The high level of expectations about the government has somewhat subsided. The Budget gave the impression of a government settling down for a Test match, not a T20. The controversies are going to be on peripheral matters where the government may find it hard to keep the same degree of control that it keeps on its ministers and MPs. Justice Markandey Katju has already stirred up a hornets nest on what happened in the previous regime. The issue of judicial accountability will, no doubt, be raised as much as the culpability of the coalition which governed at the time.
But the troubles looming for the BJP/NDA coalition are already on the surface. The Shiv Sena is itching for a fight. This is no doubt to bargain for a larger share of seats in the forthcoming Maharashtra elections. It has been most vocal in differing from the government on many issues. Even the trivial issue of Ved Pratap Vaidik has been blown up, as is any Pakistan-related matter. The Shiv Sena may yet prove to be what the TMC was for the UPA. Luckily, the BJP has its own majority, so they can stop playing along with such troublesome partners.
But there is also the self-inflicted controversy of celebrating Sanskrit in schools. This raises some serious questions about the ideology of the BJP. Quite clearly, many in the BJP think Sanskrit is the great mother language of Indian culture and of Hinduism. To announce the arrival of a new regime, the highlighting of Sanskrit seems normal. But as the government has seen, there is unhappiness among its Tamil Nadu allies and erstwhile friends such as the AIADMK. The issue is that Tamil is just as old as Sanskrit and it is the oldest living language in India.
The ideologues of Hindu Rashtra/Hindutva have a very North India-centred vision of Indias past. They think that Aryavarta or Bharatvarsha is all India. But that is a sort of Delhi Sultanate view of Indian history. The Prime Minister, in one of his early speeches, had said that India had been enslaved for 1,200 years. At the time, few noticed this, even among the secularist watchmen. The assertion is that India became unfree with Muslim incursions of Mohammad bin Qasim.
But that is what happened in the North, not in South India. Even in the North, the Muslim conquest of North India remained partial until the Mughals came on the scene. Mohammad bin Qasims incursion into Sindh is hardly an all-India conquest any more than the victory at Plassey is British domination of all India. It took many Muslim kingdoms centuries to capture Punjab and the Doab, while Assam remained forever outside any control from Delhi. The British took at least another 70 years after Plassey to claim a substantial portion of India.
South India has a very different experience of Muslims coming as traders and did not experience Muslim rule till much later. Similarly, any history of Hinduism has to acknowledge that the Bhakti movement began in the South with Tamil poets, and then traversed North. Hinduism is not just a product of Sanskritised knowledge. Classical Tamil also has its contributions. It was also South India under the Cholas that had outgoing kingdoms that built overseas empires while the kingdoms in the North were busy quarrelling with each other.
If there is to be a new idea of India around some sort of Hindu basis, it has to be at the very least inclusive of all parts of India. Much of Indian history, which even the nineteenth century Indian nationalists grew up on, is the British distillation of Muslim chronicles, most of which relate to North India. Thus, the Hindu nationalist branch of Indian nationalism has been fed the simplistic view of India as Delhi. India is, however, a result of years of British rule, united North and South, East and West. This is despite Partition. If we are to have a new idea of India as a nation, it has to, at the very least, rethink and rediscover its own history rather than swallow simplicities fed by British historians via Muslim chroniclers.
Time has come to get serious about the idea of India if anyone wants to have a new one.