Not long back we were the darlings of the Wall Street Journal, the flamboyant and magnificent soon-to-be global economic giant. Then we became the lusty, flesh thirsty animals waiting to pound on any female (age no bar) we find. We are said to have more malnourished children than the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. We have maximum number of billionaires with us, barring just 5 countries. We are untidy, intelligent, corrupt, unpunctual, religious, orthodox and full of cynicism.
But when we peep a bit deeper into the social fabric of the country, we wont be able to make such wide generalizations. We will find a whole new picture of a complex society constantly at war with itself, with identities as varied and confusing as can possibly be. We may be tribals today, fighting for our land which our fellow Indians are forcibly trying to snatch from us. We may be Saffron-clad, sword-bearing Hindus tomorrow, butchering our fellow Indians following Islam or Sikh faith. We may belong to X or Y community, hampering and delaying trains to demand our share of appeasements. We may then be speakers of Tamil language, fighting for the creation of separate state for Tamil speakers in Sri Lanka. We may further be a member of workers’ union fighting with our fellow Indians for more pay or better working conditions. We may be residents of one of the seven sister states, whom our fellow Indians mock as ‘Chinkies’. We may be Biharis forced out of Maharashtra for overpopulating the state. The list can go on, but the crux of these comparisons is that merely claiming to be Indian will not give us an exhaustive set of our identity. There are various lenses through which we see ourselves on different occasions (or one can say we are forced/nudged to see ourselves on different occasions).
How our religious and other identities are formed is a debate which historians have been involved in since quite some time now and dates back many years before independence. Not getting into that for now, I would like to focus on how these identities are used/misused for political and personal gains and how effective vote banks these identities have been proving to be for power hungry opportunists.
Is it a coincidence that the two most backward states of India – U.P. and Bihar have the maximum number of seats in the Lok Sabha? (85 and 54 respectively before the creation of new states in 2000). Rath Yatra organized by BJP in 1990 was timed perfectly in resonance with elections. The political parties BSP and SP were formed (1984 and 1992 respectively) only a few years after the report on Mandal Commission was tabled (1980). Various schemes implemented by the government to push through their socialist agenda, which in fact are mobilizing lower class people and their votes, are passed just before the elections keeping in mind that the memory of people is short lived, so its better to strike the iron when its hot. One party asks us to give them vote as they share our religion claiming that the religion is in danger and needs instant vigor to save itself, other because they promise our caste greater benefits of power and representation, leftist parties want working-class votes even if they share the same economic ideology as that of centre or centre-right parties, some regional party comes to demand votes claiming they will gift us a separate state specifically to cater to our developmental needs, and the political juggernaut continues. Each time the perplexed voter is left frustrated whichever identity he succumbs to.
One school of thought believes that it is in the interest of the political parties to keep the electorate poor and uneducated, as it is easy to manipulate and evoke their identities when need be. Method used to dispense funds to different states from the union budget – Gadgil Formula – uses indicators like population, development etc to allocate funds, which in turn implies that more the population and less developed the state is, more fund will be allocated to it. This is like saying – take more money today, spend it in wrong way, keep the state underdeveloped, and take more money the next time!!
In the initial phase of independence when there was no definite identity as ‘Indian’, it was democratic politics that gave a sense of togetherness and a common identity to the fellow citizens by giving each citizen a vote to cast, one man-one vote, one vote-one value. The time has come when the same democratic politics has ensured the perpetual dissection of the population into different identities, plugging the one which provides immediate electoral benefit.
Probably Nehru was right when he wrote that Indian history is like “an ancient palimpsest on which layer upon layer of thought and reverie had been inscribed, and yet no succeeding layer had completely hidden or erased what had been written previously”. But he never would have imagined that all these different layers will some day be exploited by political pundits to meet their ends.
Indeed it is a race between different people to reach the podium of power and will chose any identity which guarantee them that position. No immediate solution is there in sight as of now.