“India is merely a geographical expression,” Winston Churchill once said in exasperation. “It is no more a single country than the Equator.” The founder of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, also once echoed that sentiment, arguing that “India is not a real country. Instead it is thirty-two separate nations that happen to be arrayed along the British rail line.” India-haters and doubters have had a long history of deriding her status, while questioning her unity. But it is rare and extremely dangerous for an Indian politician, a sitting MP no less, to mock India’s assertion of being a nation.
There is no gainsaying that Article One of the Constitution declares that India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States. Union, not federation or confederation, mind, is the word used, and it was carefully chosen after long hours of deliberations. India was not formally named as United States of India, or Union of Socialist Indian Republics. This was not a coincidence or a slip-up. These options were discussed and discarded. Our constitutional vision, especially the relationship between the centre and the states, were not deemed identical to how they exist in the USA or the USSR. India was supposed to have a strong centre, that is, carry a unitary bias, with states playing vital roles. India was envisaged, even by the colonial power, as an indestructible idea, a civilizational state. To suggest that many states and areas came together and formed a union through negotiations would be forcing the American situation upon India, and is simply not true. From the Declaration of Independence, signed by 13 British colonies, which became 13 sovereign states in 1776, it took 13 further years for the USA to emerge. After the war against Britain, and protracted negotiations between the constituent states over various issues like taxation, citizenship and rights, the seven articles of Constitution came into force in 1789. India’s story, as we know, is quite different.
To elaborate it further, despite parcelling of Pakistan out of its liver, India remained India. Even if the East and the West Pakistan would not have left the Indian Union, India would still have been named India (about Bharat, I cannot say). If Hyderabad had managed to retain its independence 1948, or if Kashmir declares its freedom tomorrow, the nomenclature and idea of India does not get adversely affected. Quite clearly, philosophically speaking, the idea of India is neither a compromise, nor a negotiated peace or settlement, as these modern revisionists are suggesting.
Pre-independence India comprised of 17 British provinces. Out of these, eleven provinces- United Provinces, Central Provinces-Berar, Bihar, Orissa, Ajmer-Merwara-Kekadi, Bombay, Andaman and Nicobar, Coorg, Delhi, Madras and Panth-Piploda joined India, and three others- Assam, Bengal and Punjab- were partitioned between India and Pakistan. Three other provinces- Sind, NWFP and Baluchistan- joined Pakistan. This settlement was negotiated and arrived at between the Congress and the Muslim League, with the HM’s Government playing the honest broker. Unlike what the revisionists think, none of these provinces were individually asked about their wishes, neither did they put forth any conditions. For example, UP, CP, Madras or Bombay did not agree to join India after any give-and-take. No other option was available on the table.
As for the princely states, around 565 in number, there were three options- join India, or Pakistan, or choose Independence. Theirs was not an easy incorporation. It was here that Sardar Patel was called upon to exercise his iron will, and show these states the fait accompli. Junagarh, Bhopal, Hyderabad and JK presented some challenges. The Special Status of Jammu & Kashmir was a sort of ‘negotiated settlement’ that emanated out of the circumstances. Hyderabad was annexed by India. No other state ever stood a chance. Privy Purses were provided for by the Government of India. Interestingly, the Instrument of Accession merely placed defence, external affairs and communications in the hands of the Union, but did not take away either the other powers of governance, nor bound the rulers to abide by any future constitution that India might impose upon them.
The Genius makes mention of the bottoms-up approach during the ‘formation’ of India, as against the top-down one. That unfortunately does not make much sense. India was not ‘formed’ as such, like the USA was. India already existed, East and West Pakistan were created and all these decisions were top-down ones.
The Genius keeps harping upon the ‘Union of States’ and claims that ‘nation’ is not mentioned in the Constitution. I wonder if he has glossed over the Preamble, which precedes even the first article of the Constitution. Based upon the Objectives Resolution moved by Nehru and adopted by the Constituent Assembly, the Preamble clearly mentions that We, the people of India, aim to secure to all its citizens-
Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual, and unity (and integrity)* of the Nation.
The capital N must have clarified things for any average mind, but has eluded the didactic Genius.
*- inserted by 42nd Amendment
Or perhaps he thinks that the Preamble is not enforceable, as was held by the Apex Court in the Berubari Case (1960). But the Preamble was held to be a part of the Constitution and subject to the amending power of the Parliament by the Kesavanand Bharati (1973) judgement. Whatever be the case, Indira Gandhi chose to amend the Preamble in 1976, inserted certain words and clauses, but did not remove the ‘Nation’ mentioned in there. Even the Fundamental Duties mention the ‘national’ flag and anthem, as opposed to ‘federal’. The words might appear synonymous, but one was chosen and the discarded keeping in mind the unitary bias of this country. The Genius should mull over this idea.
On one hand, the Genius claims that the Family Party believes that India is its people, which basically means believing in the idea of the nation, then he goes on to quote articles one to four, that are territorial provisions in support of his argument, and wrongly claims that the Constitution does not mention the nation. On the other hand, he alleges that BJP/RSS consider India as just its territory, sone-ki-chirya, whose fruits are to be distributed among chosen few, but also accuses them of considering India as a Nation! This is jumbled kind of thought process.
The Genius dangerously concedes that India is a dynamic negotiation between various identities and religions. But we have already paid huge price for this in 1940s. India was partitioned on the basis of two-nation theory, which the Congress accepted. There can and be no further negotiations in this regard. Even the demands for linguistic and tribal states have been conceded. Formation of Telangana proved that linguistic identity was not infallible glue. Perhaps the Genius wished to use ‘discussions’ instead of ‘negotiations’, or perhaps his intent his vile, and he wants to incite fissiparous tendencies in the country.
Let us also not forget how the Central governments (who led them?) till the 1980s treated States like their minions and supplicants, dismissed their governments at will, played havoc with development aids and schemes and interfered in their administration. Sarkaria Commission and MM Punchhi Commission sought to redefine the Centre-State relations and have succeeded to an extent.
As the Genius mentioned, Indian democracy is a Global Public Good. It must not be allowed to come under attack just because a particular family or party is out of power. The idea of India is more sacrosanct than any royal scion’s thwarted ambition. The cheering audience of Europe must not excite any Indian politician to shed his clothes, and dance like a circus monkey in front of the same people who kept us subjugated for two centuries. A sliver of shame and an ounce of nationalism might act as guides of good conduct.
Lastly, the everyday political discourse does not get conducted as per the letter and word of the Constitution. Just because one has read the Article 1 and stumbled upon a phrase does not mean that he should ignore the Preamble and start peddling fake news. If India is indeed not a nation, as he claims, do the Genius and his think that Gandhi is the Father of the Union of States?
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