I am glad you contacted me when you were in Delhi and we were able to have lunch together.
I liked your frankness without which perhaps I would not have had an opportunity to
discuss the subject of what I call, Subnationalism. I agree with you that ethnic as
well as regional identity can be a powerful inspiration and, when not allowed to have its
say, can cause frustration. But every inspiration does not have to lead to separation of
the region from the rest of the country.
The first attempt must be to satisfy the impulse within the national
boundaries. Remember, economic viability as well as defence capability are also factors
that should not be overlooked by a region. Otherwise,one might find oneself seceding from
one country only to be swallowed up by another. Coming to economics, the world trend is
for larger markets. When this is not possible within the national territory, the tendency
is to combine with neighbours. The European Union (EU) is an outstanding example of mature
nations being prepared to give upsome of their sovereignty for the sake of economic
betterment. For instance, we all know that the EU has adopted a common currency (EURO) and
before long the prestigious German Deutsche Mark and the proud French Franch may cease to
In order to keep personal relations out of our dialogue, let me not
cite any of the seven sister states of the north - east as an example and confine my
references to other states. In India, the subnational sentiment has mostly crystalised
around language although it can have other overtones like a racial identity as in the DMK
movement and its Dravidian pride.
The emotional mainspring of regionalism is similar to the inspiration
of nationalism. For the average person, it is easier to relate to one's region, its
language and culture than with a country of subcontinental size. It can also be true that,
at a given phase in time, regional leadership may have a greater appeal than the national
leadership. Thiru C.N.Annadurai had more appeal in Tamilnadu than the then prime minister
Lal Bahadur Shastri or Indira Gandhi in her early years as Prime Minister. Local or
regional grievances, like the feeling of neglect in Assam, also play their part.
However, the Indian experience is that the centripetal or unifying
appeal has proved more powerful than the centrifugal push of division.Until the sixties,
the Dravid Munnetra Kazhagam stood for seceding or separating from the rest of India. Over
the years however, it has changed and is today as loyal to the Constitution of India as
any other party. There was also a time when there was a stirring for attaining Sikhistan,
later for Khalistan, among some politicians in Punjab. The state suffered untold agony and
widespread terrorism in the eighties.Yet, today no one questions the place of Punjab in
the federation of Indian states.
The Assom Ganatantra Parishad (AGP) was the electoral offshoot of the
All Assam Students Union with its separatist inclination. But, over the years, the AGP has
matured into believing in the unity of India.Subnationalism can lead to the breakup of a
country as has happened inYugoslavia or the land of southern Slavs which has already
broken up into Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina and the rest led by Serbia. However,
Yugoslavia, did not have a binding or a unifying factor as, for instance, is the Hindu
ethos in India. Given the presence of such a unifying factor, it should not be difficult
to sublimate the subnationalist sentiment into change it into nationalism.
Let me clarify that when I refer to the Hindu ethos, I exclude its
religious overtones. I am really trying to give a label for easy reference to the vast
river of Indian history and the many gardens of culture it has watered across the
subcontinent. While the gardens might have their own share of thorns, you would agree that
the lovely flowers have far exceeded the ugly weeds. Or else the Indian civilisation would
not have endured over the millennia.
While Russia has a national ethos, neither the Soviet Union nor its
predecessor the Czarist empire had it. The Central Asian, the Caucasian and the other
peripheral republics were really colonies conquered by the Czars. They were then
legitimised as equal republics after 1917 by the communists who swore to be
anti-imperialist. The Soviet Constitution, which was passed in 1924 had, in one of its
articles, provided for are public to secede from the union.
While the communist leadership was egalitarian, certainly not
racialist, the white people at large continued to harbour a mild contempt for their Asian
fellow countrymen. In many ways, communism was opposed to nationalism and many Russians
felt that some of the republics were a drag on their country.
In contrast, deep down south in Kerala even simple village folk feel
strongly about ensuring that Kashmir remains an integral part of India.This is without
ever having been anywhere near Kashmir or ever having met a Kashmiri. This kind of
sentiment was not widespread in Russia. Lo and behold, under the leadership of President
Mikhail Gorbachev, the republics were spontaneously, as it were, set free. So much so that
there was no bitterness whatsoever and, if anything, there is an occasional voice heard in
favour of the republics coming back to the old union. This is not to discuss the Russian
syndrome but merely to show, by contrast,what a binding factor the Hindu ethos is in our