When the British gradually took over India and formed what were called ?Presidencies?, such as the presidencies of Bengal, Madras and Bombay, it never occurred to them to re-constitute their Indian empire along linguistic or ethnic lines. The original Bengal Presidency was a huge one and included not only what are today West Bengal and Bangladesh but parts of Assam, Orissa and Bihar as well. The early Madras Presidency similarly was a mishmash of Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam speaking districts and also a small part of Orissa. The Bombay Presidency, similarly consisted of districts speaking languages as varied as Sindhi, Kutchi, Gujarati, Marathi, Konkani and Kannada. There were hardly any complaints.
Unconsciously the British turned us all into Indians. The Indian National Congress decided, however, to form committees on a linguistic basis and thus we had Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC), Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC), etc thus giving nationalist forces a clear linguistic identity. The idea of forming such committees no doubt was well meant but once independence came and there was a struggle for power, the issue arose as to who should be the Chief Minister of the composite states. In Madras should the Chief Minister be a Tamilian or an Andhra? Should it be Shri. C.Rajagopalachari or T.Prakasam? In Bombay should the Chief Minister be a Maharashtrian (B.G.Kher) or a Gujarati (Morarji Desai)? Tensions arose that first led to the hunger strike unto death of a Telugu social leader Potti Sriramulu.
The Government of Indian succumbed to pressures?despite Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru'sreservations?and Andhra Pradesh became the first linguistic State. Significantly and much earlier Bihar, Orissa and Assam had been given separate provincial status by the British themselves because the administration of the composite Presidency had become burdensome. Sindh, similarly, had been separated from Bombay. But the creation of Andhra Pradesh set in motion and entire process that led to the setting-up of Linguistic Re-organisation Committee and the final redivision of India on strictly linguistic lines. Many considered that a grave error had been committed, but popular response was largely positive and life began to settle down. Not too long, though.
In Mumbai a section of Marathi-speaking people raised the bogey of ?outsiders? bagging clerical jobs and capturing the hotel and restaurant industry. This was to lead to the formation of the Shiv Sena and frequent physical attacks on ?madrassis?. Maharashtra for Maharashtrians became the watchword, forgetting that Mumbai became what it is because of the combined contribution of people from all over India. Once the Shiv Sena captured power, the anti- ?Madrassi? fever slowly began to die down and Mumbai came to be recognised as India'smost cosmopolitan city.
There never was an organisation comparable to the Shiv Sena, say, in Kolkata, probably the most tolerant city in India. Bengalis accept all Indians alike because, one suspects, they do not suffer from any complexes. Even Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh have shown no overt hostility towards ?outsiders? nor, for that matter Gujarat which has always been hospitable to investors. Sadly, Assam has been slow in recognising that the Indian Constitution permits free movement of all Indians throughout the length and breadth of the country.
Article 19(1)(d) guarantees to all citizens the Right to Move Freely throughout the territory of India. Similarly. Article 19(1)(e) guarantees to all citizens of India the Right to Reside and Settle in any part of the territory of India. It is only in Jammu and Kashmir that the State enjoys certain privileges under Article 370. The Assamese, by and large, are a large-hearted, the British turned us all into Indians. The Indian National Congress decided, however, to form committees on a linguistic basisthe British turned us all into Indians. The Indian National Congress decided, however, to form committees on a linguistic basisthe British turned us all into Indians. The Indian National Congress decided, however, to form committees on a linguistic basishospitable people, kind and generous but for almost three decades now they have lived in fear of their culture and identity being submerged by ?outside? forces. It may be because for decades they were part of the old Bengal Presidency and had to compete with Bengali culture. Presently Assam is being flushed by Muslims from Bangladesh. The discomfort of the Assamese, therefore, is understandable. But to treat Bihari labourers who are by no manner of means a threat to Assam and to kill over three score and ten innocent Bihari workers is an illustration of the depths to which the ULFA has degenerated in recent years.
ULFA no longer represents Assamese middle class sentiments. That ULFA should seek refuge in Bangladesh is in itself a disgrace. In the last one decade nationalisation of India has taken place in leaps and bounds and Bangalore, for instance, has now for all purposes become the Information Technology(IT) capital of India with hardly any complaints from Kannadigas who are quite confident of their cultural heritage, even though, according to one estimate, Kannada-speaking people in Bangalore are turning into a minority. But Kannadigas have the courage and generosity to accept that in a rapidly expanding field of Information Technology, certain changes are inevitable and should be accepted with grace. India is one and indivisible. It was that which enable the great philosopher Sankara, from Kerala, to travel throughout the length and breadth of the land and establish Sankara Mutts in four corners of the country.
Even as the process of ? Indianisation? of India is taking place, that process is being simultaneously assaulted by globalisation and just as Indians are now making their mark in the Silicon Valley of the US, other nationalities may pour into India in the uncertain future. There is an inevitability about this but if the United States can absorb so many ?outsiders?, surely India, which has for centuries absorbed ?ousider? with grace and courage, can do that too?
The time has come for Indians to think more and more of their ?Indianness? than of their specific linguistic identities. ULFA is doing no service to itself or to Assam by its recourse to violence against unarmed and innocent Bihari labourers. ULFA will only marginalise Assam by its unworthy tactics. Hasn'tit heard of the great Vedic saying Vasudaiva kutumbakam?the world is my family? Bihar is not robbing Assam of its wealth. It is, on the contrary, helping in raising its economy by working in the fields, putting in hard physical labour.
In the circumstances the Assames Government must take firm steps against ULFA in Assam'sown interests as in the larger interests of India. Who lives if India dies? All India is for Assam as all Assam should be for India. Therein would lie our strength and our greatness.