Unity and Disunity~III

Admittedly, all was not well with the Indian civilization in its journey towards the unity and integrity of a nation. The fault lines have been too many. Modern India inherited a few from the past and the new ones have been created after Independence by the people who have been in power and politics

Unity and Disunity~III

Representation image (Photo:SNS)

The Glorious Mauryan Empire (322-185 BCE), emerging out of the Mahajanapads, was the first Indian Empire to unite most of the sub-continent, the largest empire India had ever had.

During the reigns of Chandragupta Maurya and his son Bindusara, the Vedic religion along with the Vedas, Upanishads, and the Puranas, the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, the Gita and the Sanskrit language received maximum royal patronage and dissemination forming the core of Indian culture throughout the sub-continent.

After Ashoka embraced Buddhism, the later Mauryans and also the Kushans adopted Pali (a Prakrit of Sanskrit) as the State language and spread Buddhism covering almost the entire Asia ~ Afghanistan, Tibet, Mongolia, China, Japan, Korea, the South-East Asia and Sri Lanka.


The Golden Gupta period, also known as the Classical period (320 BCE-650 CE) of Indian history witnessed the greatest flowering of art, culture, science and literature unparalleled in the history of the world until the Italian renaissance took place in modern Italy in 15th and the 16th centuries. The Gupta period produced a galaxy of great geniuses like Kalidasa (the Indian Shakespeare), Arybhatta, Varahamihira, Banabhatta, Vishnu Sharma, Sushruta, Dhanwantri, Vatsayan etc.

During the Classical Period, India not only excelled in administrative and economic developments, the period is also marked by liberalism, freedom of expression and permissiveness; sex was not taboo. The fact that a treatise like Kamasutra could be written those days and the practice of Niyog (getting pregnant from other than the husband) was in vogue, shows how liberal and enlightened the society was.

Extreme erotic carvings, statues and murals in hundreds of temples and places of worship (Khajuraho, Konarak etc.) in later centuries indicate the openness of Indian society. The decline of the Gupta period witnessed the rise of a number of smaller empires and kingdoms – the Harsha, the Pala, the Rastrakuta and the GurjaraPratihara empires in the North and the Chalukya, the Chola, the Pallava, the Chera, the Pandyan and the Western Chalukya empires in the South.

They ruled the sub-continent for the next 600 years till the 13th century when the Muslims overthrew most of them but the spirit of unity among them never disappeared. The Cholas of Tamil Nadu created a remarkable empire extending from the East coast of India to Indonesia but they never thought they were not part of Bharatvarsha as they shared the same religion and culture and worshipped the same gods and goddesses.

The Sangam period (300 BCE – 200CE) was the golden period for Tamil literature producing great literary works including the Five Great Epics of Tamil Literature, one of which was Silappatikaram by Ilango Adigal. The famous Tirukkural by Thiruvalluvar was also composed around 300 BCE.

Along with Tamil, Sanskrit language and literature shaped their lives; it can be noticed that most of the Tamil men and women and their villages and towns bear Sanskrit names. Religion wise, Shaivites and Vaishnavites, two off-shoots of the Vedic religion became the dominant sects in South India. Most of the Tamil Brahmins of today have found their ancestry to North India and Bengal.

It is believed that the first manuscript of the original Sanskrit Ramayana was found in Andhra, which is explained by the mass migration of the North Indian Brahmins to South India to escape from Muslim persecution. Sanskrit continued to be the lingua franca of the sub-continent for a long time ~ the court language and the language of the kings, the scholars, the writers and the priests and the gods.

Andhra, Karnataka and Kerala became important centres of Sanskrit studies. Born in a remote village of Kaladi in Kerala, Adi Shankaracharya, a great scholar of Sanskrit, saint and exponent of Advaita Vedanta aroused the conscience of India as was done in modern times by Swami Vivekananda. He travelled the length and breadth of India from Kerala to Kashmir, Gujarat to Bengal and to the mountains of the Himalayas.

In a unique unifying move, he established Shankaracharya Peeth (Math) at four corners of India making a quadrangular unity structure ~ Shringeri, Dwarka, Joshimath and Puri ~ symbolizing the four Vedas and oneness of India.

Relentless invasions by the Arabs and the Turco-Mongal nomadic tribes of Central Asia since the 7th century till the 13th century resulted in the consolidation of the Muslim rule in the sub-continent ~ first by the Delhi Sultanate (1207-1526: 32 Sultans) for 320 years and after the battle of Panipat in 1526, by the Mughal Empire (1526-1857: 21 Emperors) for 330 years. The 600-year Islamic rule considerably changed the religious and cultural topography of India.

