The Challenge to Indian Nationalism

A memorial in Chennai to those who died in the anti-Hindi imposition agitations of the 1930s and 40s.  Surya Prakash. S.A

TO Jawaharlal Nehru, India's present danger is within. Wherever he has gone across his vast country since Independence, whatever his immediate pronouncement on the affairs of India or the world, Nehru has appealed above all for national unity. "Integrate," he warns, "or perish." He sees it as his historic mission to overcome an endemic challenge to Indian nationalism--a challenge as elemental as the Hindu-Moslem schism which ended in partition and separate statehood for Pakistan less than a decade ago. This is the centrifugal force created by ten major languages, each entrenched in its own historic territory, numbering speakers in the tens of millions and wedded to differing time-honored scripts. How grave a challenge this is to a central authority restrained by parliamentary processes grows clearer year by year as the unity achieved in opposition to the British ruler slips away.

Nehru's leadership focuses more and more plainly on a single overriding objective: to assert a dominant centralizing power before the claims of regional self-interest can gather momentum. In size and resources, the ten regional components of the Indian Union can properly be compared to the sovereign nations of Europe. While of no mind to demand sovereign status, they cross swords in a sharpening political and economic competition which, unchecked, can only undermine India's strength and influence.

In the independence movement, Gandhi and Nehru gave full scope to these ten separate patriotisms within the Congress Party to arouse the spirit of each against the common foe. The British had looked primarily to administrative convenience in drawing the map of India, permitting the accidents of conquest to decide most provincial boundaries. Disregarding the multilingual political babels that resulted, the Congress set up its own provincial units on language lines, pamphleteered to the masses in their languages and promised repeatedly to redraw the map of India when the British were gone. In doing this Gandhi and Nehru deferred to their regional lieutenants, who contended that multilingual units aggravate friction between Indians and that therefore

Loading, please wait...

This article is a part of our premium archives.

To continue reading and get full access to our entire archive, please subscribe.

Related Articles

This site uses cookies to improve your user experience. Click here to learn more.