India, the word which invokes awe and mystique, is an idea of a nation that runs contrary to all established concepts of a nation-state. It neither has a common language nor a single religion. It’s mind-boggling cultural, religious, linguistic and geographic diversity is virtually impossible to fathom, so much so that India is often referred to as a sub-continent. And despite all this India still exists and is thriving. Paeans have been written on the fabled ‘Unity in Diversity’ of India and it has been celebrated at all possible opportunities, official and unofficial, making us proud of being Indians.
As much as we would like to believe in such a Utopia reality speaks a different story. India today, even after more than 60 years of Independence, is marred with deep fault lines of religion, region and inequitable economic growth. From the secessionist movements in the North-East of India and Jammu and Kashmir to the Maoist uprising in the heartland and the still simmering Khalistan movement, from the baggage of Partition to the claims of statehood in Telangana, from the Babri Masjid demolition to the 2002 Gujarat Hindu-Muslim riots we see all around us how the idea of India, as a land of freedom, equality and prosperity, is being challenged time and again.
In light of all this it becomes imperative for us to appreciate the seminal role played by political will in holding together and sustaining India as an idea of a nation that promises collective and individual development through equitable economic, political and cultural growth. The political authority of our country, especially the national political parties like the Indian National Congress (INC), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Communist Party of India (CPI) among others, have been able to instill a sense of nationhood into people, cutting across divisions of region, religion, language, etc. These political formations have guaranteed the people’s participation in the process of governance and general administration, hence ensuring that the common man feels herself or himself as an integral part of the nation building process. They have instilled a sense of belonging by making the average citizen a stakeholder in the idea of India.
The molding of the idea of Indian nationhood by the political will has often been put to test by antagonistic forces, especially the forces of counter nationalism. Starting from the claims of Naga nationhood immediately after India’s independence to the present secessionist movements raging in states like Jammu and Kashmir, Nagaland, Assam, Manipur, Tripura and the still seething Khalistan movement in Punjab, India has continually faced the challenge posed by counter nationalism. In the last two decades, especially after the Babri Masjid demolition and subsequent Hindu-Muslim riots, religious fanaticism, whose seed were sowed during the genocide-like post-Partition riots, has reared its ugly head and is seriously confronting the idea of India as a tolerant country where all faiths are equal and respected. This also includes the atrocities inflicted on minorities such as the Christians by majority Hindu groups like Bajrang Dal and the worrying rise of home-grown Hindu militant groups as a so-called response to cross-border Islamic terrorism. Another grave challenge being posed to the very fabric of Indian nationhood is the Maoist or Naxalite movement that has engulfed one-third of the country (210 out of a total of 626 districts have Maoist presence, of which in 90 districts it is an effective presence) (Bharatiya Janata Party, 12-13 June, 2010).
The secessionist movements in various parts of the country have different contours. In Kashmir it is the call for ‘Azadi’, fuelled by monetary, manpower, and ideological support from across the border. Such cross-border support for violence would not have succeeded had it not been for the failure of the state machinery in Jammu and Kashmir to provide the citizens affordable means for a respectful livelihood. The disillusionment of the Kashmiri people with hollow promises, like special-category status through constitutional provisions like Article 370, and with the high-handedness of the administration has deteriorated into a bloody insurgency and sporadic street fights that have not only engulfed the whole of Jammu and Kashmir but also has spilled over into the rest of India. Kashmiri militant groups, especially the extreme Islamic ones that originate from Pakistan like the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) ((ANI), 2010), have spread their nefarious designs all across India in an attempt to destabilize the country thru violent acts of bombing and indiscriminate killing of people.
In the North-East of India the situation is equally appalling with a multitude of militant groups operating across the region trying to push their demands for separate nationhood through violent means. In Nagaland the insurgency started before India’s independence and continues to afflict the state till today.
Though the two groupings of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), Issac-Muivah (IM) and Khaplang (K), are in a peace agreement with the government of India, NSCN has not given up its stated objective of establishing an independent Socialist Christian state in the areas inhabited by the Naga people in North-East India and Myanmar (‘Greater Nagaland’ (‘Nagalim’ or the People’s Republic of Nagaland)) ((SATP), 2001).
In Assam, despite the weakening of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) and of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) in the last couple of years on account of the arrests of their top cadre, the situation is still grim as there are factions within these groupings that are still pursuing their violent ways and there exist other fringe militant groups like the KLNLF (Karbi Longri National liberation Front) and the UPDS (United People’s Democratic Solidarity) that have their own agenda of carving out a separate state out of Assam. Though there are signs of militant groups coming to the negotiating table for peace talks, through government initiatives and those of the civil society such as the People’s Consultative Group, the future is still uncertain as the insurgents have not given up on their demand for sovereignty and top leaders like Paresh Barua of the ULFA have still not agreed for peace talks.
Manipur, which literally means the jewel-land, have suffered from militancy since the 1960s after the inception of the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) on 24 November 1964 and that of another powerful terrorist group called the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), founded on September 25, 1978 ((CDPS), Overview: Insurgency & Peace Efforts in Manipur, 2008). The problem there is made acute by the deep nexus that exist between drug traffickers, militants and the politicians which has led to the highest prevalence of drug usage and AIDS cases in the country.