The Islamic rulers with their primary state policy of aggressive Islamization vertically divided the Indian society into ‘We’ (Muslims) and ‘They’ (nonMuslims). While during the Muslim period, especially during the Mughal regime, there had been accelerated growth in communications, trade and industry contributing about 25 per cent of the world’s GDP and trade and uniting the larger part of India into one geographical unit, the entire period was marked by wars, invasions, bloodshed, genocide and discrimination, suppression, oppression and conversion of the majority non-Muslims.

The only silver linings during this period had been: (i) the Bhakti Movement spearheaded by Guru Nanak, Sant Kabir and Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who flooded the country with their message of love, devotion, communal harmony and oneness of humanity; (ii) a Sufi movement of love and oneness, though in a muted form and (iii) the rise of Maratha power under Chhatrapati Shivaji and Sikh power under Guru Gobind Singh, putting up stiff resistance to the ruthless theocratic rule of Aurangzeb. None of the Islamic rulers could, however, destroy the concept of oneness of India.

The British introduced a modern secular administration, and established a huge British India empire extending from the borders of Afghanistan in the West to Burma in the East and from the Tibetan borders in the North to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in the South. While the British rule did tremendous good in many areas (like the common Civil, Judicial and the Central Services, the Railways, Posts and Telegraphs, Banks and financial services etc.), their economic exploitation and loot of India’s wealth to the extent of trillions of dollars kept India impoverished with an abysmal rate of economic growth and trade. India’s fall from the richest country to an abysmally poor country has been a subject of severe criticism of the British Raj.

More reprehensible had been their ‘divide and rule’ policy which kept 562 Princely States under their suzerainty within British India and ultimately succeeding in dividing India to create a separate independent State of Pakistan in a manner that kept both the nations in perpetual conflict. But in spite of their best efforts, they could not destroy the spirit of unity of the 562 Princely States who agreed to join the Union of India.

Admittedly, all was not well with the Indian civilization in its journey towards the unity and integrity of the nation. The fault lines have been too many. Modern India inherited a few from the past and the new ones have been created after Independence by the people who have been in power and politics. The fault lines which have been militating against the unity and integrity of India have been:

1. The Caste System and Brahmanism: The hereditary caste-system has always been a bane of Indian society. In spite of all-out efforts to establish an egalitarian society by hundreds of reformers and by many reform movements through centuries starting with Gautama Buddha’s Buddhism in ancient India and ending with the modern period’s social reformers like Swami Dayanand (Arya Samaj), Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Swami Vivekananda (Ramakrishna Mission), Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Iswarchandra Vidyasagar and others, nothing much has changed in Indian society. On the other hand, the State policy of affirmative action based on caste-based reservation system has widened the sense of divisiveness in the society.

2. The Communal Divide: Secularism forms a part of the fundamental structure of the Indian Constitution. The manner in which secularism has been practiced as a political weapon reducing it to an appeasement policy and vote-bank politics has accentuated the communal divide rather than promoting harmony among the various groups. The politicians have taken the noble principles of secularism to the burial ground of hate.

3. The Left Politics and Ideology: The leftist political and social organizations, especially the orthodox Marxists, receiving inspiration and resources from foreign lands, and still believing in the infallibility of Marxist ideas of revolution and class-struggle, have little respect for democratic values and human rights. Their disruptive politics and agitations and disaffection for the establishment cause considerable social disharmony.

4. Terrorism: Terrorism has been the biggest enemy of modern civilization and greatest destroyer of democracy and human rights. Terrorism in all forms ~ external, internal or statesponsored ~ cuts at the very root of liberal democracy. In India, the Naxalites, the Maoists and the sleeper cells of terror organizations and their sympathizers have been the new enemies of the State, more dangerous than the historical invaders.

5. Paradox of Personal Laws: While the Constitution has granted full freedom to practice one’s own religion, enforcement of certain regressive personal laws has had the effect of taking away the basic Fundamental Rights of the individual as guaranteed by the Constitution creating social fissures.

6. Freedom of Expression: Misuse of the freedom of expression in the form of fake news, paid news, manufactured conspiracy theories in the social media, internet and the television channels and the lowest level of political discourse produce a great deal of social disharmony.

7. Linguistic States: Unlike the USA, Russia and Australia, the Indian federation consists of linguistic States. While this has furthered promotion of the principal regional languages, it has also led to jingoistic regionalism and has opened a Pandora’s Box demanding creation of new linguistic States dividing the present ones (there are 121 major languages in India).

In conclusion, the concept of India, that is Aryavarta, Bharatvarsha, Bharat or Hindustan, as one nation, has existed for more than 5,000 years, since the days of Harappan Civilization to the present day irrespective of the fact that changing political fortunes and rise and fall of multiple empires, kingdoms and satraps had the effect of transforming the geographical units. In spite of all the vicissitudes, the sense of oneness has always existed.

(The writer is a former Dy. Comptroller &Auditor General of India and a former Ombudsman of Reserve Bank of India. He is also a writer of several books and can be reached at brahmas@gmail.com)