Wandering across the vast and diverse landscapes of India, I have made many discoveries, shattered many myths and developed some new paradigms. I have seen the nationalism and national integration in some unusual colours — very different from what a common person hears in the popular political and socio-religious discourse.
If you ask a common man on the streets of Delhi "what unites India?", the most expected answers would be "Hindi Language", "Hinduism", "Cricket", and "Nationalism", depending on which corner of the city you are standing in and asking this question.
The same question in Mumbai would prompt just one response "Bollywood". Kolkata would vote for "Cricket". Trust me the answers in Chennai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru would be very different. Inquisitions from people down south have evoked answers such as "Internet", "Mobile Phone", "Hindu Religion", "Rajnikanth", "Golden Quadrilateral", etc.
My experience has however been quite contrasting.
* I have found that a large number of Indians do not understand Hindi and do not swear by the name of Bollywood gods.
* Despite deep mobile penetration, the internet is still not available to a large proportion of the population.
* No more than 5 percent Indians prefer to introduce themselves as Indian, Hindu, Muslim Christian etc. They like to be identified by their region, caste or community, e.g., Tamil, Lingayat, Bengali, Malayali, Punjabi, Yadav, Bhumihar, Kayastha, Khatri, Mumbaikar, Dilliwala, etc.
* No more than 20 percent Indian have travelled on the golden quadrilateral.
* Cricket is identified and liked in most states. But it cannot be termed as a uniting factor, as people have very divergent views about the game. A large number of people feel it is a waste of resources; others believe that vested interests have promoted this game to kill traditional Indian sports. I found that the enthusiasm of a significant proportion of Indian cricket fans is limited to Indian batting only. That is perhaps the primary reason behind the success of IPL.
Baby and Maggi
I could find only two things which are truly pan-Indian and unite India by providing one identity to Indians:
Salwar Kameez is one thing that is used across the nation as a preferred, comfortable and safe dress by the women of India. Girls could be found wearing this national dress in the remotest parts of north eastern and northern Himalayan regions, tribal areas of the interior most central India and villages of south India.
‘Baby’ after all is not just a common Punjabi name.
(2) Nestlé's Maggi instant noodles is another thing that I could find in Leh, Tawang, Dwarka, Kanyakumari, Bastar, Badayun, Gangotri, Jaisalmer and Madhubani. Regardless of its urban image, it has unconsciously become a common staple food across India. (HUL soaps and detergent, Colgate, Pepsi and Coke come close to Maggie in most regions.)
Taking Maggie for just an in-between meal snack might be a serious mistake.
I found no hint of resistance or criticism for these two things anywhere in the country.
The moot point is that whether these two things come on the radar of politicians and socio-religious leaders when they speak of National Integration, Nationalism and Swadeshi.
I wonder why deliberations over the desirable economic model for the country and debate over foreign capital do not accommodate these facts.
Despite whatever claims we make about our engineering prowess, the fact of life is that the entire consumption space in India is increasingly coming under foreign dominance. The foreign share in sales of food, automobile, cloths, school bags, cosmetics, umbrellas, footwear and appliances is rising fast. No one denies the presence and dominance of Nestle, Hindustan Unilever, Britannia, Coke, Pepsi, Maruti, Honda, Samsung, etc. in our day-to-day life. This dominance is for real and shall only increase.
It is perplexing to note that the policymakers, politicians and social leaders are still refusing to assimilate this fact. They must urgently recognise that Hindustan Lever and Nestle with their pan India presence may have better economic intelligence about the country as compared to most bureaucrats, academicians and bankers. The government must incorporate them in all its policy making organs and benefit from their local economic intelligence and rich global experiences.
Most people look for unity in the diversity of India. Politicians proudly cite this as something miraculous. I feel the Idea of India is not about unity at all. It is about diversity only. For, if all Indians start thinking as one, beyond their street, district, caste, community, religion, state etc., they will be joined by their commonly shared misery, distress, cynicism, and mistrust. We shall then see a revolution, for which our political establishment appears least ready to handle.
Vijay Gaba explores the treasure you know as India, and shares his experiences and observations about social, economic and cultural events and conditions. He contributes his pennies to the society as Director, Equal India Foundation.