Friday, December 11, 2009

From patriotism to parochialism

There is something disruptive about the idea of linguistic states. But the idea received sanctity from the earliest days of the independence movement. The Congress was organised along the lines of linguistic pradeshes. In that sense Potti Sriramulu had the backing of nationalist fashion when he fasted to death in 1952 for a Telugu state. All of India was then reconfigured along linguistic lines.

The basic argument always was that linguistic structuring will facilitate development of both the language and the state. A half century later we can see the hollowness of this argument. Development of language has boiled down to the meaningless campaign for “classical status” for one’s language. What on earth does this status signify? Is Raj Thackeray’s violent chauvinism helping Marathi develop? As for development of the state, there is not a single case so far of linguistic identity having helped a state progress. On the contrary, it has produced undisguised enmities among states. Just look at the war-like posturings of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra over water sharing. The next stage will be when one-dimensional leaders like Mulayam Singh and M.K. Azhagiri become the rulers of the land – unable to talk to one another or understand one another. It will be not unity in diversity, but disunity in distrust.

And now even language as a symbol of patriotism has become passé. The success of Chandrasekhara Rao’s death-fast threat for Telangana takes the game to parochialism of a negative kind. His objective is personal gain. He had lost his political base, lost his party allies and lost even the recent elections in the state. Now, in one fell sweep, he has assured himself the chief ministership of Telangana State if and when it materialises. A classic case of zero to hero.

This is good for Chandrasekahara Rao and bad for Telengana and very bad for India. It is bad for Telangana because Chandrasekhara Rao is just a run-of-the-mill politician. Any government he heads will be one more exercise in the usual sharing of spoils. The beneficiaries will be opportunists like Deputy Superintendent of Police Nalini who resigned at the nick of time, made the right noises about Telangana being oppressed and went straight to visit the ailing Chandrasekhara Rao. Resignations and rioting have taken place against dividing the state, showing that a new Telangana state will be sailing in stormy seas. Hyderabad’s pre-eminence as a supra-Telangana megalopolis will add to the tensions. A likely attempt by Chandrasekhara Rao to anoint his son Rama Rao as heir apparent will create a precarious situation akin to Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s son Jagan is currently facing.

India, poor India, will not split apart as Yugoslavia did after Tito, but its sense of unity will be severely tested. After all, we are facing a situation where even people who speak the same language are unable to stay together. Then what about the ten other demands for new states? The Gorkhaland campaign has already been revived with plans for multiple fasts unto death, a dig that makes Chandrasekhara Rao look rather foolish. Justifications abound for new Saurashtra, Bhojpur, Mithilanchal, Vidarbha states. Very strong indeed is the case for Kodagu. With a history, culture, lifestyle and socio-economic background that set it apart from surrounding regions, Kodagu’s distinctiveness is more manifest than Pondicherry’s.

Such valid cases for statehood should be winnable through democracy’s fair means. Each time Mahatma Gandhi went on a fast, it was invariably an example of complete selflessness. He was like Bharata who started a hunger strike when Rama refused to end his exile as Bharata had pleaded. Moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, we have turned fasts unto death into a blackmailing tactic. Every time the tactic wins, the forces of good lose.