By Cynthia Stephen
06 November, 2008
As the world watches with envy, America celebrates the election of its first African-American President and celebrates a triumph of democracy. This is also a time for us in India to introspect, because we too call ours the world's largest democracy. But does our polity reflect the diversity in our country? There is an inkling. But it is only an inkling, because the forces that try to assert the unitary rather than the plural nature of our country are rampant. They insist, with increasing violence, that India was, is and will be 'only' a Hindu country. That the minorities - religious - cannot expect to be 'equal' citizens. They can only have a second-class status in this "Hindu Rashtra". But there are many fault lines along this kind of identity politics. If not religion, then region and language becomes a marker to distinguish one Indian from another. Witness the fracas in Maharashtra with the MNS whipping up the "Marathi" identity. But does the common Marathi heritage stop Marathis (or any other regional identity, say Tamil) from discriminating against a fellow Marathi or Tamil on a caste basis?
So when we can give up these violent disagreements about region, culture and language, and acknowledge the self-evident reality of the plural and diverse nature of the Indian identity, only then can we say with full satisfaction that we too are really a Democracy of the people, by the people and for the people. For instance, there is much diversity between a Muslim from Bidar and one from say Kerala. Or a Syrian Christian and one from Manipur. Or a Brahmin from Andhra and one from Uttar Pradesh. Language, food, culture, dress.... so much diversity. Except the one huge fact that they are citizens of the same country. Why is this truth so hard to accept?
The same great American democracy which fought a Civil War on the issue of slavery in 1861-65, and passed the 15th Amendment giving the erswhile slaves the right to vote in 1870, in what is termed the years of Reconstruction continued to segregate the descendants of the slaves till the late 1960s. Still, American citizens both White and Black participated in the American Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s to end most of the worst discrimination. Now the process of Reconstruction comes full circle with the election of an African American to the White House, albeit not a descendant of slaves but of an Kenyan father and a white American mother.
Obama has said in a recent interview "India is a natural strategic partner for America in the 21st century and that the US should be working with India on a range of critical issues from preventing terrorism to promoting peace and stability in Asia." Obama came to the national stage in 2004 with an address in which he said "There's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there is the United States of America. There's not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America; there is the United States of America,".
When will this day dawn in India, when we will stop engaging in fratricidal attacks on our own fellow citizens, when we will all learn to respect each other's origins, faith, and language and human rights of each other, being from the same large and diverse joint family, and and remember we are all like children playing on the lap of the same mother ?
When will the United States of India become a reality?
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