Goras who ruled the subcontinent often appear as an undifferentiated mass but they are not. Ireland, long a part of the United Kingdom (UK), yearned equally long to be free from London rule. The Irish proclaimed a Republic in 1916, fought the Londongovernment militarily from 1919 to 1921 that ended with the British government forced to sign a treaty leading to the formation of the Irish Free State. A new constitution was ratified by a public referendum. London loyalists seceded as Northern Ireland.
In 1943, when Subhash Chandra Bose proclaimed a government of Azad Hind, collaborators of the British war effort were busy calculating their future power shares. When Bose was fighting a war against the British, a leading Congress politician announced, “If Subhash would bring soldiers from outside and enter India, then I would be the first person to take sword in hand and oppose him.” This person was to become Indian Union’s first Prime Minister. No wonder that the Indian Union wasn’t the product of any treaty between browns and the British. The British transferred power to chosen browns they could continue to deal with – a phenomenon sold as the end-point of a struggle for independence. Brown loyalists got better dividends. They inherited the empire. The Indian Union constitution has never been put to a public referendum.
Now UK’s unity seems to be at stake with the independence referendum for Scotland scheduled on 18th September. If the ‘Yes’ campaign wins, Scotland will eventually become independent. The referendum isn’t illegal and has sanction from UK’s Queen. Given the long association between England and Scotland, by favour and colonial spoils-sharing, there is a class in Scotland that looks to London and are Trojan horses in the political arena. Threats from British companies to move away from Scotland if it secedes should act as a warning for those who think that money has no colour, be it from Delhi or Pune or London. Headquarters matter. English and loyalist Scottish politicians are campaigning strongly for the ‘No’ side. They have an advantage as a large section of the electorate is neither Scottish nor were they born in Scotland.
It’s heartening to see that the contest around of Scottish independence is not being fought by militarisation, Section 144, army-roads, strip-searches, sedition charges, encounters, kidnappings, ‘friendly’ football and forced renditions of national anthems but by a debate around ideas of nationhood, autonomy, economy and future dreams. In 1963, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) was forced to drop its demand for a sovereign Dravida Nadu free from North-Indian domination in politics and culture after Parliament at New Delhi declared secessionism as illegal by a constitutional amendment. The Scottish National Party (SNP), spearheading the ‘Yes’ Independence campaign, is a legal political party in the UK. This system acknowledges that those parts of the political spectrum that hold views against the nation-state’s unity aren’t lesser people whose voices need to be silenced so that the unity-ideology may be victorious. There are subtler ways to ensure that. It also shows that people’s voice and not people’s silence are the units of democratic contestation.
Every nation has a right to self-determination. No people can be told that they aren’t a nation or they are a sub-set, just because of other people’s fantasies of overarching nationhood. ‘British’ was a once powerful, ‘unbreakable’, overarching term, now gasping for meaning beyond English-ness. Freedom and democracy are words that evoke paranoia among those who are anxious that their domain’s unity may be more artificial than organic, that some may start taking the word Swaraj seriously.
The author is a commentator on politics and culture @gargac