Opinion | North-South Divide: A False and Vicious Dichotomy

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The ‘North-South’ divide debate that the Congress is trying to foist on us, after its recent electoral debacle, is passé and will not strike roots anymore. Among the many myriad things he has achieved, many new narratives that he has generated, and many warped narratives that he has challenged and debunked, in the last decade, Narendra Modi has conclusively challenged, debunked and deconstructed the pernicious and mischievous ‘North-South’ divide narrative. In the past, this narrative saw traction and was floated by those whose politics thrived on exacerbating faultlines – both societal and religious.

Nehru, Indira, Sanjay, Rajiv, Rahul, and Shastri had all been elected from the north and the Congress now terms the north of India as backwards just because it has been resoundingly rejected in that region. Is it a rational position or an exasperated one, from a deep frustration of being repeatedly rejected in its erstwhile bastion? Yet figures show that almost 40 per cent of voters voted for the Congress in north India. So do the north-south divide narrative peddlers reject 40 per cent of their voters? Is the Congress then rejecting this support as ‘not-needed’?

The BJP has increased its vote share in Telangana from 6.98 per cent in 2018 to 13.90 per cent in the 2023 assembly elections. BJP had three seats in the outgoing assembly and it has won eight seats this time, more than doubling its tally. BJP candidate, Katiapally Venkata Ramana Reddy, in a historic feat, defeated sitting Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao and state Congress president Revanth Reddy in their bastion of Kamareddy.

Improving its tally in Mizoram, for instance, the BJP won Saiha and Palak constituencies. Saiha has a literacy rate of 90.1 per cent and is 97.1 per cent Christian. Palak has a literacy rate of 93.6 per cent and is 98.2 per cent Christian. The BJP has repeatedly proved its pan-India presence and acceptance. In West Bengal, it has emerged as the principal Opposition party after decades of democratic struggle and persistence. Why are these facts being ignored by the proponents of the regional divide narrative?

The BJP has defied and dodged all attempts of trying to straitjacket and limit it to a certain geographical location and foist on it a false label of being a limited party, elected by a limited few.

To promote such a false divide in the land of Adi Shankaracharya, Swami Vivekananda and Mahakavi Bharati, is in itself, disingenuous. Those who peddle the divide narrative know it well and yet resort to being deceitful. Modi’s restoration of Adi Shankara’s samadhi in the Himalayan heights, which was neglected after the flash floods of 2013, his historic outreach through the Kashi Tamil Sangamam, his instituting a Chair on Tamil Studies at the Banaras Hindu University, his relentless championing of Tamil and its classical culture, his unveiling of iconic philosopher, reformer, poet Basavanna’s statue in Lambeth, London, his repeated references to the Tirukkural, his citing lines from the iconic Tamil poet of the Sangam age, Kaniyan Pungundrunar, in the United Nations General Assembly emphasising the need for united action to address civilisational crisis has shown how interlinked and integral is the cultural, religious and civilisational ethos of India.

This activism on the part of the prime minister has naturally unnerved a section of the intelligentsia and their political masters who wish to resurrect the ghost of a dead narrative. Those in the know of India’s post-independence political trajectory must be aware that within three years of its formation, the BJP won 18 seats in the Karnataka assembly elections in 1983, bagging nearly 8 per cent of the vote share.

To term a party primarily a “party of the north”, of the “cow-belt”, of the “Hindi heartland” is to deliberately ignore Modi’s and his party’s pan-India appeal and electoral footprints, repeatedly demonstrated over the decades. Instead of indulging in such inanities, the Congress would do well to put together a revival or survival plan, if it believes that it has a future.

Historically and civilisationally, the north has borne the brunt of invasion and disruption. It has had its set of historical challenges and achievements. Its list of foundational centres of spirituality, culture and knowledge – Varanasi, Ayodhya, Patliputra, Ujjain, to name a few, its list of sages, poets, reformers who have profoundly influenced India’s trajectory and societal evolution is equally rich. But in a country where Swami Vivekananda made southern part his launching base to awaken India, in a country where Eknath Ranade, from the western flank, erected one of the greatest memorial of Swami Vivekananda ever, in the south where Sri Aurobindo, the famed “Uttara Yogi”, coming from Bengal set up his ashram in the southern enclave of Pondicherry, in a country where the iconic Sage and social reformer Adi Shankaracharya peregrinated from the southern part to the north and across the country, rekindling the underlying cultural and civilisational bases, it is callow and shallow to speak of a ‘North-South’ divide.