In Tripura the insurgency was a started by the tribal population of the state as a protest against the settling down of migrant non-tribal people, especially Bengalis from East Pakistan and subsequently Bangladesh, in the hills and the consequent marginalization of the indigenous people in the political and economic discourse of Tripura. The prominent groups are the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) was founded in March 1989, Borok National Council of Tripura (BNCT) which came into existence in 1997 and is a sister organization of the NLFT ((CDPS), Overview: Insurgency & Peace Efforts in Tripura, 2008). Though acts of militancy are declining in the state, incidents of violence are still taking place. The most infamous was the serial blasts in the state capital, Agartala on October 1, 2008, injuring 74 people.
In this depressingly long list of secessionist movements an important addition is that of the Khalistan movement launched by its proponent Jagjit Singh Chauhan in 1971. It was started with the objective of re-creating the 18th century Sikh Empire in which the envisioned Sikh state would include all Punjabi-speaking areas in Greater Punjab, including parts of eastern Pakistan. It reached its zenith in the 1970s and 1980s, especially after the storming of the Golden Temple by the Indian army during Operation Blue Star. Even though Indian security forces, in particular the Punjab state police under the leadership of K. P. S. Gill, suppressed the main secessionist militancy in Punjab in the early 1990s, several Indian Sikh parties are still fighting for independent Khalistan through peaceful, political means inside India and there are international pro-Khalistan organizations such as Dal Khalsa (International) that are still active outside India.
In light of all this pan-India specter of mayhem and violence in the name of ‘freedom’ it is inescapably important for a strong political will to exist and put up a collective fight against all these forces that are playing havoc with the sovereignty of our country. From finding a political solution to the vexed issue of autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir (J & K) to quelling violence in the North-East through rapid economic development and equitable distribution of political and cultural rights it is going to be the determining role played by political organizations which will ensure that these challenges are tackled head-on and in a time bound manner.
In J & K, despite the many mistakes made by politicians and the subsequent belying of people’s hopes, the sole ray of hope for the state is a strong, democratically elected political will which can guarantee a legitimate avenue to the electorate to voice their concerns and be assured that their problems would be solved in a manner that makes sure that the future of the state and that of its denizens is secured. The menace of cross-border terrorism can be effectively countered only when there exists a powerful, people-supported political authority that can take a decisive stand against this terror campaign. Also the presence of political will in J & K in the form of various political parties like the Jammu & Kashmir National Conference (NC), the Indian National Congress (INC), the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has ensured that the state is fully integrated into the discourse of mainstream India, both politically and culturally.
For the North Eastern regions of India the major reason behind the rise of insurgency is two-fold. First it is the inexcusable lack of development and the second one is the usurping of the cultural and political rights of the indigenous people on account of illegal immigration, especially from Bangladesh. Here again it has been the important role played by political will that has held together the region as an integral part of India. Immediately after independence the late Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi of Assam had successfully fought against the inclusion of Garo Hills of the present day Meghalaya into the then newly created East Pakistan. In the similar vein the political presence in North-East, of both regional and national parties; have been responsible for creating and sustaining a sense of nationhood in this otherwise geographically remote part of India. The triumph of the democratic process in Assam, Tripura and the other insurgency afflicted states of the North-East has shown that people believe in the power of the ballot over that of the bullet, and trust the political process and its proponents to effectively solve their problems, which mainly revolve around a lack of economic opportunities to pursue their dreams of enjoying a respectable lifestyle. Also it is the strength of the political will that has been responsible in bringing the dreaded militant groups, like the ULFA and NDFB in Assam, to the negotiating table for peace talks. Also in states like Manipur and Nagaland the mainstream political parties have been successful in staving off the grave challenge posed to the territorial integrity of India by powerful militant groups like the PLA and the NSCN, and also been triumphant in weaning the general public from the negative propaganda of these secessionist groups. Thus for the people of the North-Eastern states the idea of India has been brought to life by the various political outfits that exist in the region and which believe in the transformational power of the idea of India.
The power of the political will in holding together and sustaining the idea of India in the face of serious threats posed by counter-nationalistic forces was best illustrated by the eradication of the violent pro-Khalistan insurgent movement that had singed Punjab and the rest of the country for two long decades. It was the unwavering will of political parties, such as the Indian National Congress (INC), along with the single-minded perseverance and sacrifice of the bureaucracy and the security forces, especially the state police, that helped in suppressing the cycle of death and bedlam which was instigated by the likes of Bhindranwale and his fanatic followers.
