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International Relations

Divisions on the Rise in India - Manmohan Singh

Addressing the National Integration Council,
13 October 2008

Comment by tamilnation.org - Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is right to point out that divisions are on the rise in India. He is also right to say that this is not an accident. But Mr. Manmohan Singh is wrong when he attributes the cause to evil forces conspiring to assault the 'composite culture' of India - a 'composite culture' created by English speaking Indians speaking to one another in English. Mr. Manmohan Singh flies in the face of history when he declares -

"Ethnic and religious communities have lived together peacefully during the past millennium. We take pride in the fact that people of all castes, communities, religions and languages live together peacefully, and our culture imbibes the best from each one of them."

It was after all the divisions in India which enabled the foreign invaders to conquer and rule India. Mr.Manmohan Singh may gain by revisiting the words of Sardar K.M.Pannikar, Indian Ambassador to China from 1948 to 1952, and later Vice Chancellor, Mysore University in Principles and Practice of Diplomacy, 1956 -

"The Rajah of Cochin who in his resentment against the Zamorin permitted the Portuguese to establish a trading station in his territories could not foresee that thereby he had introduced into India something which was to alter the course of history."

The Stink of Untouchability

And for centuries India has been notorious for its caste divisions and caste murders.

"I�d say the biggest indictment of all is that we are still a country, a culture, a society which continues to nurture and practice the notion of untouchability. While our economists number-crunch and boast about the growth rate, a million people � human scavengers � earn their living carrying several kilos of other people�s shit on their heads every day. And if they didn�t carry shit on their heads they would starve to death. Some f***ing superpower this." Arundhati Roy in conversation with Shoma Chaudhury, March 2007

Mr. Manmohan Singh may also find that which Pramatha Chauduri wrote in Bengali in 1921 instructive -

".. No people in Europe are as different, one from another, as our people. There is not that much difference between England and Holland as there is between Madras and Bengal. Even France and Germany are not that far apart.....

As children, we read in the Hitopodesa that at night birds from all directions would gather on a shimul tree on the banks of the Godavari. Why? To cackle for a while and then go off to sleep. Cackle in this context means to discuss the politics of the birdworld. We, too, in this dark, night time of India's history go to the Congress meet to cackle for three or four days and then snore. We can cackle together because, thanks to the education conferred by the British, we all have the same dialect. I am not saying that this dialect is all that our lips utter or our minds. All I want to suggest is that behind the Congress patriotism, there is only one kind of mind and that mind is bred on English text books. We all have that kind of mind, but under it is the mind which is individual for all nations and different from nation to nation. And our civilisation will emerge from the depth of that mind."

Today more than 80 years after Pramatha Chauduri, we may have an Indian 'state' but we do not have an Indian 'nation'. A state is an institution. A nation is a togetherness - a togetherness of a people who speak a common language and who trace their heritage to a common origin. In truth, that which we have in India is an 'Empire' - an 'Indian Empire' which is the successor to the old 'British Indian Empire' of which Queen Victoria was crowned as Empress.

The Austro Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire did not survive World War I and the British, French, Dutch and Portuguese Empires did not survive World War II. It will be to engage in the politics of the bird world (where we cackle to each other in English) to suggest that the Indian Empire will survive as an Empire. It is no accident that a Gujerati does not stand for election in Tamil Nadu, or a Tamil in Bengal, or a Marathi in Kashmir - and there is a need to recognise and address this political reality. Mr. Manmohan Singh may want to recognise that the unity of India will not be built by bland appeals to a non existent 'composite culture'.

There are, ofcourse, those (including Marxists) who sometimes suggest that conflicts amongst different national formations will be assuaged by economic growth. But the reality is otherwise. Nationalism is not simply a matter of economics.

"Like religion,.. or any other great emotive force, nationalism is ambivalent, and can escape very completely from a prescribed political channel. Even in its origins, it was a complex phenomenon, deriving both from the solidarity and from the divisions of society. It would have astonished Marx to see socialism owing so much to partnerships with nationalism in Afro-Asia and in the Soviet Union during the second world war... " - V.Kiernan - 'Nationalist Movements and Social Classes' in Nationalist Movements"Nationalism has proved an uncomfortable anomaly for Marxist theory and precisely for that reason, has been largely elided, rather than confronted. How else to account for the use, for over a century of the concept of the 'national bourgeoisie' without any serious attempt to justify theoretically the relevance of the adjective? Why is this segmentation of the bourgeoisie - a world class in so far as it is defined in terms of the relations of productions - theoretically significant?

A nation is an imagined political community... It is imagined as a community, because regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep horizontal comradeship. Ultimately, it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries, for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such limited imaginings." *Benedict Anderson: Imagined Communities - Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, 1991

Peoples speaking different languages, tracing their roots to different origins, and living in relatively well defined and separate geographical areas, do not somehow 'melt' and disappear - and, in any case, a dependent 'third world' economy will not provide a large enough 'pot' for the 'melting' to take place. The unity of India will not be built by a new economic colonialism secured by easing barriers to entry by multinationals and by creating a consumption hungry English speaking upper/middle class.

