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Know Your Country: Decoding issues that challenge the federal structure of India

Know Your Country: Decoding issues that challenge the federal structure of India

Know Your Country: Decoding issues that challenge the federal structure of India
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By Vijay Kumar Gaba  Jan 6, 2020 5:50:33 PM IST (Updated)

This is the first installment of a series that CNBC-TV18 is launching known as Know Your Country. Helmed by our columnist Vijay Kumar Gaba, it is based on his observations about India and its people during his numerous travels across the length and breadth of the country.

This is the first installment of a series that CNBC-TV18 is launching known as Know Your Country. Helmed by our columnist Vijay Kumar Gaba, it is based on his observations about India and its people during his numerous travels across the length and breadth of the country. The first article is focused on the federal structure of India and the difficulties of governing such a disparate nation. Follow the series here. 

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“For indeed any city, however small, is in fact divided into two, one the city of the poor, the other of the rich; these are at war with one another; and in either there are many smaller divisions, and you would be altogether beside the mark if you treated them all as a single State.” (Book IV, The Republic, Plato)
In a survey of school and college students across some major cities, conducted by our NGO Equal India Foundation some time ago, we had discovered some disturbing facts about the general awareness of our youth about our Motherland.
  • Most students in Mumbai and Delhi could not even name all the North-Eastern states.
  • None of the students in North and South India were aware that Goa joined the Indian Union in 1961 and Sikkim in 1975.
  • None of the 10th class Delhi students we spoke to were aware of a region named Rohillkhand in India (located less than 100 miles away from Delhi).
  • The students in UP, Punjab, Bihar, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana were found mostly ignorant about great saint poets like Tukaram, Thiruvalluvar, Subramanya Bharti, Eknath, and Chandidas.
  • The students beyond the erstwhile Maratha kingdom have scant knowledge about the ideology and Vision of Chatrapati Shivaji. The school history books outside Maharashtra contain a few short stories about his valor, but nothing beyond that. School students in Maharashtra read little or nothing about history and legends of South, East or North India. The same is true about most states. The students are taught only about the respective regional personalities.
  • The city of Agra (UP) and Bharatpur (Rajasthan) are 40 km apart. However, the primary and middle-class students of both cities have a different view of Mughal history. The students in Agra believe that the Mughal emperor defeated several Rajput kings (including Maharana Pratap) and married their daughters; whereas the students in Bharatpur are raised on the belief that Rajputs were undefeatable and Maharana Pratap successfully resisted the great Mughal army.
  • Our sample may not be representative, but in Delhi and Mumbai most private schools we visited offered French and German as elective. Many have started offering Mandarin and Spanish also as elective to primary and middle-class students. However, none of the schools we visited offers any regional Indian language as an elective subject; though the regional community school or government schools have their respective regional language as compulsory subject. None of the schools, other than Muslim community schools, offered the language of poetry Urdu as an elective subject.
  • None of the students we spoke had read any book written by Mahatma Gandhi. None idolises the father of the nation. Senior students ridiculed him for being a ‘lewd’ old man and hated him for his ‘role’ in the partition of India. None of the schools we visited has ever organised or encouraged a ‘debate’ on Gandhi; though most of them conduct customary essay and painting competitions on Gandhi Jayanti.
  • Most students confessed that their views on Gandhi are influenced by social media and parents. Less than 5 percent of students responded positively to the question of whether they have any book on Gandhi at home or whether their parents may have read any book written by Gandhi. The student who responded positively had only an abridged copy of My experiment with truth, used for a competition organised annually by Gandhi Smriti.
    Low awareness
    In my opinion, it is the consequence of such low awareness about their own country that most students grow up with an ominously misplaced sense of supremacy of their regional identities and culture vis-à-vis other regional identities and cultures. When these youth grow up to become bureaucrats, engineers, doctors, sociologists, politicians or teachers, they naturally lack a national approach to any issue -- be it health, education, poverty, development, globalisation, self-reliance, climate or nationalism. Especially politicians and bureaucrats who emerge from these students may have parochial viewpoint of most issues concerning growth and development of the country.
    The interaction with the young minds, who would assume the responsibility of governing and administering India, also raised some doubts about the ‘Indianness’ of ‘India’ and ‘Indians’ as it is commonly understood. My suspicion is that the idea of ‘Indianness’ may be confined mostly to films, army manuals, national holidays, political speeches and patriotic songs. A national approach to anything is conspicuous by its complete absence in general public discourse. People have strong and mostly dogmatic allegiance to their caste, religion, locality, region and state, generally in that order. There is little evidence of any effort being invested by the system -- local politicians, teachers, social workers, police or administrators -- in developing an ‘Indian’ identity of people.
    The outcome of the students' survey motivated me to travel across the country to explore more about the treasure people commonly refer to as India.
    Traversing through the incredibly wonderful landscapes and meeting over 50,000 people across 15 states, I have tried to discover India in the past few years. What I found was quite revealing though not completely surprising. At the country level the regional socio-economic disparities and cultural differences are well highlighted. These are indeed a popular ingredients of any political and cultural marketing campaign in India. However, not much awareness is seen about the differences that exist at the state level.
    The primary learning is that after 72 years of becoming a political union, India is perhaps still merely the one. We have made little progress in becoming a social and economic union. This state of affairs is clearly reflected in diverse socio-economic conditions of different states and in many cases various regions within a state. This is perhaps the reason why programmes, policies, and strategies which are formulated purely from a national viewpoint fail to achieve the desired results. I believe to be successful, the programmes, policies and strategies have to be formulated and implemented at the smallest administrative unit level, e.g., village panchayat or town municipality.
    I found that for people in Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad, the state of Uttar Pradesh mostly means – Taj Mahal, Varanasi, Lucknow, Ram Mandir, Kebab, taxi drivers and construction labour. Few people in the western and southern states were aware that UP is as diverse as India itself. Various regions of the state, i.e., Awadh, Brij, Rohillkhand, Bundelkhand, and Purvanchal have distinctly identifiable history, food, dialect, customs, deities, and problems. These regions differ in terms of caste, community, and religious dynamics. Differences in terms of weather, water and electricity availability, crop patterns, flood-draught cycle, political influence, urbanisation, physical infrastructure, income disparities and other social indicators are also rather stark. The same holds true for some other states like Maharashtra also.
    Regional diversity 
    The failure of national economic policy in recognising this regional diversity is perhaps the primary reason for the sub-optimal outcome of our efforts. No special efforts are needed to discover that most of the states, regions within states and communities within regions have diverse socio-economic behaviour. Hence, their needs and requirements are also distinct. A blanket policy for all is, therefore, least likely to succeed in meeting its objectives.
    Unjustifiable socio-economic disparities amongst various states and regions within states, materially different socio-economic status of various castes and communities in different states, has frequently led to demands and agitations for new administrative units (states and districts) and affirmative action like reservation in admission to educational institutions and jobs.
    The legislatures have been mostly unsuccessful in developing and adopting a consensus framework for the federal structure of the country, even though some attempts like Sarkaria Commission have been made. Indubitably, there has been some improvement in state-centre relationship in the past 30 years, but this is more due to political compulsions rather than any structural change in approach. Remember, this has been the period when regional parties have played a critical role in government formation at the Centre.
    In the few subsequent posts, I shall share my observations about the states I travelled through. It is pertinent to highlight that these are my personal observations and may not match with the details available in history books, official versions, Wikipedia, accounts of other travellers, political discourse, tourism department brochures, etc. The idea is to encourage young Indians to explore more about their mesmerisingly diverse and enchanting motherland.
    Vijay Kumar 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. The views are personal. 
    Read his columns here.
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