To perpetuate this divide is to demean and deny the contribution of these sages. It is to perpetuate a divisive narrative, especially floated during colonial rule, for enforcing subjugation. In an aspirational India, where increasing opportunities and possibilities are ushering in an era of greater interconnectedness and mobility, such narratives are debilitating and have no real acceptance. Apart from a plethora of facts and figures from history, even present realities belie this false dichotomy.

Three of the top five companies, for example, in terms of GDP, are based in the north and the rest of India – these are in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The dim view that the “Hindi heartland rewarded big business” does stand scrutiny if one lists out the “big businesses” thriving in the south. The point is as if there are no big businesses in the south. Does the Congress mean that the south is devoid of big business establishments? What about the major industrial conglomerates from the south or those with corporate offices, do they want to ignore the contribution and standing of industry giants such as TVS Motors, Ramcharan & Co valued at Rs 67,500 crore, Apollo Hospital Enterprises at Rs 59,498 crore, Cholamandalam Investment & Finance Company at Rs 51,107 crore, Zoho Corporation at Rs 36,800 crore, Ashok Leyland at Rs 41,640 crore, MRF at Rs 33,663 crore, to name a few?

Suffering a surprising and debilitating defeat in Chhattisgarh, a desperate and bitter Congress cried that ‘Gautam Adani has won in Chhattisgarh.’ A strange and immature cry it was, if one kept in mind that Adani is an Indian businessman with investments across the country. From Krishnapatnam Port in Andhra Pradesh, to Karaikal Port in Puducherry, to the Vizag terminal, to Kamarajar and Kattupalli Port in Tamil Nadu to the latest Vizhinjam port in Kerala, would the Congress then advise these states, most of which have governments of I.N.D.I alliance constituents, to send the Adani ports packing? Is this how the future of investments and developments will unfold in the India that they propose to rule?

Among the most motivated arguments by those who were depressed with Modi’s popularity and the BJP’s resounding victory in three states in the just concluded assembly elections was that “voters have appeased fascism.” Not only does this pour scorn on the voters’ judgement and denigrate their democratic electoral choice, but it also smacks of an acute divisive mindset.

One could argue that some of those with the most intense fascist and communal mindset are also to be found in the south. The Owaisi brothers of Hyderabad in a perpetual threat-issuing mode, the spoilt heir of DMK Udhayanidhi Stalin and a cohort of his party ministers who spewed venom on Sanatana Dharma, equating it with “dengue”, “malaria”, “TB” and called for the need to eradicate it and its followers, the Indian Union Muslim League, the PFI and the Coimbatore bombers of 1998, the Bhatkal brothers, all have and had their base in the south. Can we then reversely argue that the south is a bastion for fascism and divisive communal forces, just because these elements function and thrive in the region?

The tenuous and insulting barb that the Opposition parties have been hurling at the BJP in its hour of triumph is that the “cow belt always drags India down…” The despicable gau mutra states” jibe by DMK MP DNV Senthilkumar, reflected the actual thinking of these parties, which is driven by hate for Hindus.

It has, in fact, become a habit with the parties which lose to Modi to heap scorn on the voters’ choice. They lampoon the ordinary voter, make fun of their electoral preferences and condemn them as backward. This was an unheard-of phenomenon in the past. The BJP in its decades of existence, since the days of the Jana Sangh, has never been seen to castigate the voters in such a manner when it lost. Parties speaking of a north-south divide are essentially anti-democratic in nature. They have never welcomed a verdict in which they have lost in a democratic spirit.

The cow is a sacred and revered symbol across India and Sanatanis across Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka as well. The ‘cow belt” is an imaginary location, much like the elusive Bermuda Triangle, it is a narrative much akin to the “Flying Dutchman”, full of legend and myths but with no substance or actuality.

One of India’s biggest protests to preserve tradition was for Jallikattu and happened in Tamil Nadu. The Maatu Pongal, the day of worship during Sankranti dedicated to propitiating the cow, is a defining ritual and worship, integral to the south. Are the “gau mutra” state jibes then to be applicable to these occasions or moments as well? To take an example, the cow is integral to the rituals in Tirumala. The ‘naivedyam’ is cultivated in fields ‘where only organic manure made of cow dung and urine is used…’ Is the ‘gau mutra’ derision also meant for the ‘naivedyam’ of this most sacred centre of Hindu faith? The Congress, the TMC and the DMK may well like to publicly clarify their stand on that issue.

The likes of Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Babasaheb Ambedkar have roundly debunked the north-south, Aryan-Dravidian false dichotomy. Modi’s India aspires to their narrative of integration and unity. Modi’s call of ‘Ek Bharat, Shresht Bharat’ is a triumphantly unifying call, it is the call of Amrit Kaal. Those who oppose or sneer at it, are doing a disservice to India and will eventually and surely fall by the wayside.

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