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The Rediff Special/K R Narayanan

'The real threats to our unity come from internal developments, from dangers that are political, economic, social cultural and psychological'

K R Narayanan Eighteen years ago, K R Narayanan, then vice-chancellor of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, delivered the convocation address at Bombay's Tata Institute of Social Sciences. The theme of his lecture: Some Reflections on Indian Unity. To mark his ascension to the Presidency, we retrieved a copy of that long-forgotten speech from the TISS archives and are proud to bring you an assessment of this nation's future by the man who is today its President.

I must confess that as I stand here this afternoon I am moved by a feeling of nostalgia. I came to Bombay first in 1945 at the summons of the late Mrs Piroja Vesugar, the dynamic and compassionate secretary of the J N Tata Endowment for the Higher Education of Indians. I was to proceed to London as a Tata scholar; but I arrived a little too late to catch the boat and was literally stranded in Bombay.

Through the initiative of Mrs Vesugar and the courtesy of Dr J M Kumarappa I took shelter in the Hostel of the Tata Institute, then located in Nagpada, enjoyed the hospitality of the Institute and made the friendship of many of the distinguished social scientists of India, who were then students of the Institute, like Dr M S Gore, Mrs Phyllis Gore and Professor P D Kulkarni.

I must have developed in those days, almost unknowingly, a fundamental psychological bias for social work for I happened later on to marry someone who was Dr Gore's student in the Delhi School of Social Work.

I have chosen as the theme of my address 'Some Reflections on Indian Unity'. You may ask why at this stage one should talk about a topic which ought to be taken for granted rather than discussed. Before Independence we had heard a lot about the myth of Indian unity. A representative British view expressed by John Strachey in 1888 held that 'there is not and never was an India... possessing, according to European ideas any sort of unity, physical, political, social or religious'. We had also heard the strident arguments of Mohammed Ali Jinnah for his two nation theory, though ironically the Partition of India and the creation of Pakistan did not solve, even after the emergence of Bangladesh, the problem of unity of Pakistan.

The nationalist leaders of India, while they affirmed passionately the unity of India, had not denied the existence of innumerable differences which divided and distracted the country. They emphasised the fundamental unity of India and strove to promote and consolidate it in a welter of differences. For Jawaharlal Nehru. India had been throughout her history, haunted by a dream, the dream of unity, and he called ceaselessly upon all Indians to have that dream realised in practice.

Dr Ambedkar put the matter more bluntly in the Constituent Assembly. While asserting that 'the country is one integral whole', he warned: 'I am of the opinion that in believing that we are a nation we are cherishing a great delusion. How can people divided into several thousands of castes be a nation? The sooner we realise that we are not yet a nation in the social and psychological sense of the word the better for us. For then only we shall realise the necessity of becoming a nation and seriously think of the ways and means of realising the goal.'

Thus for both Nehru and Ambedkar, indeed for all thinking Indians, India was, and will be, one; at the same time they held that it was necessary to work hard to make it one and to maintain it as one. Six general elections, five five year plans and four wars during 32 years have demonstrated that India's unity is a fundamental reality, particularly in times of crisis and threats to national security. But there is also a quivering uncertainty surrounding this reality, produced by the reckless play of fissiparous forces abounding in our society and politics.

We must also recognise the fact that during 32 years this sub-continent has been divided twice and that it is today a system of a sovereign States consisting of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. Lurking expectations exist in the minds of several outside powers that the subcontinent thus divided is perhaps further divisible. When Dacca fell to the Indian liberation forces in 1971, Premier Chou en Lai issued a warning that the fall of Dacca was not a victory for India, but the beginning of a conflagration which will ultimately consume the sub-continent.

Such dismal prognostications are certainly wrong, but it is possible that most great powers of the world, while recognising the impressive progress made by this country in many fields, have put for the long term a question mark against the unity and stability of India.

In 1974, Milovan Djilas, in a futuristic study of the world of 2024 AD, wrote as follows: 'Despite my sympathy for India, I am not convinced that it can remain united in the long run. The present linguistic units will gradually become independent and the south-western, southern and the south-eastern parts of India will, most probably, separate into independent states'. Djilas also forecast that China will annex outer Mongolia, occupy Siberia, east of Lake Baikal, and the Soviet Union will disintegrate.