�The Asian �coolies� of the late 1800s and early 1900s came to the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and the West Indies as laborers, doing the physical, backbreaking work westerners didn�t want to do. ... In this new century, India�s tech workers are coming to be seen as nothing more than glamorized coolies (rich coolies, but coolies still.) For the global corporate sector, India is just one large back office, not a formidable economic force such as China or even a political nuisance such as Pakistan... The global corporate sector � understandably � will not shed light on these issues. It is not in their interest. In fact, eased barriers to entry, a consumption hungry upper class and cheap labor are major prizes in the new economic colonialism... " India: The Poverty of Progress - Chandasi Pandya, 2005

Again, Mr.Manmohan Singh may want to pay attention to something which Justin Podur said a couple of months ago -

"..In the background of the Indo-US nuclear deal now going into 'overdrive', as well as the increasing economic co-operation and (most importantly) the joint military exercises and interoperability efforts and acquisitions made by India, there is a geopolitical notion: that the US is building India's military capacity in order to counter potential rivals China and Russia in the region... (But) Empires don't build great powers. They build clients and dependencies..." Empires Don't Build Rivals - Justin Podur 5 August 2008

Given all this, it should not surprise Mr.Manmohan Singh that a report, released on 14 October 2008, as part of the 2008 Global Hunger Index, ranks India at 66 out 88 countries in the Hunger Index. Twelve Indian states (including Tamil Nadu) have "alarming" levels of hunger while the situation is "extremely alarming" in the state of Madhya Pradesh. -

Hunger in India

"The report, released as part of the 2008 Global Hunger Index, ranks India at 66 out 88 countries. The hunger index has been released by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) along with Welthungerhlife and the University of California. It measures hunger on three indicators which include child malnutrition, rates of child mortality and the number of people who are calorie deficient. The problem of hunger is measured in five categories - low, moderate, serious, alarming or extremely alarming. The survey says that not one of the 17 states in India that were studied were in the low or moderate hunger category. "Despite years of robust economic growth, India scored worse than nearly 25 sub-Saharan African countries and all of South Asia, except Bangladesh," the report says. The best performing state was Punjab, which has a 'serious' hunger problem and does less well than developing countries such as Gabon, Vietnam and Honduras. " Hunger in India States Alarming - BBC, 14 October 2008

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may want to pay more careful attention to something which Arundhati Roy said an year ago in March 2007 when she was asked by Shoma Chaudhury of Tehelka "There is an atmosphere of growing violence across the country. How do you read the signs? In what context should it be read?" -

" You don�t have to be a genius to read the signs. We have a growing middle class, reared on a diet of radical consumerism and aggressive greed. Unlike industrialising Western countries, which had colonies from which to plunder resources and generate slave labour to feed this process, we have to colonise ourselves, our own nether parts. We�ve begun to eat our own limbs. The greed that is being generated (and marketed as a value interchangeable with nationalism) can only be sated by grabbing land, water and resources from the vulnerable.

What we�re witnessing is the most successful secessionist struggle ever waged in independent India � the secession of the middle and upper classes from the rest of the country. It�s a vertical secession, not a lateral one. They�re fighting for the right to merge with the world�s elite somewhere up there in the stratosphere.

.. to equate a resistance movement fighting against enormous injustice with the government which enforces that injustice is absurd. The government has slammed the door in the face of every attempt at non-violent resistance. When people take to arms, there is going to be all kinds of violence � revolutionary, lumpen and outright criminal. The government is responsible for the monstrous situations it creates...does this mean that people whose dignity is being assaulted should give up the fight because they can�t find saints to lead them into battle?. "

Yes, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is right to say that the violence that is permeating Indian society is no accident. "You don't have to be a genius to read the signs".

Divisions on the Rise in India - Manmohan Singh
Addressing the National Integration Council, 13 October 2008

We are witnessing signs of increasing fissiparous tendencies especially in areas like the North East, in Jammu & Kashmir, in Orissa and Karnataka, in Assam and some other parts of our country. Sometimes the situation is aggravated by external interests that wish to de-rail the essential unity of India. Further, as witnessed recently in Orissa, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Assam we see ethnicity and religion being used as arguments to stir divisions.

Violence seems to be permeating society to-day, across the length and breadth of our country - whether it be terrorist violence, whether it is violence with an ideological veneer such as that adopted by the Left Wing Extremists or Communal violence. We need to meet to-day's mindless violence with the requisite amount of force, but must also ensure that this is tempered by reason and justice which is the normal order of governance.

The most disturbing and dangerous aspect to-day is the assault on our composite culture. Ethnic and religious communities have lived together peacefully during the past millennium. We take pride in the fact that people of all castes, communities, religions and languages live together peacefully, and our culture imbibes the best from each one of them. Yet to-day, we see fault-lines developing between, and among, communities. Recent tragic events in Orissa, Karnataka, and Assam have pained all right thinking persons. There are clashes between Hindus, Christians, Muslims and Tribal groups. An atmosphere of hatred and violence is being artificially generated. There are forces deliberately encouraging such tendencies and also spawning militant outfits who engage in irrational violence. These need to be firmly dealt with.

It is not by accident that these incidents are increasing in our society. As members of the National Integration Council, we need to collectively consider whether short-term narrow political ends are driving some of us to encourage forces of divisiveness that are today threatening the unity of our people. A country like ours which is defined by co-existence of different ethnic groups and religions and cemented by an acceptance of a pluralistic and tolerant framework cannot afford the promotion of such divisiveness for narrow partisan ends. There is no politics that has a right to assert over the rights of the common man or the integrity of our nation.

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