We have heard the mantra too many times in India to have missed it: unity in diversity. The moment it is repeated, the listener and repeater alike are psychologically overpowered by the thought that their duty is done; understanding and implementing it are optional, if not unnecessary.

But what does it really mean? What kind of unity and diversity are meant by it? These are important questions we must answer. The mantra must be decoded.

Really, the word diversity is easy to decode. All sorts of human diversity are included in the word: language, culture, religion, etc., etc. Literally everything one can think of.

The problem lies in the word unity.

Clearly, it cannot mean unity of language, culture, religion, etc., because that would not be unity but uniformity or the destruction of diversity, i.e., cultural invasion. Unfortunately, however, this is the popular understanding of the word; even the one used by the Government of India in projects such as the spread of Hindi, and by pan-India businesses which would like all of India to celebrate Diwali though it means bankruptcy in several languages.

What else can unity mean? I think very few would object to giving it the meaning political unity. That is, except the secessionists who are very few in number if not extinct today, everyone would agree that the word is meant to convey that India is one nation, not many.

But what does that mean? Does it mean every Indian has or ought to have the same political or economic ambition? Surely not. Does it mean India has no internal conflicts? Surely not. Can it mean Indians present a single voice in the comity of nations, that Indians are united in their stand on global matters? Unfortunately, even this cannot be the meaning because diversity implies diversity of voice, of stand, on all matters, including global ones.

The word unity can mean one and only one thing: that we try to achieve uniformity in internal and external politics and economics to the best of our abilities, making inevitable mistakes on the way, and making up for them as and when possible. To minimize the mistakes all-India projects, both political and economic, have to be, first of all, very few in number. Nearly all the projects must be undertaken at the state level and lower, leaving only defense and external affairs to the centre.

Today, the Govt of India as well as pan-India businesses are not only obese to the point of disease, but are also growing further in size and strength. Cleaning up after them is being termed unpatriotic, and it is only helpful, to those who are advantaged by them, that you and I only repeat the mantra without understanding any of this.

But obesity will kill us all.