Constitution, national symbols only glue that bind india, that is, Bharat

Is it shared history that keeps us together? Except for the British Raj, there is little of it between different states of India.
Image used for representational purpose.
Image used for representational purpose.

At a time when many pressing issues need to be addressed on a war footing, another meaningless debate has occupied the public discourse in the country. It is fascinating to see how politicians can fool us with passionate exchanges on irrelevant things. The latest in this long list of diversionary tactics is about the country’s name. The Constitution, in Article 1, defines our country’s name as India, that is, Bharat. From time immemorial, this land between the Himalayas to Kanyakumari was known by many names to many people. 

Is it shared history that keeps us together? Except for the British Raj, there is little of it between different states of India. There has never been a political unity encompassing the present geographical boundaries at any time in known history. Many kingdoms ruled different parts of present-day India in different eras. Some of the provinces of the big empires like the Mauryas, Guptas, Cholas, Pandyas, Palas etc. now belong to our neighbouring countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand among others.

Neither the Mauryas, Guptas or Mughals ruled any part of Tamil Nadu or Kerala, nor did the Cholas or Pandyas preside over most parts of North India. The present geographical borders are of relatively recent construct of the British. Myanmar (then Burma) was part of British India before it was separated on April 1, 1937. Though the history of Sri Lanka was closely linked to that of South India since time immemorial and it was often under the Chola or Pandya rule, it never became another state of India because the British decided to administer it separately. Religious strives of North India created two countries in 1947 based on religion. Instead of uniting, the shared history and culture of the Gangetic plains and Punjab became a divisive force during Partition. 

Is it language that keeps us together? Andhra Pradesh, sharing the same classical language of Telugu, split into two states. There are many Hindi-speaking states. If language cannot unite even states and provinces, how can it be the basis of a nation? The imposition of one nation, one language policy by the Urdu fanatics of Pakistan on an unwilling Bengali people resulted in the creation of Bangladesh.

If we argue that the unity of ‘India, that is, Bharat’ is one of cultural unity, we face a problem. What unity are we discussing in a country where language and culture change every few miles? Bengalis and Bangladeshis share a similar linguistic culture, icons, food, dress, etc., but have different majority religions in their respective places and had fought a bitter war a few decades ago, resulting in the death of thousands. So, a similar culture is no guarantee for integration. The Bengali speakers now belong to two different countries. Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka, and to an extent Kerala, have similar cultures, food habits, climates, and a shared history of thousands of years. But Sri Lanka is another country now. Kerala and Tamil Nadu are different states. The southern neighbour too faced a civil and military separatist rebellion led by Sri Lankan Tamils for many decades. 

Is it Hinduism then that defines the unity of India? Then why is Nepal a different country? And if we argue Hinduism as a unifying factor, how will we integrate the Muslim, Buddhist or Christian majority provinces? Pakistan is an example of a failed experiment using religion as a cohesive force to unite diverse people. If religion can bring together every follower under one political umbrella, then there will be only as many nations as major religions. All Christian nations would have been one country under a pope, all Muslim nations under one Caliph, all Buddhist nations under a Dalai Lama, and all Communists under a party secretary. And once Hindus decide who could be the equivalent of a Hindu pope or Caliph, all Hindus could form one nation. We could have replaced the UN with a panchayat, and world peace would have been a piece of cake or idli, if you prefer to be patriotic and shun foreign influence. Fortunately, or unfortunately, history has proved that such integration often collapses faster than most other nation-building tools. 

As we can see, none of the factors like language, religion, culture or shared history is a guarantee to remain one as a nation. So what is common to the land mass that we call India or Bharat, which can keep us united? It is the story we have told ourselves that we all believe in the Constitution of India. It is our respect towards the national flag, national emblem and national anthem. It is our trust in electoral democracy despite its flaws. Perhaps our naïve yet endearing belief that all are equal before the law, irrespective of gender, race, religion, caste, language or culture, keeps us together. These are the only things common to everyone living in the geography defined by the present political map. This model has so far proved better in keeping us together. If we forget that, whether we call our country India, Bharat, Hindustan, Meluha, Hind, Gyagar, Phagyul, Tianzhu, Hodu or Jambudweepa—all ancient names of India and all valid—it will splinter into many parts like how it was for the most part of history.

Anand Neelakantan

Author of Asura, Ajaya series, Vanara and Bahubali trilogy

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