While each one of us may harbour private dreams about the year 2014 of Common Era, it is the events and processes happening around us that would actually shape the year. I am tempted to string together some apparently unrelated developments in the last 30 days, to talk about the battle between centralization and decentralization, between the hollowing and deepening of democracy.
6am happens at the same moment all over the territory of the Union of India, because the Central government had long decided so for the rest of us. However, the sun rises at vastly different moments in different parts of the world and Assam and Gujarat are indeed situated in different parts of the world. Bharat Mata’s children, held tightly together by the Constitution, stand widely apart on the bosom of Mata Basundhara. Sadly, things like the sunrise and sunset, human physiological functions like sleeping and waking up and other things that predate man-made rules and nations and will outlive them too, are still not totally subject to the power of the Central government. Such a state of affairs, even after 66 years after Partition, is not the sign of a strong enough state. The Assam state has decided to delink its time from that of the ‘heart’ of Hindustan, Allahabad of Uttar Pradesh.
If Assam has its way, it will no longer wake up according to the time governed by Mother Nature only to go to work at a time that best suits Allahabad, the city where Ganga and Yamuna but not the Brahmaputra meet. I do not know what is more ironic — that it took 66 years for Assam to decide to abide by a time that is more in like with its geographical location or the fact that its decision is not enough and that it needs the approval of folks hailing from far-away longitudes. If the Assam move succeeds, more areas might want pay more heed to chirpings in their surroundings than the ajaan from Delhi. Interestingly, the new Aam Aadmi force that has risen from Delhi seemingly wants decentralization of decision-making power. This being an election year with most parties being quite non-committal about joining one of the two ‘national’ parties, there is a faint possibility that some new life might be unleashed at the Centre.
Whether we want people’s opinion to matter in their own lives is a question that any purported democracy has to deal with. A true federal system should be capacious enough to accommodate diversity of needs and aspirations.
These couple of green shoots for the decentralizing ideal can easily be lost among the smoke emitted by the relentless centralizing state. The Central cabinet is seriously thinking of starting the River Linking Project that aims to join most major rivers of the Indian Union.
This project that will surely drown the land and culture of many a people will be done for ‘greater common good’. We know that not an inch of the National Capital Region (NCR) will ever be drowned for any good, however great, however common. Such is the absurdity of the Central decision-making in this purported powerhouse of information technology and wireless communication that the headquarters of the Coast Guard and the Inland Waterway Authority are situated in a place that has absolutely nothing to do with the on-the-ground daily workings of these agencies. That is the heart of the giant that joins the NCR, the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) and the Amritsar-Kolkata-Delhi Industrial Corridor (AKDIC). The naked power of centralized authority flavours these alphabet soups designed to drown the million discordant sounds from the ground.
The author is a brain scientist at MIT