|India finds unity
By Sreeram Chaulia
NEW YORK - Saturday's terrorist blasts that killed at least
43 persons and injured more than 100 in the southern Indian
city of Hyderabad were neither endemic nor unique. They
followed a long succession of mass-casualty attacks on
"soft" targets by jihadi fundamentalists beyond the volatile
northern region of the country. Ironically, while causing
excessive human loss and pain, they also added to the
creeping sense of unity in what is touted as the most
multi-ethnic and divided society in the world.
The idea of India as a "single nation" has often been
pooh-poohed as an absurdity or even a monstrosity by
critics. Winston Churchill, the late British prime minister
and defender of empire, famously quipped, "India is a
geographical term. It is no more a united nation than the
Indeed, throughout history, the Indian state has rarely
managed to politically unify all the territories within its
region. Prior to the British, only the Mauryan Empire
(324-186 BC) and the Mughals during Aurangzeb (AD 1658-1707)
could claim to have done so.
The post-colonial Indian state inherited this unifying
impulse and has deployed mind and sinew to defending what it
stiltedly calls "the unity and integrity of the country".
Its track record in border control and nation-building has
been relatively superior to that of other multicultural
societies such as Yugoslavia, Lebanon and Indonesia. Yet
barriers of region, religion, caste and language have always
cast a (sometimes violent) pall over the nationalist ideal
and called into question the mythology of an India united
from "Kashmir to Kanyakumari".
A growing middle class, the national electronic and print
media, the permeation of Bollywood's glorified version of
"Indian" culture, the nationalist appeal of sports such as
cricket, and the rise of the Indian economy (which creates a
common market for everything from soap to mobile phones)
have all contributed to the fusion of India's 1.2 billion
citizens, 28 states, 22 official languages, six principal
religions, and thousands of castes and sub-castes.
An unexpected addition to this list of unifying forces is
terrorism, which has made Indians conscious of and
sympathetic to their countrymen throughout the nation. Bomb
attacks targeting civilians have, over the years, taken on
such an all-India face that no corner of the country is
immune. Blood on the streets in Pahalgam, Malegaon,
Coimbatore and Guwahati has drawn a red line across the map,
bonding places and people who had practically nothing in
common. The improvised explosive devices that blew on
Saturday made Hyderabad the latest addition to the macabre
Before the 1990s, terrorism was largely confined to the
northern regions, particularly the insurgency-affected
states of Jammu & Kashmir and Punjab and in and around the
But, in 1993, when serial blasts shook Mumbai, western India
entered the maelstrom. The first alarm in southern India was
sounded in 1998 when the Coimbatore bombings killed 46
people and injured more than 200. Although low-intensity
terror attacks have struck eastern India since the 1950s,
the scale of damage achieved by separatists in Assam after
allying with Islamist groups is of national proportions.
Today, the dreaded activities of Lashkar-i-Tayyaba (LeT),
Harkat-ul-Jihad-i-Islami, and even al-Qaeda are as well
known to an average Malayali as to a Kashmiri and are as
loathed by Bengalis and Telugus alike.
Terrorism is uniting India not only geographically, but also
in terms of its extremely diverse social segments. The
choice of LeT to shoot an elite Indian Institute of
Technology professor in Bangalore in 2005 and to regularly
mow down scores of poor shepherds in Rajouri brings the high
and low of India together in mourning. The jihadist
massacres of Hindu pilgrims on the way to Amarnath or while
chanting hymns in Akshardham and of Muslim worshippers in
Malegaon or Hyderabad spans a divide in the mind of the
Indian citizen watching, reading and hearing of the
tragedies from a distance.
Most certainly, the intentions of many terrorist attacks in
India are to provoke riots and divisions based on identity,
but the effect has boomeranged. Indians at many levels of
society reject negotiations with hijackers, hostage-takers
and ransom demanders. After decades of bearing the infamous
badge of a "soft state", India is increasingly a "hard
society" that is opposed to the ideology of intolerant
Questions remain, of course, regarding the quality of
India's unity against terror. Being antagonistic to
terrorists and their credo is not the same as being
adequately equipped to detect and prevent future attacks.
The degree of cooperation between citizens and
law-enforcement agencies is badly scarred by the image of
the latter as corrupt, unjust and criminalized. The level of
cross-religious and cross-community trust to form civic
committees or watch groups against bigotry, violence and
rioting still leaves much to be desired. Last but not least,
the grievances against the Indian state in some sensitive
regions are still boiling and prolonging the cycles of
There can be no denying that the ubiquitous "external hand"
renders domestic counter-terrorism efforts difficult. India
exists in a dangerous neighborhood. However, the basic
fabric of Indian society will have to show its
civilizational strength to tide over this difficult period
in its history. Every time an attack happens, the national
media celebrate that the victimized town or city has
immediately "bounced back" or "returned to normalcy". While
this may be a sign of the inherent strength of India to
absorb wounds and move ahead, it should not end up becoming
a saga of forgetfulness or callousness about the value of
Just being grateful that we were not "there" when the horror
hit and then proceeding with business as usual will only
unite India in apathy, not action against terror.
Sreeram Chaulia is a researcher on international
affairs at the Maxwell School of Citizenship, Syracuse
University, New York.
(Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved.
Please contact us about
sales, syndication and
All material on
this website is copyright and may not be republished in any form
without written permission.
© Copyright 1999 -
2007 Asia Times Online (Holdings), Ltd.
Head Office: Unit B, 16/F, Li Dong Building, No. 9 Li
Yuen Street East, Central, Hong Kong
Thailand Bureau: 11/13 Petchkasem Road, Hua Hin, Prachuab
Kirikhan, Thailand 77110