Unlike Europe, Indian nation-state is not a homogeneous entity based on a single language or culture, and therefore it is called nation-state with multiple nationalities. The 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 obviously find a 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 the efficiency as people could associate themselves with the state in form of say Marathi or Tamil or Malayali identity etc. The shared history, culture and language provided an impetus to the people for working 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 one. The creation of linguistic provinces is the 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). The name of each of these can clearly be associated with their states and thus serve as the 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 progressive culture unlike the those which 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 ‘kadhi boli’ Hindi , is not spoken among the masses and the dialects which they speak do not get official representation. Bhojpuri, Magahi, Awadhi, Haryanvi all are dubbed as the offshoots of Hindi, thus homogenizing the vastly different cultural groups. Bihar itself is broadly categorized in three linguistic groups , namely 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 accommodative 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. After our identity after Indians were just reduced to our caste identities.
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 lack of Bihari sub-nationalism are – 1) it has been centre of pan India empires unlike south which never directly came under centralized rule. The decentralization helped the Southis to preserve their culture better than the north. 2) British policy of direct annexation and Permanent settlement – again it led to centralized control and imposition of imperial culture. Rajasthan and some parts of south where spared of this direct annexation, which again allowed regional culture to flourish. Permanent settlement, as opposed to Mahalwari and Ryotwari was the most draconian and it changed the tiller-zamindar relations forever. 3) Primacy of political movements over social movements – Bihar and UP have been on the forefront of political movement right from non cooperation to the 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 difficult to forge a common Bihari identity. Contrast it with Tamil Nadu , which saw strong anti Brahmin movement. But after the reform, all the groups came together under the umbrella of Dravidian movement.
Finally, after decades of lack of Bihari identity, the state is gradually searching for common symbols which can truly define Bihar. One such symbol is the Chaath Puja, which has got immensely popular across the globe in the last 6-7 years. Now the Biharis don’t shy away from identifying with the state which earlier they used to do (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.