Amartya Sen, in his slim yet powerful volume titled Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny, posited a basic truth of human nature that many among us choose to overlook time and again: we all have multiple identities from which we choose what is important to us in a given situation.
In our normal lives, we see ourselves as members of a variety of groups – we belong to all of them. A person’s citizenship, residence, geographic origin, gender, class, politics, profession, employment, food habits, sports interests, taste in music, social commitments, etc., make us members of a variety of groups.
Many communitarian thinkers tend to argue that a dominant communal identity is only a matter of self realization, not of choice. It is, however, hard to believe that a person really has no choice in deciding what relative importance to attach to the various groups to which he or she belongs, and that she must just “discover” her identities… In fact, we are all constantly making choices, if only implicitly, about the priorities to be attached to our different affiliations and associations.
The Shiv Sena obviously agrees. The party broke ranks with its Hindu nationalist allies, the BJP, to endorse fellow Maharashtrian and UPA candidate Pratibha Patil. And they’ve stuck to their decision so far in spite of allegations of wrong doing and the somewhat easy out provided by Patil’s Rajput origins.
In fact, given the Sena’s many vocal tirades on who exactly constitutes an outsider (South Indians in the 70s, North Indians in this century and Muslims pretty much all through but especially in the 90s), this was a route that a lot of people expected them to take.
I guess the thinking here was that given a choice between a Rajasthan-based Shekhawat (the Vice President, who incidentally, has his own shady past) and a Maharashtra-based Shekhawat, they would rather the latter.
I wonder if they’ll remember this choice they made when next they’re talking about other people’s identities? I seriously doubt it.