INDIA: A GEOGRAPHICAL EXPRESSION ?
“India is just a geographic expression. It is only the British who united us. We aren’t even one nation – for a nation must have one language, one religion, one race.” How often we hear that hurled at us!
Of some 180 countries in the world, notes Eric J. Hobsbawm, one of the world’s foremost scholars on nationalism, not many more than a dozen states can plausibly claim that their citizens coincide in any real sense with a single ethnic or linguistic group.”
Little do people know that the expression – “a geographic expression” – is Count Metternich’s (1773-1859) description. Not of India, but of Germany! It is only in 1871 that 300 separate and practically independent feuding states and principalities were welded into one “Germany.” Today “geographic expression” is a country and its reunification is hailed by our intellectuals as the erasing away of an artificial partition. But we, Indians have no business continuing as one!
A nation is one the people of which are from a common race? The Kings and Queens of England are a symbol of the oneness of that country – most certainly for the educated Indians. They would be surprised to read, that “…there has not been an ‘English’ dynasty ruling in London since the 11th century to read that Prince Albert, Victoria’s consort, wrote to the King of Prussia as a German…,” that it was only the anti-German sentiment which swept England during the First World War which forced “the British royal family to change the venerable dynastic name to Guelph for the less German-sounding Windsor”
The states in Latin America, the states which have resulted from even more recent settlement – Australia, and New Zealand – the states in the Middle East – Jordan, for instance are even more the constructs of colonial powers and the rest. Winston Churchill boasted how he had created some of the present states in the Middle East one afternoon holidaying on a beach, by just drawing lines on a map! The British decided that India and Pakistan shall be two, and so they are.
The land, its mountains and rivers are venerated in the Rig Veda, in the Arthava Veda in the very way they are in Bankim’s Vande Mataram or Tagore’s Jana-Gana_Mana. The land is celebrated and venerated from those ancient times not just because of the great bounties it bestows on us but because it is seen as the Karma-bhumi, because it has been the place where the greatest souls revered by the people have performed great deeds – of nobility, of valour – where they have attained the deepest insights. The Mahabharata and the Ramayana describe warring states but they are the epics of one people. Adi Shankaracharya traverses the country. He is received with the same reverence everywhere – in Dwaraka in the West King Sudhanva attends his discourses along with his court nobles; when Shankara visits the royal court, the King washes his feet and makes him sit on an elevated dias; in Nepal in the North he is received as a royal guest; in Kanchi in the South he consecrates a yantra; his maths established in distant parts of the country remain places of pilgrimage throughout the centuries to this day.
Is a nation one the people of which have a common religion? Again the criterion does not hold. Christian states have been fighting each other since they adopted Christianity. The umma of Islam are killing each other to our day – West Pakistanis killing the Mohajirs in Pakistan, the Iranis and Iraqis killing each other, the Afghans – all of one religion.
Is a nation one whose people have one language? Again Hobsbawn gives a number of examples. Philippines we learn is “a land of hundred tongues but not a single language.” The new nation of Pakistan – did not have a common language – it had Urdu, Pushto, Baluchi, Sindhi, Punjabi, Bengali. It did not have a common history. Its people did not constitute a common race.
And yet we are told that Indians have no business to continue as one!
(source: A Secular Agenda: For saving our country, For welding it – By Arun Shourie p. 3 – 11). (please refer to E. J. Hobsbawm – Nations and Nationalism Since 1780: Programme, Myth and Reality Cambridge 1990).