As the new year is here, and i am reading, or rather re-reading a book which i find fascinating, some of the questions which i had asked when i first read this book, and have been asking since, without getting complete replies, are coming back. At a time when the nation looks forward to another year of prosperity and growth, these questions are ones which arent even related to these, but rather, are questions which are slightly more basic. I am not the first one to ask these questions, nor would i be the last. But coming back to the book i am reading, this is The Discovery of India. In this book, Panditji has explored the idea of India as a nation, has asked some questions of her, and tried to find answers to some of these questions. I am asking not necessarily the same question, but some of these questions share a context.
India is a large, highly diverse nation. We are a nation poised on the threshold of leading the world into a wonderful future. And yet, there are these questions. As a nation, we are a political and economic entity. We are also a civilization, though, and it is from this aspect that questions are coming. The question is simple … What is it that defines India? India is a land of diversity. The Meitei are very different from the Gujarati, and the Kashmiri are very different from the Malayali. And this dimension of region is only one dimension which defines the variety of India. Then of course there is religion, and there is caste, and a number of socio-economic dimensions which define the great variety of India. And yet, there is something which underlies all of these dimensions, which threads all of this diversity into the garland of India.
What i am asking is simply this … what is this something? Is it a shared culture? Culture is shared to an extent. Is it a shared history? Again, shared to an extent. Is it s shared cause? To an extent. Is it a combination of all of these? What is it that makes each of us stand to attention at the singing of the National Anthem? What is it that makes us watch the Republic Day Parade? What is it that makes us shout, sing, dance, cheer when India is playing and winning at cricket (more so when against Pakistan)? If all of these dimensions were flowers, then what is that thread that brings these flowers together into the garland we love … India?
Expect more such musings as i read this book. These questions havent yet been answered completely.
Sometimes i wonder whether i get to know the news thats impacting me or not? At times its more appropriate to think that we get to see the news that the editors of the news channels or newspapers believe we should be seeing, and this is where the media gets to define the scope and topic of debate in society. But there are aspects which probably get left out in all this because they arent very important, maybe.
Let me explain what i am talking about. Those of us who have followed politics in India for some time now will remember how the rise in prices of onions cast its spell over the elections in four states in India. Those of us will also remember the coverage the rise in prices of onions, an essential to Indian cooking, got in the political debates. For those of us who dont remember, you could read bits about it here or here.
What i am concerned about is how little space is being given to the price rise that we are seeing today. Yes, there is talk about it somewhere in between the columns on the inner pages. One could say that this is because there arent any elections round the corner thats why the price rise isnt as important an issue to be covered as it was a decade ago. But then this would imply that even then the coverage wasnt of price rise for an essential, but was coverage of an election issue, and this would imply that the debate is not about price rise and its impact on people but about elections and the impact of the price rise on elections. Now i am not saying that price rise hasnt got coverage but not the way when elections were round the corner.
Whats interesting about the price rise is who benefits from it. The vegetable walla told wife that if a Cauliflower is bought for Re. 1 from the farmer it is sold for Rs. 25 in the market. This means that the benefit of this price rise doesnt pass to the farmer but to a set of traders, middlemen if you may in the supply chain, and this is an aspect which not many seem to be talking about. Shouldnt this be something which should be the core of the debate and shouldnt this debate be at the core of the discussion in the country? To me, i believe, the two areas which should dominate the debate in the country are the impact of this price rise on common people and of course the ongoing negotiations at Copenhagen, which again are inspiring quite a bit of cynicism, like the one i read somewhere (dont remember where) … If the climate were a bank, it would have been saved.
Are there any areas which you think we need to focus on more as a nation? Please do write your comments, maybe we could start something?
I havent written my opinion about the terror attack on Mumbai. I dont think i could have written anything even remotely erudite compared to what folks far more intelligent and well-informed than me have written. Yes, i have shared the agony of the attacks … yes, i have shared the general mood of anger, yes i have been upset with the media coverage … yes i have blamed the media for going overboard because of its elitist leanings … yes i have blamed the media for giving far more importance to this than to the local train blasts, or the blasts at Sarojini Nagar, because of the profile of the people killed … and a number of other things.
And yet, i would like to say this … dont go overboard. Dont go overboard projecting the romance of The Taj Mahal Hotel, or Cafe Leopold … Dont go overboard, claiming Mumbai is the only international city we have. Dont go overboard trying to brand the recent legislature elections as the semi-finals … after all, state and national elections are contested on different issues, and even if that sounds utopian, nothing can be the semi-final without huge states like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu (see here) having had their say. Dont go overboard …
Of course, the Jamat-ud-Dawa should be banned … we have been able to get the UN to ban it. But please let this lead to something. We all remember the time when the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba was banned. Has that helped? Not really. This actually reminds me of a Tom and Jerry episode … the balloon coming out of one cavity … you try to push it back in, it comes out of another cavity. Also, i believe, lets not blame Pakistan. Lets face it … if someone is coming to hit you, it is your foolishness if you let him, and then blame him. It is up to us to protect ourselves. But, the question is, are we serious?
A lot of us have blamed politicans. A lot of us have said enough is enough. Maybe we should stand in front of the mirror and say that? Let me explain what i mean … how many of us actually think about what the other person may go through when we do something? Lets take an example … you will see on the roads in any city, people who will cut you off, who will drive rash, on the wrong side of the road, etc. etc. … for their own convenience (driving on the wrong side of the road is an awesome way to beat having to drive a longer distance and take a u-turn). By doing this, are we ever thinking of what other drivers on the road may go through?
Now, one could argue that theres no relation between driving and national security. But i am not even talking about that. I am talking about the attitude of people. As individuals, how many of us actually care about others? How many of us actually are concerned whether the other person lives or dies? Yes, there are folks who are, but then … Lets ask a hypothetical question … would we have reacted the same way if, for instance, these attacks were the work of, say, the Irish, or Spanish terrorists? If yes, then we would have evolved as a society, and as a nation. If no, then this outcry is not arising from serious concern.
Coming to the point of Pakistan … lets understand one thing … Pakistan was formed on an anti-India platform. Now, if a nation is formed on such a premise, then wouldnt it be folly to actually expect anything drastically different? Pakistan is in a state of denial, they say … maybe they are a state of denial … starting 1948?
Coming to the whole idea of Muslim bashing … Yasin Merchant wrote a wonderful piece in the TOI yesterday … but i am looking at something more basic … When Pakistan was created, the idea was that of “Islam in danger”. On this platform was mooted the idea of creation of Pakistan, comprising the Muslim-majority areas of the sub-continent. However, there is a fallacy here. In these areas, like in Punjab, or Bengal, the platform of “Islam in danger” didnt cut much ice, because the Muslim population wielded enormous political power within the existing system, while in the areas where the Muslims were in a minority, and the platform could actually have cut some ice, those areas were excluded from Pakistan. So let us understand one thing … this is a political, and only a political issue … this cannot be a religious issue. As Shah Rukh Khan said in an interview … there is the Islam of Allah, and there is the Islam of the Mullahs.
Staying on the topic of Pakistan … while this might sound like toeing the Pakistan line, the fact is, and analysts have been saying this, a weak Pakistan is not in our best interests, whether we like it or not. Pushing the government too far will only give more power to the “fundos” as they are called, and probably bring the Taliban closer to our borders, and i dont think any of us would believe that that would be a nice thing. The idea needs to be to eliminate them, and we must think surgically in that direction.