The Idea of India – Origins

India celebrated its 74th independence day on the 15th of August 2020. We have come a long way since then. India is seen by the rest of the world, as a stable democracy, as a secular and a diverse country, and as a country with great human capital and market share that can reshape the global economy. This is exactly the kind of environment that can attract FDI, and can bring about good fortunes for the country and its people. Yet somehow we haven’t made quite made it yet. While shiny malls, large multiplexes, and urban parks light up the cities, there are several fundamental issues still to be addressed in the Country. Poverty is still rife, access to fundamental rights such as education, health still are limited to many. No one wants to be held responsible for the state of things, yet they have found a multitude of reasons to shift the blame to. Largely, the rhetoric seems to be one of the two things. It is Either that we have floundered the ways of Ancient India or that the the leaders of Post Independence India are responsible for not helping India reach her full potential.

There seem to be  many who want to hold on to an idea of India from the past. The Golden years they say, and remind us of our history, culture and civilization via social medial platforms at every single opportunity. India has been blessed with stellar mathematicians and scientists whose work in Mathematics, Astronomy, and Medicine has laid the foundational ground work for many to follow. There is no denying this.  But i do find it a bit farfetched when claims are made by prominent politicians that the Vedas and religious books hold explanation for every modern day scientific phenomenon. I always look to take these with a pinch of salt and ignore many of the outlandish claims. But it is discerning to note that many others seem to blindly believe these. The sheer number of fraudulent messages that are being generated by social media campaigns is mind numbing. Several “yogis and godmen” have created a thriving business model that convinces the masses of the pseudo sciences. I also have no intention of making this post a lengthy historical lesson or a discourse about Ancient India, all i want to do is to understand how history and experiences have shaped the Idea of India has evolved over time. In order to do so i had to rely on the work of a historian. I understand the nuances of being a historian, history like news needs to be reported as it happened. Any bias or modification in reporting would make it fiction, not fact. I chose Ramachandra Guha’s book “India after Gandhi” to help understand contemporary history and to see if there was any truth to the complaints about the Post Independence India leaders.

The Great Indian Mystery

When the Indian independence movement was reaching a climatic stage several prominent British personalities such as Churchill, Kipling doubted the Indian’s ability to govern and  feared that the country would erupt in Chaos. The East India company had thrived under the Divide and Conquer Policy and the British could not comprehend as how a government could unite the independent princely states that were divided along multiple axes such as language, caste, religion, etc.

Scotland is more like Spain than Bengal is like the Punjab. – Sir John Strachey.

The Brexit of 1947: ‘Scotland is more like Spain than Bengal is like the Punjab’ (scroll.in)

Jawaharlal Nehru became the first prime minister of Independent India and his government included a woman, and members from different parties. The governments first task was to get the 500 odd princely states united under a single Flag. Sardar Vallabhai Patel, along with K.M. Panikkar and V.P Menon coaxed and drafted policies to get the princely states to accede to the union of India. The constitution drafting committee was headed by  B.R Ambedkar and represented a diverse group of Individuals who worked on the constitution of India. Sukumar Sen, the election commissioner of India was responsible for conducting the elections across the country and is seen as the unsung hero of the Indian Democratic process. I couldn’t help wonder the sheer will and effort these leaders had to put in these fundamental guardrails to help govern a unified country for the past 73 years. In spite of early warnings and worries, the Indian democracy continues to be a model process for the rest of the world. 

The Great Divide

As Mohammed Jinnah pushed for a separate state for Muslims, he polarized the community and instigated riots in several parts of the country. Violence spilled over onto the streets of Punjab and Calcutta. Gandhi and Nehru’s voices of reason and pleas to unite the country fell on deaf years. The Britishers before leaving decided a two country solution was and decided to split Bengal, and Punjab between India and Pakistan. While the Hindus of Bengal took the West and the Muslims took the east (now Bangladesh), it was not straightforward in Punjab as the state had a strong Hindu, Muslim and Sikh population. As violence continued to increase the central government decided to agree to the Two State solution. The partition caused massive displacement and claimed millions of lives as violence escalated. M.S. Gowalkar and the R.S.S movement primarily hold Nehru, Gandhi and Patel responsible for the injustice to the Hindus of Punjab and Bengal. It is also interesting to observe that while M.S Gowalkar and the Sangh did not support the Quit India Movement founded by the Indian National Congress they were up in arms at the idea of partitioning India. Inspite of the bloodshed the division brought about to the country it is worthwhile to note that Gandhi and Nehru did more to quell the violence in the country than any other leader. The British ordered the Company army to stand down and protect the European citizens rather than quell the riots in the country. The partition forced Gandhi and Nehru to think about the safety of Muslims who chose to stay back in India and this thought did influence his politics and policies. This issue becomes a bone of contention between the Sangh and Nehru. The Sangh hated Nehru for giving in to the demands of Jinnah, and Nehru developed a distrust of the Sangh for instigating violence against Muslims in India.

