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Indians in India

Accuse Bihar of anything else, but one thing the state isn’t is parochial. A lesson for the rest of the nation? Sudhanshu Ranjan examines.

india Updated: Oct 29, 2008 22:48 IST
Sudhanshu Ranjan

The politics of hate continues unabated in Mumbai. Close on the heels of the death of Rahul Raj, the youngster from Bihar brandishing a gun in a bus who was shot dead by the police, Dharmadeo Rai from Uttar Pradesh, was lynched to death in a train reportedly because he was a North Indian.

These incidents have raised a big question mark on the nationhood of India as defined by the Constitution. The people of Bihar are, doubtless, peeved. But the way they reacted violently, burning trains and public property is reprehensible. On February 22, some MLAs in the Bihar assembly had shouted ‘Marathi Rajyapal, wapas jao!’ (Maharashtrian Governor, go back!). It was also against the backdrop of attacks on Hindi-speaking people, especially Biharis, by Raj Thackeray’s henchmen and the way the MNS leader had ridiculed Chhath Puja.

Five years before the latest conflagration in Mumbai, Biharis were beaten up in Assam during the Railways recruitment board examination in 2003. But Assamese travellers on trains from Guwahati, which have to pass through Bihar, were not touched. One hopes that North Indians keep their heads this time round too.

Bihar may be condemned for casteism and so many other ills. But one can’t accuse it of provincialism. It always has had a national perspective and outlook, and never a ‘Bihari’ ethos. Pataliputra had been the capital of India for nearly a thousand years and the history of Pataliputra was the history of India.

This trend has continued. Bihar happily accepted the policy of freight equalisation for coal and steel for the sake of the development of the whole country even though it brought about almost the perdition of the state’s economy, as it led to the huge flight of capital from the state.

Political scientist VN Menon once commented that Bihar is the least provincial state as it is the most casteist. Even officers of all-India services posted in Bihar admit they are never discriminated against. In fact, being a non-Bihari is a plus-point as one is not stigmatised on the ground of caste.

What is happening in Maharashtra is also against the tradition of Maharashtra. Leaders like Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Gopal Krishna Gokhale instilled nationalism in the people. It is unfortunate that the fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution to travel and settle anywhere in the country is being violated with impunity while governments look on. It is the responsibility of the State to ensure that these rights are not violated.

The people of Maharashtra and Assam should learn from Canada. A separatist party, the Parti Quebecois, which advocates for Quebec seceding from Canada, came into power in 1976. It declared the province to be an all-French province and made French the official language. But it did not seek to drive out English-speaking people from the province.

Sudhanshu Ranjan is a Delhi-based journalist