New Delhi: At about the time V. S. Naipaul passed away in London, there were rival demonstrations in another part of the city, Trafalgar Square, led by pro-Khalistan and pro-India groups. The second affair was almost comedic since it beggars belief that Britain, its functionality and future threatened by Brexit, can influence separatism in India. But it is no more ironical than much of Naipaul’s writings extending the life and relevance of the British Empire long after its unmourned death. The British themselves have dealt with the loss of Empire in intelligent and interesting ways. Graham Greene and John Le Carre conceivably represent two of several outposts of this sort of literature, and Greene, quite apart from his prodigious travels, was a formidable internal journeyer. The British themselves, in any event, confront too many existential problems to care about being of totemic significance to subjects of their former colonies. The blame then largely resides in the “subjects” themselves whether they should be writers or Khalistani activists. Writers may be excused nevertheless on grounds of artistic license and on account of their usual individualism. Political activists ought to have greater sense than to use Britain as a platform to advance their cause, because it does not achieve the desired result while embarrassing the host country and straining ties with the target nation. There is another layer, however, in how the target state fails to provide equal and just citizenship prompting the appeal to London as the centre of the world when it isn’t. And so the dog keeps chasing its tail.

The Khalistan movement should have died long ago had justice been given to the 1984 riot victims. Not doing so emboldened the rioters in Gujarat and in between in other places. India has grown to be an economic and military power since 1984 but its political heft worldwide is weakened with internal differences. The Khalistan problem had its meagre origins prior to independence and later which exacerbated with Indira Gandhi’s post-Emergency differences with the Akalis and the propping up of J. S. Bhindranwale. Having learnt nothing from the scars militancy left on Punjab, its people and the country as a whole, the BJP-RSS are stoking fear and hatred against Muslims once again after Gujarat. While the country is resilient to overcome the divisions, it cuts into India’s political growth and prevents the accretion of weight commensurate with its economic and military standing. Which is why the government had to scramble all its resources to counter a puny challenge in Trafalgar Square. V. S. Naipaul showed a mirror to Indians and other colonized people of their seemingly irremediable backwardness of politics and spirit but from his high perch in London. Perhaps his responsibility as a writer ended there to the extent writers are expected to be responsible. The trouble really is that few have looked into the mirror and fundamentally changed.

There are perfectly credible allegations that Pakistan had partially funded the Trafalgar Square demonstration. In the past, Baluch separatist groups have rallied against Pakistan in London, outside the UN headquarters and elsewhere. Why carry sub-continental differences to foreign lands? Why provide a former Great Power leverage in South Asia? Pakistan’s ruling military class is consumed with hatred for this country but India’s political establishment ought to know better than to stoke divisions among communities in vengeance or to gain power. If India is divided, it gives an opportunity to Pakistan and to India’s long term adversary, China. It is a failure of the Indian state that the Khalistanis could rally together even the small numbers they did. The failure here is not suggested by way of a failure of the government to prevent the demonstration: that would be muzzling free speech and other democratic freedoms. India should have gained enough moral stature since at least 1984 to devalue and thus render pointless protests against the state. During the Vietnam War, protests raged against the United States everywhere and especially in the West. It was repeated during the second Gulf war. Donald Trump was more recently targeted for personal-political reasons much as Narendra Modi was during his earliest travels in the West as prime minister. There’s no smoke without fire. But when is the last time you heard anyone speak of breaking the United States, or Australia? Even the Scottish referendum was more amenably conducted than the subdivision of some Indian provinces.

The key to India’s stability is establishment of natural political order which will only come with the benign assimilation of all Indians cutting across religion and caste. Naipaul was more hopeful of the Indian project in his final book on India but it is evident that much work remains to be done. India is unbreakable but its natural strengthening endlessly has to be pursued. Muscularity must remain in constrained proportion to winning hearts and minds.