We often hear and read about the ?idea of India?, which would suggest that this nation of more than a billion people is, chrysalis like, yet to emerge with its full form and features defined. Almost a decade into the 21st century and six decades after India emerged as a modern nation-state, we know that this is no more than a construct of those who are uncomfortable with the very concept of a nation in which Hindus constitute an overwhelming majority and where nationhood is essentially defined by the Hindu ethos or way of life. Hence the emphasis on defining India in ideational terms which mutate with the politics of the day and are in consonance with that which is perceived to be politically correct by those who dominate public discourse through the expedient means of becoming the Left'sfellow travellers.
But India'sidentity as an ancient nation is not subsumed by either its emergence as a modern nation-state, which we celebrate on Republic Day, or its definition in ideational terms as contained in the various ideas of India that continue to be floated. Nor is Indian nationhood negated by the emphasis on the many identities of the people of India who are not necessarily of the same ethnic stock and speak in many languages. For, both nation and nationhood in the Indian context are essentially defined by its millennia-old civilisation and what Jawaharlal Nehru eloquently described as the ?silken bond of culture? that holds its various regions and many peoples together.
When India joined the post-colonial comity of free nations as a Sovereign Democratic Republic (the ?Socialist? and ?Secular? tags came much later through the 42nd Constitution Amendment Act during the dark days of Mrs Indira Gandhi'sEmergency), it was a declaration of sovereignty and assertion of faith in democracy. But it did not forge an Indian identity because this already existed, unlike, for instance, in Italy which had to create the Italian identity after forging the Italian nation in the 19th century. Our declaration of sovereignty merely redefined the geographical and political contours of the new nation-state which were vastly different from the cultural and civilisational frontiers of ancient India. The Taliban may have taken pleasure in destroying the Bamyan Buddhas, but that perversity did not help them obliterate the fact that Kandahar was once the cultural outpost of India. Nor can the Islamists of Malaysia and Indonesia stamp out the remnants of Indian culture. Or, for that matter, just because the Indus now flows through Pakistan does not wipe out its past as a witness to the birth of Indian civilisation. What we have today as our sovereign nation is what the British Empire in decline willed us to have; our feckless leaders acquiesced in the redefinition of the ?Indian sub-continent? as ?South Asia?.
There is, of course, no percentage in yearning for that which we have lost, namely the sprawling Indian nation as it once existed: A large number of kingdoms, principalities and states held together by the ?silken bond? of Indian culture and the unifying force of Indian civilisation. ?Akhand Bharat? is a dream destined to remain unfulfilled, although its inspirational value can never be minimised or diminished. There is, however, a need to inculcate, to revive and revitalise, to reclaim and renew, the sense of nation and nationhood, especially among the increasingly deracinated youth who aspire to become ?global citizens? as it affords them an opportunity to escape the grim realities of today'sIndia. We need to convince our people that excellence and salvation lies in restoring the greatness of this once great nation, and not in securing an H1B visa to reside in another ?great nation? fallen upon hard times.
Towards this end, we have to help them rediscover the many definitions, the many splendid ideas, of the Indian nation and Indian nationhood, which coalesce into a common identity and common thought, a mosaic of brilliant hues which would be incomplete without any one of them. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar spoke of ?one nation, one people, one culture?. His purpose was not to force a ?common-ness?, but to emphasise the ?one-ness? of India as a land and Indians as a people. For him India was both ?pitri bhumi? (fatherland) and ?punya bhumi? (holy land). This was to elevate a geographical entity to a level that commands obeisance, to place the nation above everything else, including faith; a land to live for and die for. In sharp contrast, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, reflecting Bengal'stradition of venerating shakti as represented by Durga, saw India as a motherland and Indians as its children who worship her. Vande Mataram encapsulates this idea of India as a nation and Indian nationhood. An equally powerful idea was that of Rabindranath Tagore who saw this land of ours as a nation embracing multiple identities into one over-arching identity of Bharat. Jana Gana Mana celebrates this all-embracing unity.
Tragically, we do not encourage our youth to look for these and other messages in either Savarkar'ssoul-stirring description of India as our ?pitri bhumi? and ?punya bhumi?, or in Bankim'sspiritual veneration of Mother India, or, for that matter, Tagore'sstunningly temporal ode to Bharat. At best, they learn the National Anthem by rote and sing it reluctantly. At Infosys, which is believed to showcase ?modern India?, even this is discouraged lest it ?embarrass? foreign visitors. Elsewhere, the embarrassment is felt as acutely by Indians who would rather lip sync than sing either the National Anthem or the National Song. They strain at the ?silken bond? of culture that runs through the length and breadth of the nation; for them patriotism and pride in being Indian is reduced to using the Tricolour as a fashion accessory. If only they would care to listen to MS Subbulakshmi'srendition of Vande Mataram, a rare recording not limited to the ?official? version, which I accidentally discovered on the Net, they would realise the power of Bankim'scelebration of nation and nationhood and how it binds us together as one people.
Since this is the season of unrestrained ?Obamania?, it would be instructive to quote from the proclamation that Mr Barack Hussein Obama signed immediately after taking oath of office as President of the USA: ?We are in the midst of a season of trial. Our Nation is being tested, and our people know great uncertainty. Yet the story of America is one of renewal in the face of adversity, reconciliation in a time of discord, and we know that there is a purpose for everything under heaven. On this Inauguration Day, we are reminded that we are heirs to over two centuries of American democracy, and that this legacy is not simply a birthright ? it is a glorious burden. Now it falls to us to come together as a people to carry it forward once more?? The proclamation ends with the declaration of January 20, 2009, as a ?National Day of Renewal and Reconciliation? and a call to all American citizens ?to serve one another and the common purpose of remaking this Nation for our new century?.
A nation that has been in existence for a mere two centuries considers its legacy a ?glorious burden?! And we who live in a nation that has been in existence for millennia, we who are the inheritors of a timeless civilisation and all-embracing culture, see our legacy as a burden. Therein lies the tragedy of India. And herein lies redemption: On this Republic Day, let'sforget our politicians and their politics of cynicism, their pious declarations driven by impious motives. Can we instead, as a people, as a nation, dedicate ourselves to renewal and reconciliation? Renewal of the spirit of India so that it can soar to newer heights. Reconciliation of social conflicts born of caste, region and community. That would be both a reaffirmation of our nationhood as well as a first step towards preparing our nation for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. Greatness will follow.
(The writer is Associate Editor of The Pioneer.)