India is divided she will be lost forever. Therefore . . . if India is to remain undivided, Hindus and Moslems must live together in brotherly love, not in hostile camps organized either for defensive action or retaliation. . . .

The Essential Gandhi: An Anthology, edited by Louis Fischer, 1962

India for Hindus was the rallying cry for the RSS. Nehru and Gandhi did not want India to be a religious state, like Pakistan. They understood that the strength of the country was in its diversity and did everything to ensure that the Muslim citizens of India were protected equally. Nehru did not want his ministers to partake in religious ceremonies or create an illusion of being pro Hindu. Nehru also had an modern outlook on life and wanted to push India to be Secular. Along with Ambedkar, het set about an agenda to impose religious reforms in the constitution of India. Nehru excluded the Muslims from the scope of his reforms and pushed forth reforms to serve rights for women (Choice of marriage and divorce), enforced monogamy for Hindus, made untouchability illegal and eliminated restrictions on caste based marriages etc. Though the reforms seem to be forward thinking, the right wing parties that their beliefs and rights were being infringed upon. The divide along Religion and Caste was too big a chasm to bridge in India for Nehru.

Inspite of the laws and reforms some of these practices seem to have persisted well into the 20th century. The Fact that India has enjoyed considerable democratic stability on account of its diverse and secular background does go on to prove Nehru right in this regard. Pakistan being a religious state has had to contend with a bumpy democratic process and has seen its share of authoritarian leaders.

As the various princely states started to accede to the union of India, Kashmir and Hyderabad held out and did not readily accede. Both states had a significant Muslim population and that fed into the Sangh theory that the Muslims could not be trusted. Both states eventually sided with the Indian republic. If the religious reforms were a thorn in Nehru’s flesh, then the Kashmir issue was a smoking gun. Kashmir is unique in the fact that the state was ruled over by a Hindu King, had a large Muslim population and bordered China, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Jinnah wanted Kashmir to accede to Pakistan. Maharaja Hari Singh had to turn to Nehru for help when tribesmen attacked the state and committed atrocities against the general population. Nehru agreed to send the military on condition that the Maharaja accept the Indian government. Inspite of the king agreeing to do so Nehru did not force the matter and agreed when Sheik Abdullah pushed for a plebiscite to determine if Kashmir was to be part of India. The people of Kashmir voted to remain with India. Kashmir had secured considerable autonomy in governance as part of the demands while acceding to India. Sheik Abdullah (Omar Abdullah’s grand father) who took over from the raja as the interim PM of Kashmir had imposed land reforms that favored the Muslims over Hindus. This obviously did not sit well with the Hindu population in Jammu. S.P Mookerjee (founder of modern day B.J.P) and M.S Gowalkar thought Nehru was being weak and wanted Kashmir to Integrate completely with India. The status quo held until in 2019, HM Amit Shah passed the resolution in the cabinet that removed the protected status for the state of Kashmir and integrated the state completely under the Indian union. The fact that it took more than 70 years and a majority BJP central government to impose the change, highlights the delicate state of things in Kashmir. The Kashmir issue has continued to plague the Indian and Pakistan governments, wars have been fought on account of Kashmir and the issue remains to date a major source of disagreement, and distrust between the two countries. Of all issues plaguing the country, nothing can come close to splitting the country along the seam like religion.

It is to be noted that the indecisive nature of Maharaja Hari Singh, the stubbornness of Sheik and the pride of the governments all have lead to the unfortunate state of affairs in Kashmir.

P.S: I would like to tag a group of essays that sort of tie together in an elaborate manner to create a sense of how this notion of India has been instilled in out minds.

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