The Rediff Special/K R Narayanan
'Though there are many big questions crying for solutions, the energies of
the people and the leadership are wasted on irritating trivialities and on parochial problems'
Our society is so atomised and the social order arranged in such a meticulous and complicated balance right from the grassroots
upwards that it is virtually impossible for forces of change to
emerge through the intricate meshes of the system and form a tidal
wave of reform or revolution affecting the whole country. This
is one of the reasons why most reformist and revolutionary movements
in India have come from above and not from below in spite of many
scattered local initiatives and struggles.
The fragmentation of our social system is such that one may say
that the social mind of India is like a broken mirror. The many-coloured
dome of the image of India is shattered into thousands and thousands
of fragments. In each broken piece, it is possible to see tiny
reflections of the countenance of India and each caste, sub-caste,
group or tribe may believe that what it sees is the total image.
The problem of Indian unity is to see India steadily and as a
whole in all its baffling dimensions and diversities, to put all
the diminutive images in the broken pieces of glass into the giant
reality that is India. Such a concept of unity can only be the
product of many factors -- political, social, economic, cultural,
educational and psychological. It can be brought about only through
major changes in society, through greater equalisation of the
social order, through the establishment of an easy and effective
system of inter-communication among the various strata of society
and regions of the country and above all through a spirit of tolerance
prevailing among the people as a whole.
While talking about social transformation I should like to pinpoint
two potentially explosive questions. One is that of the caste system
and the problem of the scheduled castes and tribes. Unless this
colossal social and economic problem is tackled within a conceivable
period, there might well be convulsions which will disturb the
unity and stability of India. The other is that of the Muslims.
I do not believe that the resurgence of Islamic sentiments and
traditionalism in the neighbourhood that almost surrounds India,
would necessarily produce upsetting reactions in the minds of
the Muslims of India. What would produce this sort of incendiary
reactions will be intolerant and obscurantist attitudes on the
part of the majority community and the inability of the government
to give protection in such situations.
Jawaharlal Nehru said in
1947, soon after Partition, that 'we have a Muslim minority
who are so large in numbers that they cannot, even if they wanted
to, go anywhere else and that unless we gave them security and
the rights of the citizens in a democratic State, we shall have
a festering sore which will eventually poison the whole body politic
and probably destroy it.' It is necessary to reiterate this
One important difference between the history of India during 2000 years and the last thirty years is that it is for the
first time that an economic content has been put into what has
been hitherto the floating dream of Indian unity. Through five year
plans, through social and economic development programmes and
through all-India legislation, India, for the first time, is being
forged into an economic unity.
Every group in every part of India
has developed a degree of stake in the unity, stability progress
and security of the country. That to my mind is the crucial difference
between the social-democratic India of today and the old India
of Asoka or Akbar or the British Raj and that is what will disprove
the melancholy prophecies of the futurologists.
It is, however, necessary to look even beyond the economic aspect
of our polity if only because, in the conditions of India, satisfaction
of the economic needs and demands of the people is not an easy
objective to realise. I cannot resist quoting Nehru once again:
'In the ultimate analysis,' he wrote as early as 1949, 'Even economic conditions
are less important than the belief
of a people in themselves and in the governing apparatus of the
country If they have that faith in their future, they will put
up with any distress for the present. Without that faith even
petty inconveniences become irritating and disruptive.... We gain
the confidence of the people by serving them intimately and remaining
in constant touch with the masses.'
We are today in a situation
in India when the interests of groups and individuals are placed
above those of the nation, and when minor irritations, inconveniences
and problems take precedence over major issues affecting the people.
Though there are many big and basic social, economic and political
questions crying for solutions in the country, the energies of
the people and the leadership are wasted on irritating trivialities
and on increasingly parochial problems.
It seems there is a crisis of confidence in our social and political system today. From the personal, group and parochial problems and struggles now ravaging
our society, it is necessary to lift the minds and emotions of
the people of larger and nobler causes which are vital to the
future of the nation. Otherwise, there will develop in society
a dangerous vacuum -- a vacuum of faith, of contentment, of comfort
and of power. A historian once remarked that 'Few men are so disinterested
as to prefer to live in discomfort under a government which they
hold to be right rather than in comfort under one which they hold
to be wrong.'
In politics and administration it is not enough
to be right. It is imperative that the goods are delivered to
the people and there is law and order and a general sense of comfort
and above all a common centre of unity in the country and society.
We have inherited an essential sense of unity from our long and
chequered past, and during the last 32 years we have laid
the foundations of not only the political, but the social and
economic unity of India. But the challenges facing the nation
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