Indira Gandhi had a nice comeback for pesky foreigners, especially journos, who breathless voiced fears over the viability of the Indian State because it apparently lacked homogeneity. She would quote a piece of dialogue from a rather silly Peter Sellers film, The Party, in which Mr Sellers plays the usual shambolic native stereotype. At one point in the movie a character asks Sellers, "Who do you think you are?" Pat comes the reply: "In India we don't think who we are, we know who we are." It is a trite line but it carries a useful message.
For the last seven or eight years, the Sangh parivar has been relentlessly bombarding us with the news that they have redefined, indeed rediscovered, Indian identity. It seems we as a national entity were bewildered, groping, even cheated, till the party "with a difference" came along and informed us who we really were—and urged us to be proud of the momentous self-discovery. A more bogus claim has been rarely made.
This country is beset with myriad problems. Most of them are all too visible. Happily, one difficulty the overwhelming majority of citizens have seldom faced is doubts over identity. Few humans on Planet Earth are more secure of their identity than the people who inhabit our robust republic. The Indian identity may be difficult to define—it may be the sum of many parts, it may embrace diverse influences, it may change physical character every 500 kilometres, it may occasionally be aggrieved with the mainstream, but its existence is a joyful reality verifiable on a daily basis.
Doubtless, its cohesion, resilience and longevity lie in its multiple and frequently confusing sources, and even more confusing manifestations of ethnicity. However, to mistake the multiplicity and dizzying confusion for its absence is to misread 3,000 years of history.
In the late '50s, the renowned American broadcaster and journalist, Alistair Cooke (then a rookie reporter), confessed to Jawaharlal Nehru in New York that he had entered journalism in the firm belief that the truth had two sides. He now found that the truth, more often than not, had five or six sides. How was he to cope with this many-sidedness? Jawaharlal Nehru replied: "Mr Cooke, welcome to the Hindu view of life."
In this issue we attempt the impossible by asking the impossible question, "What is Indian?" Impossible, since in the 70-odd pages of the special Independence Day number we can only answer the riddle by posing even more questions on the impossible subject. Individual opinions from Gunter Grass to Sunil Khilnani to John Kenneth Galbraith to Rajmohan Gandhi to Barkha Dutt to Aamir Khan are solicited to reinforce our original thesis (one which celebrates diversity) but I suspect the end-result is a muddle. In short, we are providing you a glimpse of the Hindu view of life.
Independence Day numbers of publications tend to become platforms for table-thumping patriotism. Those who dispute the narrow view of "Indian" are, unfortunately, less vocal these days. While patriotism is not necessarily the last refuge of the scoundrel, India's strength lies in nurturing its spirit of tolerance and accommodation. From Kargil to Kanyakumari that is what binds our country together. And that is what we must preserve, promote and protect.