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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'

K R Narayanan 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 warning today.

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.

Muslims 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 are enormous.

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