Accepting the Inevitable
The reality today is calling for a complete transformation of politics in its entirety.
This article was originally published in Gurmukhi on www.sikhsiyasat.info (31 December 2020) and has been translated for the readership of the Panth-Punjab Periodical. It brings sharp analysis about the political realities of the Indian state structure to the foreground. Malkeet Singh reminds us that Sikhs are a sovereign people forced into Indian-ness through colonial violence and that thinking beyond the structures and politics of the state is necessary as we move toward liberation.
Over the past 73 years, serious questions have consistently been raised regarding India’s current political structure. Despite the common refrain that India is a democratic country, numerous observers have commented that India is actually an imperialist administrative structure that does not seek the input or consent of the citizens subject to its authority. The project to construct a single, unified nation-state is still ongoing in full force—seeking the elimination of diversity in order to subjugate the region to a unitary political structure. State power is consistently deployed to erase alternative identities in order to assimilate the subcontinent into a single Indian national identity. Every time people have raised concerns about these colonial practices however, they have been maligned and discredited as “anti-nationals” working at the behest of hostile enemies seeking to destroy India. It is becoming more and more difficult for the Centre to ignore the problem and divert blame elsewhere as these concerns are now being raised by figures within the Indian establishment itself.
In a December 16 article published in the Economist, the author summarized the current conflict around the farmer bills and concluded that: “However the siege of Delhi ends, India’s rulers would be wise to learn its lessons: in such a diverse and noisy country, you cannot make one rule for all, and you cannot make rules at all without first winning people to your cause.
In a recent interview with the Press Trust of India, Indian National Congress chief, Sharad Pawar, asked "How can a government say in a democracy that it won’t listen or it won’t change its line?" He went on to add that, "Agriculture can’t be run by sitting in Delhi as it involves hard-working farmers in villages and moreover the bigger responsibility for this subject lies with the state governments." He made it clear in his comments that the Centre forcefully imposed these laws on people even ignoring reservations from state-level agriculture ministers.
This trend of centralizing power in Delhi has harmed people in the region in so many ways including politically, culturally, and economically. The former head of the Reserve Bank of India, Raghuram Rajan, recently commented in an interview that “India cannot be run from the Centre.” In other words, unilateral decisions made in Delhi cannot do justice considering the diverse realities of the subcontinent; it is necessary for states to determine their own economic policies according to their local needs and realities.
Things have come to a point where concerns about the Centre’s arrogance in centre-state relations are now being raised in Parliament. Not only are concerns being raised, but lawmakers are being warned about the dire consequences of the status quo as well. A sitting Shiv Sena MP, Sanjay Raut, recently penned an article for a weekly magazine, Saamna, in which he wrote, "the continuing deterioration in relations between the States and the Center (Delhi) is leading to a situation in which the breakdown of India like the USSR is becoming more and more likely." Sanjay Raut further described how the occupying power at the Centre is playing politics to overthrow state governments and fueling growing instability in Kashmir. Adding the Chinese incursion into Ladakh on top of this situation, the Balkanization of India will not take very long at all. Raut also took a shot at the supreme court in his article, saying that "even the Supreme Court has forgotten its responsibilities."
The problem of centralization of power is not limited to the top-down nature of the Indian Union however, it has also seeped into the political culture of the states themselves. In his December 10 article for the Indian Express, Pratap Bhanu Mehta paints a problematic picture of federalism in India. In his description, federalism is not only illusory but whatever remains of it is swiftly disappearing. The reason identified by Mehta for this situation is not solely centralization by Delhi but a political culture that has been “co-produced... in both Centre and the states.” Even the limited autonomy granted to states is not being utilized effectively, while internal tools of decentralization (like Panchayats, Gram Sabhas etc) are also ignored and neglected.
Analyzing all of these comments, it is unequivocally clear that no degree of minor reform can fix the current system. The reality today is calling for a complete transformation of politics in its entirety. Only after understanding this reality and its causes can we seriously think about constructing an alternative. This process of radical reconstruction requires a deep understanding of the depth and complexity of diversity of the region to ensure that the structure facilitates freedom for the entire region. The meaning and objective of this freedom must reflect the grassroots realities of the subcontinent—from cultural freedom to economic self-determination and political freedom. As long as even a single kernel of centralized domination and authoritarianism remains, any political structure in this region will continue advancing towards self-destruction like the Indian state is doing right now. Now is the right time to accept this inevitable reality.
Originally published in Gurmukhi on www.sikhsiyasat.info (31 December 2020). Translated by the Panth-Punjab Project.
Malkeet Singh is a prominent writer, poet, and the editor of Amritsar Times. He is active in several grassroots initiatives in Punjab, including Samvad. His written work appears on a number of platforms including Amritsar Times, Sikh Siyasat, Sikh Pakh, and several others.