The Nobel laureate and Indian origin writer, the late V S Naipaul, in one of his many digressions on India, characterized the country as a “land of million mutinies”, referring to the prevalence of multiple faiths, races, ethnic, religious, and caste identities, with each group “revolting” against the center and with others as the patchwork of separate and distinct groupings made it impossible to forge a cohesive and all encompassing identity of Indianness. Indeed, Naipaul’s characterization was in the late 1980s, when it seemed as though the nation would not be able to survive this onslaught of million mutinies, torn as it was under the centrifugal forces of separation and division. Thankfully, Naipaul’s and other such writers prognosticating on the “end of India” did not come to pass, as the country, bounced back from the abyss and pulled back from the brink of economic and financial ruin, emerging as a serious contender to China, by the late 1990s and early 2000s. Indeed, the recovery was so strong that many experts began serious discussions about the 21st Century belonging to India and how the “lumbering elephant” has been set free of the many constrictions that were restricting its economic potential.
However, despite liberalization, privatization, and globalization boosting the incomes of Indians and lifting Millions of poverty, the underlying fissures and divisions never really disappeared. More so, they erupted and continue to erupt periodically, as we have been seeing over the last few decades since the 1991 economic crisis, that threatened to bankrupt the country, only to be “rescued” with the pledging of the gold held with the Central Bank. This move, though essential to stave off economic ruin, was laden with symbolism as the Indian psyche views pledging of the “family jewels” as a last resort and desperate measure. As much as we avoided disaster and recovered well and how!! the fact remains that Indians continue to be a divided entity even now. As I explain later, the attempts of the now preeminent party in power to forge a notion of togetherness and cohesion, based on an all encompassing religious and cultural homogeneity, though necessary to stave off internecine battles, might actually precipitate more such mutinies in the years to come.
So, in effect what I argue is that while the concept of an culturally homogeneous identity is necessary to “unite” Indians, there are some doubts over whether this is possible in a land of such varied diversity and plurality that a common denominator of cultural identity would encounter resistance, sometimes fierce, from the many forces of separation that seek to fray the fabric of Indianness. Indeed, this is the central paradox at the heart of contemporary India, wherein the nation can only forge ahead if it comes together for a common cause and shared purpose, and at the same time, is also threatened when such “commonness” threatens the existence of its multiplicity of faiths and ethnic, racial, and cultural identities. This is what baffles me at the moment, since the majoritarian and authoritarian move to forge a culture of Indianness is being met with a strong resistance from above and below, threatening its existence again, much like the 1990s when it seemed that the eruptions would sink the country.
Of course, prognostications of India’s demise have been bandied about since the time of independence in 1947, and even Indophiles like John Galbriath have written about the country being a “functioning anarchy”. So, my belief is that this “moment too shall pass” and we will emerge stronger again, though the path and the how and when we reach the destination remain unclear. Perhaps we would find a way to address the needs of the multiplicities of faiths and races and ethnic groupings without bloodshed and violence, or a new order would emerge from the “fires of destruction” that threaten the nation. While divine intervention looks the likely solution, though unlikely as it seems, I am at a loss to understand whether we need to exist together with our differences and learn to coexist uneasily, or we must consolidate the divisions and absorb the differences under the common umbrella of cultural and religious homogeneity. In other words, we are staring at the same situation we were in the 1990s when the Million Mutinies threatened the nation with an existential crisis, just like what we are witnessing now with the subaltern resistance to the majoritarian impulse.
As India again confronts a situation similar to that in the 1990s, I remember how the fractiousness and the divisions at that time collided with my own aspirations and ambitions. Luckily, the realities of earning a livelihood rescued me and my peers, thereby proving yet again that economics trumps everything else. So, maybe we can forge a path together if we offer our youth jobs and not jails and much like the economic success of the 2000s kept the country together and raised the bar for India and Indians worldwide, we can surmount the challenges we face now if we do not turn our back on the economy and open our doors to the winds of the world. Of course, it goes without saying that all inclusive and not pandering to a few type of economic growth is the solution, so that “eye grabbing” headlines about “world beating” growth do not hide the grim reality of why the common person feels so screwed. This then is my belief (naive, perhaps) of what can still be the panacea to our current predicament and the “good days” for all be the way forward.
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