Saturday, November 26, 2011

Gorkhaland Express

Telengana Protestors


In a comment on one of my older blog posts  - the Siliguri Connection (click here to read) a correspondent wrote – that Siliguri should claim its status as a city-state like Chandigarh by the time Gorkhaland is formed (which – according to him or her is only a matter of time). My first reaction – probably emanating from my latent main-land arrogance and Bengali chauvinism - was to dismiss it as a flippant and tongue-in-cheek remark like many friends and readers of my blog are prone to (especially, when posting anonymously). But, then it got me thinking.

Maha - heartburns

Though I have a decent working knowledge of modern Indian history – as any average educated Indian – I have never quite fathomed the under-currents of sub-nationalism that seem to drive the demand for smaller states. I have read and heard – how the linguistic division of the states post independence was an artificial creation. Having lived in Maharashtra for a better part of my life – I have known about the  Marathi heartburn over the loss of Belgaum to Karnataka. But, frankly the extent of underlying emotions  arising out of denial of state identity didn’t quite register on me.  I always thought, it was the politicians jostling to create their own fiefdoms within a democratic set up.

With Kashmir weighing heavily upon our psyche, splintering of the 7 sisters of the North-east and Khalistan – at one time – looking close to the realms of possibility – we have somehow been conditioned to think of any demands for new states as signs of secessionism. We were inclined to put the original demand for Gorkhaland in the same bracket. The making of the 3 new small states of Uttarakhand, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand was also seen more as an exercise of political expediency.

teaching 'em to count

So – when Mayawati declared her intention to split UP into 4 smaller states, our initial reactions were understandably cynical. Certainly, it was a political masterstroke. As a Tweeple wit remarked – before Rahul Gandhi could come to terms with one UP, she created 4 – enough for him to lose count. But, deeper reflection would reveal greater sense beneath her apparently whimsical sleight of hand. After all, what does Uttar Pradesh mean – the inimitable sociologist Ashish Nandy asked in a TV debate. While naming the erstwhile Central provinces – Madhya Pradesh could be attributed to a simple lack of creativity, to christen United Provinces as Uttar Pradesh was bereft of any rationale.
of Maha - Rashtras

That brings me to my favourite party quiz question in Mumbai: Why is Maharashtra called Maharashtra? The real reason – as once explained to a senior colleague of mine – Nirmal Sinha – by a  Marathi Trade Union Leader – is not what the Thackeray Tiger would have us believe (Maha – as in great – rashtra) but “Mahadev (or Shiva)’s Rashtra”. That’s because – it seems 8 out of the 12 Jyotirlingas of Shiva were located in the greater Bombay State ( Somnath, Dwarka, Ujjain, Bhimashanker, Trimbakeshwar, Sri Sailam Mallikarjuna, Omkareshwar, Grijhneshwar). It’s another matter that 4 of them now fall outside of Maharashtra ( in Gujarat, MP and Andhra).

So is it any surprise that, the young Scindia scion – on coming to Mumbai tries to claim his Maratha roots by speaking a smattering of Marathi ?

But, the bigger question is - if by carving out Maharashtra we nixed the identity of the Marathi speaking people around the region.

and, minor - rashtras

Now whether Bundelkhand should include parts of MP as well will be decided in the course of time. But, the question that is boiling is Telengana and can’t be put off much longer. There is little justification of denying Telengana statehood in the face of such over-pouring emotions and political angst and to hold Hyderabad as a pawn in the negotiations is absolutely ludicrous, in my judgment – with due deference to the retired judge whose charming wife light-heartedly says he is a better flirt than a jurist (who said I am not afraid of libel !!).

little donuts

One of my favourite authors, Charles Handy, had in a management context talked of the “Donut Principle”. It basically means, people can identify themselves best at two levels. So you can be a Bengali and an Indian – but not a Bengali, Eastern Indian and Indian (debunking our old proclivity to term any one south of the Vindhyas as South Indians and everyone in the cow belt – North Indians). So, it is difficult to impose artificial regional identities on ethno-culturally heterogeneous communities.

Though I won’t go as far as my former editor boss – who advocates breaking up of South Asia into independent small states – a la the European Union - but with a common national cricket team (where Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh will be allowed to have their own cricket teams and Nepal can have the status of Switzerland, retaining their own currency), I think  a further devolution is inevitable and already evident in the emergence of regional parties that have come to stay.

An article by B G Varghese puts some of the issues in a balanced framework (Better and more beautiful)

Meanwhile, I will be waiting for Siliguri to become the Chandigarh of the East.