'India is free but she has not achieved unity, only a fissured and broken freedom'
' Sri Aurobindo
I begin with the above quote not only to show how ominous the statement may still sound but also help us to recall the fact that it is this Nationalist Mystic's birthday, that is celebrated as a concrete symbol of our [truncated] freedom. But keeping in view the contemporary situation one must say that this truncated freedom must be seen not in terms of the 'two-nation theory' but in terms of the internal schism between depressed classes and the dominant ones, the communal passions of religious and ethnic groups, the increasing relapse into non-negotiable insular groves and the continual erosion of our social and political cohesion. In other words it is the emergence of 'nations' with-in a nation that is the cause of contest and concern. It is often said that an 'Indian nation' in terms of a common collective identification has failed to emerge. The increasing contestations of varied nature have led many to debate on the lack of 'patriotism' among the people of India today and attribute this failure to as many factors.
This lack of patriotism is said to be especially true in the north eastern region comprising of seven states (now it includes Sikkim as well, though only as a developmental category) primarily because it is in this region that we confront the most virulent of contemporary challenges to the nation-state. The region is caught in the vortex of a social and political evolution that is seeking a balance between the reality of the Nation-State of India and the presence of various [pseudo] sovereign authorities and structures. The last many decades in the region has seen ethnic turmoil, some of which seek to redefine the contours of our 'national' boundary. The claim for the contest is supposedly legitimated by the irreconcilable differences of culture and world-view between the dominant communities inhabiting the region and the so-called mainland India.
This quest for redefinition therefore began not only by contesting the political and social spaces provided by the Indian nation-state but also invoking processes that would de-legitimize the symbols and rituals that seek to gird the collective national consciousness. For many years now popular participation in national functions that seeks to entrench 'national' consciousness among the constituents have been distressing. The Republic of the region celebrates the day dedicated to it by respecting the call for 'bandh'. Similar is the story on the day of independence.
We hence have a debate generated as to whether the people are not patriotic enough to participate in such functions of the nation to which they belong. So the question is why is it that a sense of collective identification with the 'Indian narrative' has failed to consolidate in the region? Though the response seems to polarize at the opposing ends of a spectrum, it must not be judged with such naivet' and haste. It would not be wise to castigate a collectivity as anti-national or identify them as national (read patriotic) by merely judging their endorsement of the symbolic 'national' principles. It is also necessary to assess why such a situation has emerged where such national principles are contested. Consequently it is imperative for us to understand what patriotism implies [in the case of India] and why it is not reflected as a potent form of identification in the region.
Patriotism can basically be defined as a strong sense of collective identification with the polity that ultimately conceives a common identity. The implied inference of this definition is that in a 'nation' like India, which constitutes poly-cultural identities of stupendous dimensions the need was/is to emphasize on the political content of the nation. That is the process of nation-building in the case of India should not have been only through an emphasis upon cultural unity among its constituents but primarily through an over-riding emphasis upon citizenship as a common status enjoyed by all members of society.
It was thus necessary to create a strong sense of citizenship that would help shift the balance from loyalty to other non-negotiable solidarities that also seek allegiance. However, this has not happened and the 'patria' in terms of a 'contractual' collectivity that respects the broader 'Indian [National] identity' is under constant strain.
The question than arises, why did a common single citizenship fail to achieve the goal? Why could citizenship not provide the common reference point through which differences could be negotiated and the evolution of a common identity? The answer is not simple and is constituted by a complex linkage of swerving forces.
The genesis probably lies in the first concession to group loyalty made by our independent state, which according to scholars, shared its sovereignty [and authority] with a wide array of autonomous and largely self-governing communities. Therefore, the state of India sought to become both an association of individuals as well as a community of communities. The post-independent regimes of the country could never negotiate the respective spaces to be legitimately granted to each of these actors or assert the authority of one over the other. Though the state might have at times become repressive to achieve a unity, it failed to exercise a moral and political control that is grounded on the premises of equal citizenship. Much as it would want to extend and consolidate its structural and procedural domain it merely made the situation more conducive for the deepening of competitive politics structured along certain non-negotiable features like caste, ethnicity, religion etc and helped provide critical variables to the expressive practices of our rhetorically stimulated political actors.
Subsequently these identities got entrenched in the system, almost institutionalizing them to the extent that they challenged the sovereignty of the nation-state itself. We, therefore, have conceptions of nationhood defined in terms of religion, ethnicity, caste group etc. These conceptions challenge the 'grand narrative' of Indian nationhood and nurture an anomic perception of it.
Secondly the granting of ethno-federal states though provided the needed autonomy to groups, also set the stage for the enunciation of political, economic, and social claims on cultural terms. It entrenched ethnocentrism of the dominant groups in these states, undermining the criteria of citizenship as a determinant for equal social, economic and political rights among various groups inhabiting the state. Thus assertions like Maharastra for Marathis, Assam for Assamese, Tamil Nadu for Tamilians or simply the 'sons of the soil' theory became a significant political claim premised on culture as a reference point.
Thirdly and more importantly competitive politics consolidated social, religious and ethnic differences as the absolute grounds for solidarity and loyalty. Increasing politicization of identity along exclusive principles of 'insider/outsider' and the ethnocentric bias of politico-legal structures failed to create an over-riding allegiance to the structure of the state. The resulting weakening of the state's hegemonic control and dominance was countered by the dominant community's assertion of the cultural content of the nation. Thus the political and the cultural converged to provide meaning to the 'sense of belonging' to the nation. Nonetheless, this myopic vision that underestimated the strength and content of our pluralism further fractured the state's dominance and control resulting in the outbreak of challenges to its sovereignty.
Any assessment thus of the lack of patriotism or an avowed 'sense of belonging' to the Indian collectivity among the people of this region must take into consideration the larger context in which that 'sense of belonging' is nurtured and the normative and structural flaws that we intentionally overlooked in our search for the 'nation'. We have possibly failed to establish the principles around which a convergence or agreement about what constitutes our 'nation' could be made. Since for many the answer is subjective and psychological an attempt at developing a political consensus structured around the conception of citizenship as a common status could have been a remedy. We may notably assert that denial of the emphasis on citizenship as the over-riding criteria for recognition of the equal worth of individuals residing within the nation-state, where citizenship serves as the mediating link between private and public spheres under conditions of respect for autonomy, plurality, rule of law and civility undermined the possibility of a collective identification [or allegiance] to the polity.