Kiran Batni is an engineer turned researcher in political and economic philosophy and the author of 'The Pyramid of Corruption: India’s Primitive Corruption And How To Handle It'.
The search for the path to the spiritual unity of the peoples of India has long been given up. Dead are the Shankaras, Basavannas, Kabirs, Nanaks and Chaitanyas who saw it and preached it. In its place we have the most bizarre idea that the only unity we need a path to is material unity. While spiritual unity has to be discovered in a read-only process, material unity has to be invented or implemented in a violent write-only process that establishes the uniformity of death. Many concrete steps, such as the imposition of Hindi over all of India, have already been taken to achieve this uniformity. Our new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, goes further in making it seem as if India's unity has long been achieved by one man acting all by himself; the only thing remaining is to make a giant statue of his.
Pundits of political science and economics are not wanting who profess that India's unity can be further strengthened by the dry and lifeless machinations of politics and commerce. The top such pundits of our time seem to have put together a book called "Getting India Back on Track" which was released by Narendra Modi day before yesterday, i.e., June 9th. I don't intend to review this book here, but only take a leaf out of the thinking of one of the contributors to the book, a certain Devesh Kapur from the University of Pennsylvania. His thinking is, arguably, fairly representative of that of the other authors. I had intended to write a response an article of Kapur's, ambitiously titled "Building Indianness", which had appeared in the Business Standard on May 25th, and I'd like to take this opportunity to bring up my concerns about it.
In the said article, Devesg Kapur professes that removing barriers to the free flow of goods and people across state borders, removing language requirements in matters of employment and education in the states, creating a uniform tax regime, ensuring that students higher-education institutions come from different states and not one, etc., will weave a stronger fabric of "Indianness". The reality, however, is the exact opposite in a nation as diverse as India: you don't achieve unity by these dry machinations of politics and commerce, only disunity. This is because true "Indianness", true unity, can never be achieved using material manipulations. It has to be a spiritual unity, and in the absence of a vision of it, to take these material steps is a disaster to prevent which we would need, as
Kapur acknowledges without apparently understanding the point, a stronger arm of the law.
Why are these material manipulations disastrous? Take his idea of removing barriers to the free flow of goods and people across state borders, for example. These borders have organically appeared to protect particular peoples from other peoples of India. India is a diverse nation, and that diversity has its imprint on how Indians wish to handle their politics and commerce. It cannot be otherwise.
South India, for example, lives in what Harish Damodaran calls in his book "India's New Capitalists" as a Vaishya Vacuum. This being the case, removing barriers to the free flow of goods and people between North and South India will only ensure even further North Indian domination in the South. This has already been recognized as a major problem, and if it increases, one can foresee a greater rift between the North and the South. One knows not what such a rift can lead to, especially given the history of secessionist movements in the South. Devesh Kapur, on the other hand, thinks that removing these trade barriers will only make things better. He is badly mistaken.
Perhaps it is the lure of the very term "removing barriers" - it sounds so nice, doesn't it? Unfortunately, it is not what it appears to be. It does not remove barriers to the true unity of India, but only a uniformity. Such uniformity is violent to begin with, and this violence is harmful to India's unity and integrity. The other prescriptions of Kapur are really on the same lines as this one, and all stem from a complete neglect of diversity and the need to respect it not just in song and dance but also in politics and economics. Needless to say, such thinking may put India "back on track", but that track is taking India towards destruction.