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Scotland's independence referendum: lessons for India

Kiran Batni http://kiranbatni

Updated: March 19, 2014, 12:10 PM IST
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In India, we do not imagine the United Kingdom to have any internal diversity. They're all white, speak English, are one hundred percent united, have physically and mentally superior construction, and have what bloody colonizers have in their blood. Yes, there's England, Scotland, Wales, and maybe a part of a small island to the west of the mainland, but these are just administrative units housing a homogenous population, we think, as we're told the states of India are.

It must strike as a bolt from the blue to most Indians that Scotland, as we speak, is preparing to secede from the UK through a referendum on September 18th, 2014, and that there are people there who speak a language that's not English: Gaelic. Jaws must drop when Indians hear that even the Welsh are thinking of secession and becoming increasingly serious about their own language, Cymraeg-heck, we can't even pronounce that.

These things just don't happen in the Indian imagination. The single most perfect nation in the world, which had the ability to unite us against ourselves and hold us captive for centuries, cannot just break up in front of our own eyes. That great nation of perfect administrators, which could use our diversity to divide and rule us with its iron hand, cannot be voluntarily wishing to divide and rule itself. The people of the UK chant the mantra of unity at all costs and all the time, don't they? How can they, by their own volition, decide to disintegrate? And for heaven's sake, no, there can't be multiple languages being spoken in the UK, of all the places in the world.

To digest even the possibility of Scotland and Wales seceding from the UK, therefore, requires a paradigm shift in the way Indians view the world and, more importantly, India itself.

Indians will have to contend with the fact that diversity is real all over the world, including in India (which has roughly twenty times the population of the UK). It's not going to disappear any time soon. Diversity, Indians will have to learn, cannot be wished away like the Indian nation currently does, for example, by imposing Hindi and the north-Indian upper-caste idea of India. The more cut-throat the politics and the economics, the more intense the assertion of diversity will be in response. Even languages long forgotten will assert themselves, if need be, as determinants of not just identity but also development and freedom. Popular languages will seek statuses on par with that of the most developed languages of the world.

India, home to dozens of rather well-developed languages can, therefore, continue to suppress them and their speakers at its own peril. The destruction of Telugu unity by the creation of Telangana is a case in point. The British Empire is now collapsing like a deck of cards so close to London that it must make Indians understand that, if things continue unchanged, the fate of the north-Indian upper-caste empire run from New Delhi is going to be much worse.

Indians will have to realize, once and for all, that every union of diverse peoples is optional, whether the constitution of the nation in question proclaims it or not. The UK, by virtue of being less hegemonic to its own people than India is to Indians (nearly all the hegemony of the UK was exported and all nearly the hegemony of India is internal), is able to handle the question of secession of Scotland and Wales in a rather nonviolent fashion. This, too, should come as a surprise to Indians brainwashed into believing that nonviolence is something invented in India and perfected by MK Gandhi.

The diverse peoples of India have not yet asserted their right to secede from the Indian Union in any serious sense by openly defying the Constitution of India. Some voices have been raised in the past, though: the Tamils, the Nagas, the Malayalis and the Punjabis, to name a few, have tried their hand at becoming sovereign nations; the Muslims in the east and the west have already seceded in the attempt. There is every chance that cries for secession recur and gain widespread popularity, especially given the increasingly hegemonic behavior of the Central Government and in it, especially that of the so-called 'national' parties.

Indians, who are stuck with the pre-independence view of the Indian nation as a response to British colonialism, and consumed by the belief that everyone within India has nothing but an abstract 'Indian' identity, therefore, will have to reform their idea of India. The colonial power that united us politically is withering away in front of our own eyes; if we don't give diversity the respect it deserves, the large and unwieldy nation of the colonized, erected in response, may not last too long either.

First Published: March 19, 2014, 12:10 PM IST