As long as we do not believe in partitioning the humanity to play a violent zero-sum game with the “others”/“enemy”, it would mean confluence and not conflict, harmony and not hatred and progress for the entirety, and not prosperity only for the parts.
When Prof Pulin Nayak and, later, Rajesh Mahapatra contacted me to join as a founding member of Odisha Alochana Chakra (the Forum for Odisha Dialogues) for a while the question that came to my mind was: why after spending a lifetime in an all India organization (close to four decades I was with the Reserve Bank of India working in major cities of India, large part in its Head Office in the mega metropolis of Mumbai) should I become an active partner in such a provincial project. Will it not negate my deeply embedded idea of India intertwined to its pan India nationhood and will I not get trapped in a tight little box? Others who have joined this forum would also have possibly faced this dilemma.
Odia Provincialism: Parochialism Is Not Its Leitmotif
Then I looked back to the history of Odia (sub)nationalism, more particularly in the period of freedom struggle. It becomes clear that Odia identity was never a threat to the unity of India. Rather it provided the impetus to a more durable and sustainable nationhood focused on accommodating linguistic and cultural identities of Indian provinces. It provided a template for formation of linguistic based states, enabling a solid framework for rapid socio-economic prosperity of diverse regions and resultantly of the Indian nation. The father of Odia nationalism Madhusudan Das and other avant- garde leaders like Gopabandhu Das had in fact espoused that Mother Utkal (Odisha) is not separate from Mother India and neither one is stepmother nor enemy of the other. The formulation that linguistic based provinces will strengthen the nation had wholehearted acceptance of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi. If we look from another perspective Odia and other similar sub nationalisms, when not bogged down with perversity of parochialism, not only provide strong pillars of pluralistic support to the edifice of a united and sovereign Indian nation but also work as bulwarks against the tyranny of hype- nationalism and homogenisation.
On a separate note, the “Cult of Jagannath”, which in many ways is the most dominant symbol of the socio-religious and cultural identity of Odisha, is also premised on the concept of “the God of the Universe” with inclusive appeal transcending communities, regions and countries. This universalism is eloquently evident from the eternal words of the Odia saint poet Bhima Bhoi :
Mo jeevan pachhe narke padithau,
Jagat uddhara pau
(Let my life be sorrow-filled but let the world be blessed with salvation).
Who then can say “regional” cannot coexist with “national” and “global”?
Regional Growths: Synergistic Gains For The Nation
I also thought of evaluating the Odisha-focused approach to economic development juxtaposed against Indian growth story. One defining characteristics of growth dynamics in India has been the concentration of economic activities and consequently jobs and wealth in a few states for variety of historical, socio-cultural, governance and geographical factors. One recent study indicated that five states accounted for close to half of country’s output in last four decades since 1980-81. Per capita income in these big five states was about one and a half times higher than the bottom five states at the start of the millennium but increased to more than three times in 2018-19. While India managed to propel itself to a higher growth trajectory compared to many other countries, the conventional “catch-up” really did not show up in the case of most Indian states although some of them like Odisha managed to up their economic profile and development index to some extent. This proves the point that if such divergences can be reversed and the relatively backward states can gather growth momentum through regional development interventions it can add to the resilience of national growth. The post-pandemic economic crisis reinforces this by bringing spotlight onto the diversified growth centres across the country; more importantly we would have avoided the spectacle of millions of migrants trudging helplessly back to their home states from the over crowded growth hubs concentrated in a few regions. Forums like Odisha Dialogues can play a critical role in studying and suggesting policies and practices which will suit and support regional development strategies.
Pluralistic Identities: Promise For Peace And Prosperity For All
Often we are confronted with a choice between an identity of “pluralistic” affiliations of concentric circles and a “singularity’’ idiom based on membership of a strong and exclusive group; for me and, I suppose, for most other enlightened people it will unhesitatingly be the former. As we are increasingly witnessing the dangers of unique characterisation of people engendering a society riven by hatred and violence , a la Huntington’s theory of “clash of civilisations”, the philosophical and pragmatic approach will be to celebrate true diversity of identities. One can be an Odia or a Tamil or a Bengali, an Indian ,a global citizen, a Muslim or Hindu or Christian, a member of many alumni groups, a member of professional and work place groups, a part of diverse civil society groups, political parties and cultural affiliations at the same time and be able to navigate seamlessly across such concentric circles. One may have natural bias for one’s own cuisine, costume and culture but can also appreciate what others have to offer. For instance, many of us long for Odia delicacies like dahi bara , aloo dum and chhena poda but also savour the delectable taste of iddli ,meddu vada and masala dosa. As long as we do not believe in partitioning the humanity to play a violent zero-sum game with the “others”/“enemy” it would mean confluence and not conflict, harmony and not hatred and progress for the entirety, and not prosperity only for the parts. Here it is apposite to conclude with recalling what Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore had said:
Seemar majhe ashim tumi bajao aapon sur,
Amar moddhye tomar prokash tai eto madhur
(Bound by boundaries, O’ you boundless, play your own melodies, It is in me your presence I feel so ecstatic)
In some sense it finds echo in the metaphorical poem of William Blake:
To see a world in a grain of sand,
And heaven in a wildflower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.