‘Some say the world will end in fire…’
Flames have singed our thoughts these few days.
If bravehearts from a ‘slum’ plunged into the furnace to save patients trapped in the AMRI inferno in Kolkata, some sick-of-minds from the slum of opportunism set hearths aflame over Mullaperiyar.
What do we say to this — fie fire ?
We need not, in fact, say anything.
But we need to be aware of certain facts: First, we have amid us those who, when they see a fire, want to douse it; second, we have those who, when they see smoke, want to fan it into a crackling, climbing, consuming inferno; third, we have those who are in denial of the fires or the chances of fire around us.
Thank you, God of Fire-Extinguishing, for the first kind. And God of All Fires, please help us cope with the other two kinds.
My faith in our judiciary and my respect for it, ever optimistic, leaps. No admonition could have been more timely and crucial than the one administered by the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court on the Mullaperiyar dam last Tuesday. Urging both sides to maintain calm while airing views on the controversy, the Bench also asked them to douse the flames instead of adding fuel to the fire.
The prime minister and the chief ministers of the two states have counseled restraint. Leaders of opinion, including the media, have asked for calm. But what of the rungs often described as ‘ground-level’? They have been playing basketball with fire. Their own hands, by long practice, are presumably fire-resistant.
We have been hearing phrases like ‘border tensions’ ,‘build-up’, being used to describe the situation that has come to mark the boundaries between the two states. Kerala and Tamil Nadu were created by the recommendations of a three-man States Reorganisation Commission. Curiously, civil servant VP Menon, who was Sardar Patel’s right-hand man in the consolidation of Indian States, was not made a member of the 1956 body. But, fortunately, the historian KM Panikkar, a Malayali, was a member. Though not its chairman, he powered its language-based demarcations. No one felt or said he would have made any recommendation out of bias. Kanyakumari, a Tamil-majority district, but with many Malayalam speaking people, was transferred to the new Tamil Nadu.
Malabar ,a predominantly Malayalam-speaking region, but with many Tamil-speaking people, was transferred to the new Kerala. Numerous sons and daughters of one State live today in the other, enriching its culture and enlivening its professions. For any of them to feel insecure or be made to feel insecure goes against the grain of Tamil Nadu’s and Kerala’s traditions of rational analysis.
Tamil Nadu and Kerala are intellectually agile, politically alert states. Above all, they share a legacy of political sagacity represented by Rajagopalachari, ‘Periyar’ EV Ramaswami , EMS Namboodiripad, Kamaraj, C Achutha Menon, CN Annadurai, VK Krishna Menon, C Subramaniam, R Venkataraman, KR Narayanan and Justice VR Krishna Iyer.
But the issue is not about Tamil Nadu-Kerala. At Mullaperiyar today, the fire could move anywhere, to any other issue, any other venue, in any other state or states, tomorrow.
Fire is a nomad, feral.
And we are a combustible people, ignitable.
Telangana , the biggest arena for a new statehood, has shown the obsolescence of the 1956 linguistic basis for states. At a shop in Chennai, the loquacious salesman asked me at the height of the Telangana agitation: “Sir, look at the demand…I could understand Andhra…We speak Tamil, they speak Telugu…But here both speak Telugu…And still…One wants to split…Tel...Ang…Aanaa…”.
The Telangana demand is only symptomatic. According to some calculations, there are as many 36 aspirations for new boundary re-alignings. Some of these are serious, some non-serious. But each is flammable. Then why is there no discussion on the need, more than half a century after the first, for a new States Reorganisation Commission (SRC)?
Is it that we have become so incendiary as a nation that, unlike in 1956, we fear that a new SRC will be like a piece of camphor surrounded by hoops of fires ? Or that the flare of expectations aroused by it will spell doom for any government in office ?
Without prejudice to our existing linguistically-delineated boundaries, why cannot we think of a new SRC that looks at altogether new zonations, that do not divide us into linguistic, community or other ethnic groups but aggregates and disaggregates according to the purpose in hand, as certain bio-geographic zonations have attempted, into 10 or more bio-geographic zones, with appropriate biotic provinces such as, the Himalaya of the human being called by us the Kashmiri, the walnut wood making, Namdaa weaving, zafraan cultivating human, who lives amid the Chiru and the Chinar; the Deccan and further South of the Kannadiga including the Kodava and the Kurumba, the Malayali including the Menon, the Mappila and the Mannaan, the Tamil, the Telugu and Tulu-speaking human being who cultivates paddy and millet and the chilli, grows fragrant tea and that aromatic coffee which RK Narayan captured when, in answer to a cabin steward’s question on whether he would like it black or white, said ‘Black…white…what do you mean? I want it brown, like all good Mysore coffee is meant to be!’ And zonations for littoral India, desert India, forest India, all transposed on existing political boundaries and even new ones.
If we do that, we will be better prepared to face the huge challenges of climate change and concomitant natural disasters, which leave no one a Hindu or Muslim or Buddhist but just shattered . We will also be able to see our human potential that the blind pursuit of political and financial turf ever so often engulfs in fire, fuelled by some, denied by others and fought by bravehearts alone.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor
The views expressed by the author are personal