I was recently reading a research paper that argued that India was a salad bowl. The authors suggested that the Constitution reflected and promoted the ideal of the nation as a salad bowl.
Such a description and analogy of India, where each ingredient is distinct and therefore identifiable but combine to create something healthy, came as a surprise to me. I have mostly heard the country being described as a melting pot suggesting an un-identifiable mishmash as the end product.
Each Community and Religion’s Role Makes India Stronger
The concept of a melting pot suggests a common identity which differs from the individual identities of what was put in. It therefore dispenses with the need for acknowledging differences and therefore finding ways to work with these differences. More importantly it negates and does away with long-held beliefs and identities which are a source of pride that is handed down and nurtured through generations.
The salad bowl concept epitomises ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’. Thus each community and religion in India has an important role to play in leading India to a stronger future.
But here too lies a problem. The largest ingredient can demand that the final dish taste like it or enforce how other ingredients should taste. In the case of India, what is interesting is this diktat moved from a political stance during the Congress regime to a socio-political one in the BJP era.
The Congress overturning the Shah Bano ruling was an instance of enforcing a taste politically, as was the banning of Satanic Verses. This was done to bolster one particular identity.
In the BJP era there is a social and political imperative to do away with the salad bowl and create an extreme melting pot. It has been said ‘many cooks spoil the broth’, but in the case of India there is only one cook for this melting pot today, the right-wing Hindu nationalists. This cook desires that the outcome be similar to the major ingredient.
Thus the cow slaughter ban, the need to show patriotism in a particular way and the blatant rewriting of history to denigrate one period while glorifying another.
What Are We Losing
This undoubtedly enhances the pride of one section while subverting the existence of others. This hubris comes from the enhanced prominence given to the ‘comeuppance’ of others, which is believed to be justly deserved. Prime Minister Modi’s initial recalcitrance to denounce the mob lynching by so called ‘gau rakshaks’ is a case in point.
The well marketed and consumed socio-political drive to regain ‘Hindu Pride’ was begun by the BJP, creating a melting pot which blinds people to the failings of their government .
So, what are we losing as a nation in this conversion from a salad bowl to an extreme melting pot?
The fallout is the growing impatience and even hatred for other points of view. Community identities become intractable creating a vituperative environment. People are unwilling to become part of this melting pot and therefore are being coerced into it through new laws and social pressure.
Also, the government is not held accountable and gets away with failure. In the last few months the BJP government has come out smelling of roses from the demonetisation debacle, the ongoing GST saga, the infant deaths in Gorakhpur and the quick succession of accidents in the railways.
The attempt at religious, social and political homogenisation may not succeed.
Our founding fathers realised that we as a people are divided by caste, religion, language, ethnicity and geography. The only way that people as different as chalk and cheese could come together as a nation was if there was a Constitution that recognised, protected and gave citizens the freedom to live their identities. The BJP and the right-wing nationalists fail to see this. This is the only silver lining on the dark cloud that we live under today.
(The article is built on a paper titled ‘Indias identity politics then and now’ by Vibha Pingle and Ashutosh Varshney. Samir Nazareth is the author of 1400 Bananas, 76 Towns & 1 Million People. He tweets at @samirwrites. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)