Apart from secessionist movements another severe challenge being posed to the idea of India is by religious fundamentalism and the subsequent polarization of the Indian society and psyche around religious fault lines. This process began with the unfortunate division of the country into India and Pakistan in 1947 and the country-wide riots that happened in its aftermath which claimed hundreds of thousands of lives on both sides of the border. This ghettoization of the Indian minorities, especially Muslims, became prominent after the December 6th 1992 Babri Masjid demolition. It was a culmination of the hate campaign launched by demagogic, majority Hindu outfits like the Viswa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajran Dal in order to placate the parochial and extremist urges of a majority Hindu population which was disillusioned by the lack of economic opportunities in a country plagued by the Hindu economic rate of 3-4 percent growth in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The consequences of this demolition were manifold. It not only instigated country-wide pogroms but also strengthened the hands of anti-India forces that always are on the look-out for reasons to destabilize the country. A major consequence was the 12th March, 1993 Bombay bombings that were carried out by the D-Company, run by gangster Dawood Ibrahim, with support from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan and which left hundreds of people dead ((IANS), Dawood’s D-Company in cahoots with LeT, Al Qaeda : US report, 2010). The Babri Masjid demolition was also responsible for giving the impetus for the growth of home-grown terror outfits like the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and the Indian Mujahideen (IM), who have carried out many ghastly bombing campaigns across the nation.
The unfortunate consequence of the rise of these Islamic militant groupings has been the creation of Hindu militant groups like Abhinav Bharat. They have been alleged to have orchestrated bombings such as the 2008 Malegaon bombing, 2007 Samjhauta Express bombings, and the October 2007 Ajmer Dargah blasts in response to the perceived violence against Hindus ((IANS), CBI-ATS team explores Abhinav Bharat’s role in Ajmer blast, 2009).
This hydra-headed monster of religious fanaticism had once again reared its head in 2002 Gujarat Riots between Hindus and Muslims. This sad blot in post-independent India’s history also shows the degree to which Indians are influenced and afflicted by the hate campaigns of religious demagogues. This balkanization of the Indian society on such violent, fanatic religious lines poses an extremely serious challenge to the very fabric of the society.
This grave threat to our society can only be tackled by a concerted effort by one and all and this effort has to be spearheaded by a strong political will. Cutting across political ideologies and affiliations the political parties of India have to put up a united stand against any form of violence. Narrow, parochial political considerations have to be overcome to realize the vision of an India where individual excellence matters and not his or her religious leanings.
Another issue that is challenging the idea of India is the incessant claims for statehood across the nation. The most prominent among these claims are those being for Telangana. The province borders the states of Maharashtra on North-West, Karnataka on West, Chattisgarh and Orissa on North, and Coastal Andhra region on East and Rayalaseema region on South; both these regions were part of the former Andhra state which was merged with Telangana to create the current state of Andhra Pradesh in 1956. But the people of Telangana were dissatisfied with this decision, and this resulted in a separate state movement in 1969. According to people of Telangana, they have continually faced injustices in budget allocations and employment opportunities even though the maximum revenue for Andhra Pradesh comes from this region.
It was post the November 29, 2009 fast-unto-death protest by the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) president, K. Chandrashekar Rao (KCR), demanding that the Congress party introduce a Telangana bill in the Parliament, that the Telangana movement gained national prominence (Hindu, 2009). Subsequently Mr. P. Chidambaram, the Union Minister of Home Affairs, announced on December 9, 2009 that the Indian government would start the process of creation of a separate Telangana state, pending the introduction and passage of a separation resolution in the Andhra Pradesh assembly (Standard, 2009). But this decision sparked of protest from the people residing in the Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions (Andhra region). On December 23, the Government of India announced that no action on Telangana will be taken until a consensus is reached by all parties and this led to the formation of a Joint Action Committee (JAC) which comprised of pro-separation members of the major political parties active in Andhra Pradesh.
Though the issue is still to be resolved it is clear that a strong political will be the pre-requisite in getting the divergent views on to a common plane and thus hammer out a consensus decisions that best suits every party’s demands in the most amicable manner. This again is an illustrative situation where political will has played and will play a decisive role in holding together and sustaining the idea of India as a land which promises equal opportunities to everyone, irrespective of regional affiliations.
The Maoist movement spreading like wildfire thru the tribal regions of Central and Eastern India and almost knocking at the doors of major India cities is another one of those grave challenges that can be and is being tackled through strong political will. Right from the Centre to the individual state government level the political leadership has realized that the Naxalite movement, with its stated objective of overthrowing democracy and establishing an authoritarian socialist state on the lines of Maoist political sentiment and ideology, is against the Constitutional ideals on which the idea of India was established. This political will has materialized on ground in the form of a two-pronged strategy. The first aspect of this strategy is usher in economic and social development of the poor tribals in Central and Eastern India, particularly in the states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and West Bengal, and take legal action against landlords and forest contractors as well as government officials who exploit and harass the poor, uneducated tribals. The other leg of the strategy is to defeat, thru decisive force, the threat being posed by the armed cadres of the Maoists and their leaders. This way a strong political will supported by effective and efficient government machinery will be able to successfully tackle the grave threat posed by the Maoist/Naxalite movement.
In the context of these various facets of counter nationalistic forces colliding against the very foundations of the idea of India it is absolutely vital for us to appreciate the fact that political will, which gets manifested in the form of political parties, agendas, elections and governance, is the bedrock of our existence as a nation since it is political will only which is responsible for uniting the citizens of India in order to successfully counter the challenge of counter nationalism and preserve the idea of India.