By Nageshwar Patnaik in Bhubaneswar, November 5, 2019:“India is known for ‘unity in diversity’, it is our pride and our identity.” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said last week while speaking at Statue of Unity in Gujarat’s Kevadia reminding people of the country’s multiple diversities – religious, linguistic, ethnic, cultural etc. The complexity of this plurality and diversity defines the Indian nation.

Needless to say that any attempt to enforce artificial homogeneity threatens the very social fabric of India and is bound to receive severe resistance. For those powers-that-be, transcending these pluralities and diversities to achieve an inclusive social and political order is a big challenge.

The empirical evidence of India’s diversity is officially acknowledged. The country has 1,618 languages, 6,400 castes, six major religions out of which four are of Indian origin, 29 major religio-cultural festivals etc.

Obviously, if any group or a section tries to dominate or appropriate, India is bound to face a challenge to Pan-Indian consciousness. This poses serious threat to unity and integrity of the country.

The Constitution of India has aptly gauged India’s social reality and made strong provisions for freedom and opportunity for all to propagate and flourish, but without contradicting each other.

India is a nation that runs contrary to all established concepts of a nation-state. It neither has a common language nor a single religion. Her mind-boggling cultural, religious, linguistic and geographic diversity has virtually made it a sub-continent. Much has been written on the remarkable ‘Unity in Diversity’ of India and it has been celebrated at all possible opportunities, official and unofficial.

And yet, after more than seven decades of Independence, reality speaks a different story. It is crystal clear that India is still marred with deep fault lines of religion, region and inequitable economic growth. And the secessionist movements in the North-East of India and Jammu and Kashmir to the Maoist uprising in the heartland expose the idea of India as a land of freedom, equality and prosperity.

Going by history of independent India so far, one has to recognize the pivotal role played by political will in holding together and sustaining India as an idea of a nation that promises collective and individual development through equitable economic, political and cultural growth. The political parties have been able to instill a sense of nationhood into people, cutting across divisions of region, religion, language, etc. These political formations have guaranteed the people’s participation in the process of governance and general administration, hence ensuring that the common man feels herself or himself as an integral part of the nation building process. They have instilled a sense of belonging by making the average citizen a stakeholder in the idea of India.

However, the idea of Indian nationhood has often been put to test by antagonistic forces, especially the forces of counter nationalism through the secessionist movements in several boarder states. The Babri Masjid demolition and subsequent Hindu-Muslim riots, religious fanaticism, had reared its ugly head and is seriously confronting the idea of India as a tolerant country where all faiths are equal and respected. This also includes the atrocities inflicted on minorities such as the Christians. The last but not the lease challenge has come from the Maoist or Naxalite movement.

In the wake of all this pan-India specter of violence in the name of ‘freedom’ it is obviously important for a strong political will to exist and put up a collective fight against all these forces that are playing havoc with the sovereignty of the country. The present NDA government headed by Modi is searching for a political solution to the vexed issue of counter nationalism through dialogues and rapid economic development and equitable distribution of political and cultural rights. For instance, in 2015, the Narendra Modi government signed a framework agreement with Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) for an early end to India’s oldest insurgency.

The Naga separatist movement dates back to 1918 when the Naga Club was formed in Kohima, now the capital of Nagaland. The group put up a memorandum before the Simon Commission, demanding the exclusion of Nagas from the constitutional reforms in British India. The Club gave birth to the Naga National Council (NNC) in 1946, and the demand was made for a separate sovereign state including the Naga Hills that fall in today’s Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and also parts of Myanmar.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru envisioned India as unity in diversity and pursued ‘national integration’. He took a symbolic step in this direction by setting up the National Integration Council, which is now defunct. Constituted in 1961 when Nehru was PM, so far 16 meetings of the NIC were held and the last meeting was held in September 2013 during the UPA government. While there has been no meeting of the NIC after NDA government to power in 2014, now in response to a query under RTI Act now union Home Ministry, has said that reconstitution of NIC is under consideration of the government.

Leaders cutting across political lines have been avowing their commitment to national integration. The NIC was created as an important platform to find ways to counter problems that were dividing the country including attachment to specific communities, castes, religions and languages. It is time to bury the hatchet and promote unity in diversity in true sense by reconstituting the NIC at the earliest where the burning national issues can be discussed threadbare and solutions worked out to ensure national integrity.

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