Unlike Europe, the Indian nation-state is not a homogeneous entity based on a single language or culture, and therefore, it is called a nation-state with multiple nationalities. Indian nationalism was a product of anti-colonial sentiments, and thus brought together the vast geography of the subcontinent under the common umbrella of “freedom movement”.
But post-independence, when anti-colonialism was not an issue, people started looking at other things to unify themselves. Yes, the Indian identity was already there, but a vast country like India with so much diversity could not find common ground. And so emerged the sub-nationalism of the states/provinces.
Fearing further partition, initially, our founding fathers were hesitant to establish provinces on linguistic lines, but gradually they did so via the SRC of 1956. Unlike the previous haphazard administrative units of the English, these linguistic provinces proved quite useful in improving efficiency, as people could associate themselves with the state in the form of saying Marathi or Tamil or Malayali identity, etc. The shared history, culture, and language provided an impetus to the people to work towards the development of their state. India, as a cumulative of these multiple nationalities, gradually moved on the path of modernization.
The symbols of sub-nationalism in India can broadly be seen in three realms. Firstly, the obvious language. The creation of linguistic provinces is a case in point. Secondly, the cultural one, which includes festivals (like Ganesh Chaturthi, Durga Puja, etc.), dance forms (Bharatnatyam, Garba, etc.), food habits (Idli-Dosa, Lassi, Bajre ki roti, etc.). Each of these names can be associated with their states, and thus serve as cultural symbols. Thirdly, the personalities, which are intricately connected to the pride of those states like Chatrapati Shivaji (Maharashtra), Ram Mohan Roy and Rabindranath Tagore (Bengal), Ranjeet Singh (Punjab), Periyar (Tamil Nadu), etc.
The states which have witnessed substantive sub-nationalism like Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab, etc., are relatively more developed and have a progressive culture unlike those who lacked it like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, etc. Here, I’ll focus more on Bihar, its lack of sub-nationalism, underdevelopment and the way forward.
Hindi heartland in general and Bihar in particular, have a unique issue with the language. The official ‘Khadi boli’ Hindi, is not spoken among the masses, and the dialects which they speak do not get official representation. Bhojpuri, Magahi, Awadhi, Haryanvi, are all dubbed as the offshoots of Hindi; thus homogenizing the vastly different cultural groups.
Bihar itself is broadly categorized in three linguistic groups: Bhojpuri, Magahi and Maithili (if we include Angika and Vajjika as part of Maithili). The Hindustani, which formed the basis of separation of Bihar from Bengal and which could have been more accommodating and flexible in post-independence Bihar, was blown away in the Indo-Pak division. Thus, in brief, linguistic sub-nationalism has not been possible in post-independence Bihar.
As language forms the basic core of any nationalism, its Hindi chauvinism did create the divide among the federal polity of India, but at the same time, brushed aside the rich regional linguistic traditions of the region. The people could not emotionally connect to the Sanskritised Hindi, and thus could feel no unity among them. The love for state identity called “Bihari” was a far cry. Our identity after Indians was just reduced to our caste identities; the state identity was completely missing.
Just like the language, the state of Bihar also lacked any unifying cultural symbol as well as any towering personality which could be claimed as Bihari pride. Here, you may argue about the glorious past of Bihar and talk about Jainism, Buddhism, Nalanda University, Chandragupta Maurya, Aryabhatta, etc. But these are not intricately associated with Bihari identity. They are located way back in the past and serve as the emblems of rich Indian civilization than the Bihari identity.
Modern leaders like Rajendra Prasad, too, have been more national than provincial. Even if they could have been, the attempts have never been made. Thus, here too “nationalism” dominates over “sub-nationalism”. Again, Bihar sacrifices its history for the national cause.
Other plausible reasons, which I find for the lack of Bihari sub-nationalism are:
1. It has been a center of pan India empires, unlike South, which never directly came under centralized rule. The decentralization helped the South to preserve their culture better than the north.
2. The British policy of direct annexation and permanent settlement again led to centralized control and imposition of imperial culture. Rajasthan and some parts of the South were spared from this direct annexation, which again allowed a regional culture to flourish. The permanent settlement, as opposed to Mahalwari and Ryotwari, was the most draconian, and it changed the tiller-zamindar relations forever.
3. The primacy of political movements over social movements: Bihar and UP have been at the forefront of political movement right from non-cooperation to mandir-Mandal politics. These political movements, without the backing of social wisdom, created animosity among the caste groups, which can be seen even now. Caste relations continue to dictate the politics here, and thus make it difficult to forge a common Bihari identity. Contrast it with Tamil Nadu, which saw a strong anti-Brahmin movement. But after the reform, all the groups came together under the umbrella of the Dravidian movement.
Finally, after the lack of Bihari identity for decades, the state is gradually searching for common symbols that can truly define Bihar. One such symbol is the Chhath Puja, which has got immensely popular across the globe in the last 6–7 years. Similarly, Mithila Paintings, too, have been popularized in recent times.
Now the Biharis don’t shy away from identifying with the state which they used to do earlier (maybe because of Lalu’s regime; he damaged Bihar’s reputation immensely). But still, a lot needs to be done to break the stereotypes, to move away from caste-centered identity and politics and have the urge to work for the state.