Of course, we’re one country – and proud to be so – but we’re also different people. Isn’t this what unity in diversity is all about? That diversity is the richness of India. It’s also its novelty.
I dare say Navjot Singh Sidhu attracts controversy. He certainly seems to revel in it. Just as the brouhaha over his embracing the Pakistani army chief at Imran Khan’s inauguration was dying down, Sidhu has sparked a new controversy with his comments at the Khushwant Singh Literature Festival in Kasauli. Even if this wasn’t the case in the past, this time, however, I believe Sidhu is right and his critics mistaken.
Sidhu told the audience at Kasauli — a small number of locals but a larger crowd drawn from Chandigarh and Punjab — that people like him feel a greater affinity to Pakistan than to India’s southern states. As he put it: “When I go to Tamil Nadu, I don’t understand the language, there’s only one or two words that I can … not that I don’t like the food but still I can’t have it for a long time. The culture is totally different.” He then added: “But if I go to Pakistan, the language is the same.”
This was enough to enrage the Shiromani Akali Dal, who called it “an insult to the nation”. It’s also infuriated Sambit Patra of the BJP who suggested that Sidhu should join the Pakistani cabinet.
However, the truth is that states like Punjab — and this could also be true of parts of Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and, possibly, Uttarakhand — share language, cuisine, culture, lifestyle and even swear words with people from across the border. This is particularly true of the two Punjabs, ours and Pakistan’s. These are bonds determined by history and geography and they simply cannot be denied. They may be politically inconvenient for some people but they remain facts you cannot wish away.
In contrast, language, cuisine, culture and lifestyle separate Punjab from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Again, this cannot be denied.
Of course, we’re one country — and proud to be so — but we’re also different people. Isn’t this what unity in diversity is all about? That diversity is the richness of India. It’s also its novelty.
Insisting that Sidhu is insulting the nation when he says he feels a greater affinity to the Punjabis of Pakistan than he does to his fellow citizens who are Tamils, Kannadigas or Malayalis also ignores the fact that Pakistan was once part of India and its Punjab province used to be part of the original state of Punjab. Indeed, many who today reside on the Indian side lived for generations in the other part of Punjab. They have family memories and emotional associations that have yet to fade away. Again, these are facts that cannot be denied or ignored.
Surely this is the reason why our problems with Pakistan are viewed so differently in the north compared to the south? Indeed, this is why for many Punjabis the Pakistan issue often raises conflicting or contradictory sentiments. We know we have a problem and we know they are in the wrong but we also want to restore the bonds of brotherhood that once existed in a united Punjab.
Finally, does it occur to Sidhu’s critics that what he said could also be true of how Pakistani Punjabis feel? They probably feel closer to people across their eastern border than they do to the Sindhis of the south, the Baloch of the west and even the Pathans of the north.
The intricacies and consequences of the India-Pakistan connection are facts that we have to accept. There is no point quarrelling with them.
(Karan Thapar is the author of The Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story
(The views expressed are personal)
The article first appeared in Hindustan Times