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July 02, 2006
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July 02, 2006

Page: 14/43

Home > 2006 Issues > July 02, 2006

Think it over

Patriot or Nationalist: What are you?

By M.S.N. Menon

Do we Hindus know the difference between patriotism and nationalism? More often, we do not. We ask in surprise: ?What is the difference??

Let me illustrate: Tagore was a nationalist. Jinnah was a patriot. Nehru was a nationalist. Iqbal was a patriot. To Tagore, India was a ?living mother?. So she was to Vivekananda. But to Jinnah, she could be no ?mother? of any kind.

Tagore wanted to be born in India ?again and again.? That would be blasphemy in Islam. ?With all her poverty, misery and wretchedness,? Tagore says, ?I love India most.? Why? Because ?it has been the haunt of our gods, the hermitage of our rishis, the nourishing mother of our forefathers.? Jinnah would have been horrified at these thoughts.

Yes, we Hindus have a special relation with India ?with everything Indian. Which explains why we were nationalists ready to make the greatest sacrifices to liberate the country from foreign invaders. The minorities in this country may be good patriots, but they certainly have no ?special? relation with India.

And we Hindus are bound together by an inner unity. This was not geographical unity or political unity, but cultural unity, says Nehru. Which is why it could not be broken up in a thousand years by foreign invaders. Hindu nationalism grew out of this seed-bed.

And this cultural unity was set by none other than Shankara, the greatest philosopher of Hinduism. In his brief but strenuous life, he demonstrated what constituted the culture of India and the cultural boundary of India.

Geographically, India is more or less of a unity. Politically, she has often been split, ?but right from the beginning, culturally,? says Nehru, ?she has been one because she had the same background, the same traditions, the same religion, the same heroes and heroines, the same old mythologies, the same learned language (Sanskrit), the same places of worship spread out all over the country. To the average Indian, the whole of India was a kind of punya bhoomi, a holy land.? Thus, says Nehru, the agnostic. According to him, ?there arose a common Indian consciousness, which triumphed over and partly ignored the political division of the country.?

In choosing the four corners of India for this mutts?for his order of Sanyasins?Shankara set the cultural boundary of India. The political boundary of the Hindus had waxed and waned, but never the cultural boundary.

Do our Christian and Muslim ?brothers? form part of this cultural landscape? They do not. (They were part of it when they were Hindus). But they rejected their own past when they got converted to their new faiths. Did they not condemn Hinduism? Did they not hold their ?ancestors? in contempt? Did they not give up their ?living mother?? How then can they claim now a place in the bosom of this loving mother.

It is very clear today that neither the Hindus nor the Muslims really understood the true implications of partition. Nehru certainly did not understand what had happened. In a convocation address at the Aligarh Muslim University on January 28, 1948, he asked the Muslims whether they were ?proud? of their inheritance, of their ancestors. Indeed, what a stupid question to ask! He wanted to know how they felt about their ?past?. ?Do you feel,? he asked, ?that you are inheritors of that past and, therefore, ?proud? of something that belongs to you as much as to me?? But the Hamlet had his doubts. So, he asked: Do you feel alien to your past? Do you understand this past? Alas, there was no answer from the Muslims. But could these Indian leaders have been so naive that they did not know ever after partition how the mind of the Muslims worked? Didn?t Nehru know that on conversion a Muslim rejected his pre-Islamic past?the very past that he was talking about? How can they be pround of that past when they had rejected it? It took a long time for men like Nehru to understand what had happened. And when he and other Congressmen did realise the mistake they had made, they imposed secularism on the country. The Muslims promptly rejected it.

And look at the irony of what they did: Hindus, of all peoples, are the only ones in the world who are truly secular! Today India nationalism fears to harken to the past for fear of offending the minorities! Tagore says: ?We want to draw a veil over our past to appease the Muslims because it adds to their self-pity when reminded of their great past.?

But has not Nehru said: ?Merely by being born in India does not make you an Indian.? To be such an Indian, according to him, ?you have to lay claim on your inheritance.? Dear reader, draw your own inference.

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