When India became free in 1947, Winston Churchill, an India-hater if ever there was, predicted that it would not survive for long. He made some of the most outrageous remarks about its ability to stay united, but united India has remained in the last sixty years and is now on its way to become a power in its own right. It is Britain which is slowly sinking. Nothing can stop India from rising to its true stature as a civilised nation. That said, a word of caution is in order.
Has India really gotten over its past failings? Has it successfully met the challenges posed by internal subversion, misgovernance tribal revolt, poverty, Left wing extremism such as Naxalism, insurgency in the north-east and demands for autonomy, not to speak of demographic pressure on land, water and other natural resources, linguistic chauvinism and marginalisation of aspiring communities? They are not just premeditated phrases intended to raise fear and despair. The Red Corridor from the Himalayas to coastal Kerala is for real. The taking over of some 126 districts by Naxalite forces is for real, too. Millions are leaving their villages for jobs in cities and urban India. Eighty lakh (eight million) people have reportedly quite farming between 1991 and 2001. Per capita availability of food grain has been falling. Regionalism seems to be growing and Bihari peasants seeking livelihood in Assam, Jammu & Kashmir and Maharashtra are being driven out. Are those signs of things to come? Is India'sinternal security in danger both from natural and man-made forces? What are the threates to India'ssecurity, stability and consequent unity? Has anyone given any thought to it? Yes, some one has.
And that is B G Verghese and his latest work: Rage, Reconciliation and Security must be prescribed reading to all those concerned with the future of India. Verghese does not duck issues. He faced them fair and square. The research that he has done is enormous and commands ungrudging respect and attention. No book in recent times has mapped the Indian political, socio-economic and ethnic landscape with such thoroughness and finesses as this one.
Verghese is indeed very conscious of India's?social democracy deficit? and what Naipaul was pleased to call ? a million mutinies?. They make one feel uncomfortable. Can India face all these problems which Verghese has recounted with considerable thoroughness, and come out a winner? Will the north-east states?the seven sisters?finally accept that their prosperity and progress rests in what Verghese calls ?Participative development within a framework of imaginative cooperative federalism? and not in military confrontation? Verghese thinks positively. He is full aware, as the chapter on Communist terrorism in the Red Corridor shows, of the problems facing the country'stribal areas and the vicious manner in which they are exploited by the CPI-ML and other Left-wing parties.
The Maoists have never believed in parliamentary democracy and the Indian Constitution on which it is founded, and have opted for annihilative violence. This, and the inevitable rise of the Salwa Judum, is discussed with deserving thoroughness. The Home Ministry has traced the rising graph of Naxalite incidents from 2002 to 2005; the number of incidents has risen to 1,595 and 516 civilians, 153 policemen and 223 Naxals have been killed. Parts of 76 districts in twelve states or 509 out of 12,746 police stations in the country were affected. The Naxal influence by 2008 has supposedly spread to 126 districts. That is ominous.
Verghese speaks about Naxalite coffers overflowing, and their income from levies rising to Rs 150 crore per annum in Jharkhand with a corpus of Rs 700 crore in Chattisgarh. Isn'tthat a matter to be worried about? Marxists or Maoists are only one part of the security problem. Regionalism is on the increase. Kannadigas in Bangalore, as Shiv Sena in Mumbai seem obsessed by localism. The ULFA in Assam is targeting Hindi-speaking people who have migrated to Tinsukhia. The swamping of Tripura by Bengali speakers and of Sikkim by Nepalese have been causing disturbance. Dr Ambedkar in his Constitution Assembly speech had spoken of ?fraternity?. We see anything by that in today'sIndia. It is always ?we? and the ?other?. Verghese reminds us that it has almost become a reflect in India to proclaim unity in diversity, as a magic mantra. The slogan is used as a mask to shield against differences or divisiveness and hence instability. We have to turn our fears into faith, in ?ourselves? and ?others?. We have especially to make efforts to bring in the 85 million odd tribals into our cultural mainstream instead of forgetting their very existence. We have to rescue them from their primitive, remote and isolated existence and make them part of our larger society, even while respecting their value systems. That is going to be a difficult task.
Verghese is not a mere critic interested only in raising inconvenient questions. He has meaningful solutions to offer even if those in power may wish to dismiss him as a dreamer and an idealist. Verghese angues that there is no need to panic; that India'sunity is a fact, that the long night of separation of entities is ending, that while there is no ground for complacency, there is every reason for hope. That the Indian of today is far more united, democratically cohesive and stable than, for example, the India of 1947, 1952, 1964, 1975, 1984 or 1990. Regional parties are no threat to the unity of India, considering that while they may act locally, they will think nationally. One only hopes that Verghese'sidealism is not misplaced. But his book dismisses fears even while telling the story as it is.
(Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11, Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017.)