The recent verbal attacks by Bal Thackeray on Sachin Tendulkar have been subject to a lot of criticism, and a lot of severe criticism. Similar retaliation was seen when Raj Thackeray laid siege on the fame of Amitabh Bachchan, and before that, too, when Raj’s men beat up Biharis writing the Railways’ Recruitment Test in Maharashtra. These events are very disturbing to me personally, because I’ve grown up in Delhi, the national capital, and still call it home. In that city, everyone is from everywhere, as a friend puts it. There are no indigenous people, and likewise, there are no outsiders. Regionalism is something we learnt about only in our Social Studies class, and even then, it was only a term. Traveling away from home after finishing school, I did notice subtle boundaries between the regions of our country, but I doubt these have ever been made so daunting by the open politicization of regionalism we are seeing today.
Xenophobia is something that is innate in all humans. And, in a multicultural, multilingual country like ours, it is but certain that people from different ethnic backgrounds will have some level of discomfort mixing freely with each other. But at length, they blend in, augmented by the feeling that they are all Indians, after all. Unity in diversity, as all of us were taught in school. However, it seems our politicians are now learning to tap this potential for misleading the electorate by singing the exact opposite. And the electorate, disillusioned by the apparent damage to their identity dealt by ‘outsiders’, rush to support these new-age separatists. So disillusioned this said patriotism is, that these people forget that they are Indians first and foremost, and that their ethnicity (Marathi, Kashmiri, Bengali, etc) are only secondary. And so disillusioned their leaders are with winning votes, that they do not have any idea what seeds they might be planting.
Yes, separatist is exactly the term. What else would you call people who threaten and beat up their own countrymen just because of their ethnicity? And who knows, what these xenophobic tendencies could lead to if unchecked. Remember the Balkans in the 90’s? We already have separatist groups for Kashmir and the Northeastern states. Those subtle boundaries between the ethnic regions of India are suddenly becoming more and more distinct. It chills my bones to imagine what would happen if this regionalism morphs into fanaticism. Maybe this is too far-fetched, but what we’re seeing today really is the first sign of the collapse of a nation. Something which is even more chilling, given that Raj Thackeray is part of the new generation, and so are many of his supporters. I’m certain that I’ll never sell my vote to regionalism, but I’m worried many of my contemporaries will. I sincerely hope my fears are unfounded, and that Indians remain Indians. Jaya He.
(Map represents not the official international boundaries, but merely the territory that is administered by the Goverment of India)