In a companion piece, Emmet John Hughes, a former assistant to the late President Eisenhower, made a similar futuristic projection: 'The avowedly-democratic society of India may reasonably be counted upon, not to unify, but to fragment -- possibly into as many parts as Western Europe. All the while, the People's Republic of China, after rather quickly digesting Taiwan, and the fable of Nationalist China, may be counted on to push southward where it will extend effective but nameless sovereignty, discreetly but stubbornly, over most other feigned sovereignties in the area.'

It is significant that in the above futurological predictions not only is India seen as a disintegrating entity, but China is seen emerging as a colossal and united superpower absorbing vast areas of the Soviet Union and imposing its hegemony over the nations of south-east Asia, the so-called 'feigned sovereignties in the area.' Perhaps some of the independent States supposed to rise out of the dissolution of India will be included by these political astrologers among 'the feigned sovereignties' in the area.

India While no one in power in the major countries of the world will dare to voice or act upon these dire prophecies, such doubting and question marks may well exist in the inner recesses of their policy thinking. It is also possible that our smaller neighbours, while wishing for a stable though not a very powerful India, are watching with anxiety internal developments in our country as well as our evolving equations with the great powers.

If one examines China's border claims against India, it will be found that they impinge directly upon the geographical and strategic unity of India. The claim to Arunachal Pradesh, which may or may not be a mere bargaining claim, will, if realised, have the effect of detaching a vast chunk of territory from India and crippling India politically and strategically. And the Chinese occupation of parts of Ladakh, seen against the political background of Peking's support for self-determination for the people of Kashmir implies a threat to India's unity and security in its strategic north-western border region.

Added to these is the unrest that prevails in the entire north-eastern region of India with potentialities for political mischief from outside. It is in the light of these harsh facts that we in India should interpret Vice-Chairman Deng Xiao-Ping's remark in Peking that the Sino-Indian border question be left to the next generation for settlement as the present generation in both China and India are stupid.

To my mind there is a method in this 'stupidity' which probably conceals a Machiavellian calculation. It is not unlikely that they reckon that by the end of the century when China reaches its goal of becoming a powerful modern socialist State, India might well be weakened with its north-eastern regions moving away from its fold through a process of disintegrating unrest. I am confident that the futurologists of China's politbureau are as mistaken about India as their counterparts elsewhere.

It is, however, important that we in India grasp this essential element of realpolitik while pursuing seriously and sincerely our undoubtedly correct policy of seeking friendly relations with China.

Foreign policy must be at once a manifestation of and a support to national interests and national unity. In the past it was national disunity and the penchant of opposing factions for relying upon foreign powers which led to the many invasions and conquests of India. It seems we have not yet fully overcome this besetting historical weakness and we find in India political groups and factions not only quarrelling bitterly with one another but espousing passionately the ideologies or viewpoints of outside powers.

It is, therefore, necessary at this juncture to employ foreign policy not as a divisive factor but as a demonstrably unifying instrument of national policy.

I have been hitherto talking about external threats to Indian unity. However, the real threats to our unity come from internal developments, from dangers that are political, economic, social cultural and psychological. One of the major developments in this context is the break-up of the Indian National Congress.

As early as 1948 Jawaharlal Nehru had foreseen this possibility and said: 'The preservation of the unity and stability of India largely depends upon the functioning of the Congress organisation which has brought a sense of unity. If that organisation weakens or splits up, the one major cementing factor is removed and popular energy is diverted to quarrels of rival factions.' That prophecy has now come true. Both among the splinter parties of the Congress and under the impressive facade of Janata's majority, the energies of the people and of the leaders are diverted to constant and complex factional quarrels eating into the vitals of India's national unity and stability.

Chinese President A country like India will always have, under the parliamentary democratic system, a proliferation of local and regional political parties. But out of the welter of interests and opinions prevalent in our free and variegated society, it should be possible to pick out the leading interests and trends around which can be organised minor interests and trends in simple, clear and coherent party programmes which are intelligible and appealing to the people as a whole.

The political scene, instead of being fragmented into a thousand groups and parties, can then be consolidated along the lines of major national parties. That can happen only when the leaders of the major parties abandon the politics of narrow groups, castes, cabals and personalities and resort to the politics of ideas, policies and practically worked out programmes for the benefit of the people.

The party system in India is today shrouded in the twilight of change. From the state of coalition on the ruling front and from the state of fragmentation in the Opposition, there will either emerge consolidation of the system into two or three major parties or the fragmentation will proceed further until a monolithic party or force is thrown up to impose mastery over political chaos.

Ultimately, national unity is bound to assert itself; the great question is whether it will be democratic unity or the unity of dictatorship, ideological or military.

Tell us what you think of this opinion

K R Narayanan, continued

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