of the people. Similar tricks were used even in an obscure election like for the DDCs in Kashmir when Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti and others were maligned no end.
The CRPF was brazenly used to intimidate Congress MLAs when they were housed in a resort at the behest of D K Shiv Kumar in Karnataka. In 2015, in Delhi, the anti-corruption bureau, which had been with the Delhi government since 1993, was captured with the help of the CRPF. If this trend continues in the future, the possibility of open confrontation between the CRPF and local police can’t be ruled out and that may lead to a civil -war like situation.
The governors under the present regime have not graced themselves with any dignity in opposition-ruled states. The Maharashtra governor has not cleared the recommendation of 12 MLCs for months and the high court had to intervene in the matter. Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari swore in a BJP chief minister without any majority, early in the morning. The governors of Karnataka and Rajasthan, veteran leaders of the BJP, behaved like party leaders, forgetting that they hold a constitutional position. The manner in which the Delhi LG Anil Baijal and his predecessor Najeeb Jung had treated the duly elected AAP government led by Arvind Kejriwal, is horrifying.
Above all, state chief ministers are not accorded the respect they deserve. Very recently, Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren complained that the PM had called him, but it was only he who spoke; Soren was not allowed to speak. He was so upset that he vented his anger on Twitter.
Modi, before he became Prime Minister, talked about co-operative federalism and Team India, but in the last seven years, only he is the government; he and Amit Shah are the only team; the rest don’t matter.
In the past too, there had been a BJP government led by Atal Behari Vajpayee, but except for minor skirmishes, none of the opposition leaders and state governments felt victimised or hounded; they were consulted on a regular basis, instead of there being just one-way communication, their voices were heard and respected.
The present regime believes in extreme centralisation of power, but it tends to forget that India is a land of diversity, and in the past, forces of secession have inflicted several deep wounds on the country. Punjab burnt for long. Kashmir is still simmering, in the northeast, several secessionist movements are still active. The Dravidian movement in south India had demanded a sovereign Dravidistan and till 1963, their leaders had burnt the Constitution of India.
Nationalism as a meta identity is the hallmark of the BJP and of the RSS’s Hindutva but the question is, has it reached the critical point where other sub-nationalism has faded and submerged into the Hindu Identity? The answer is no. In Bengal, BJP nationalism could not compete with Bengali nationalism. In Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, it has failed to stand on its feet till now because language nationalism is more powerful than the BJP’s narrative.
A country like the USSR disintegrated into more than a dozen sovereign republics because sub-nationalism felt exploited, humiliated, insulted, hegemonised and being robbed of its identity by the meta-nationalism called Russian nationalism. Yugoslavia was broken into many nations as smaller identities felt bulldozed by the Serbian nationalism. The first world war was caused by the feeling amongst the Serbs of being suppressed by the Habsburg Empire. The second one was provoked by misplaced German nationalism, which wanted to seek revenge for the past and suppress others in the present. The practitioners of majoritarian politics should not forget that history is full of such examples and if they don’t want to learn from it, then the country should be ready to face the consequences.
The writer is an author and Editor, satyahindi.com