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India is Gradually Leaning Toward a Dangerous Unitarianism

One of the unfortunate calamities of India’s historical past is that today religio-cultural tensions continue to sharpen divisions along communal lines in the country.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill and National Register of Citizens of India have increased the impetuousness and insanity that the rhetoric of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has brought out in their constituents. The jarring sounds of the blustering rhetoric of hate and destruction fill the air and engender mass hysteria.

While we live in the era of globalization, it is no secret that in the age of globalization there has been an unprecedented reversion to local, fundamentalist, and fiercely anti-internationalist interests.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill of India as well as the National Register of Citizens have been legitimized by reversion to religious values.

As the people of India seek to improve their lives, they find that oppositional nationalist and proto-nationalist forces can prove as dark a threat to their identities as that which colonialism presented. In Prime Minister Modi’s India, the uncritical reversion to fundamentalism and the superficial creation of a “unified” political identity has led to an erosion of unique and distinctive cultural identities.

Internal hierarchies entrenched by ultra right-wing nationalism relegate religious and ethnic minorities to the background. For instance, the imperialism of Hindi in the India of 2019 has relegated Urdu to the background. The year the BJP came back to power with a brute majority, Muslim culture was metaphorically dislocated.

Historically, the Partition of 1947 fragmented the writing community by redistributing its members into two separate territorial nations. One of the significant consequences of the Partition was the migration of Urdu writers of Muslim origin to Pakistan. So the chime of Independence was, as Aijaz Ahmad eloquently puts it, “experienced in the whole range of Urdu literature of the period not in the celebratory mode but as a defeat, a disorientation, a diaspora” (Lineages 118).

Ethnic and religious minorities in present-day India continue to protest against the singular definition of nation.

As I’ve said before, it is amusing is that all this is being done in the name of so-called national unity and emotional integration. I reiterate that it is my belief that in a federal set-up, the best way for emotional integration and national unity is not the over-centralization of powers but its decentralization leading to the restoration of power in the hands of the federating units. In light of the present over-centralization of powers, India is gradually tending to be a unitary rather than a federal state, and I do not consider this trend as a good omen for the solidarity and integrity of the nation.

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Nyla Ali Khan is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. Nyla Ali Khan has also served as an guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. She can be reached at nylakhan@aol.com.

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