COUNTLESS fault-lines have prevented India from growing to its potential during the past six decades and more. Absence of robust political leadership, lack of vision to evolve a genuine Indian paradigm of development in tune with our genius and needs of modern times; absence of political consensus over a long-term strategy to fight separatist elements.
Maoist violence and Islamist terror; intellectual disdain for our civilisational and cultural values and ethos; distorted version of secularism and pervasive corruption in all walks of life are some of the stumbling blocks in our emergence as a regional power, what to talk of India emerging as a super power. One would, however, underline the confusion over our national identity as one of the major hurdles in India emerging as a strong nation – a nation led by a robust leadership in all walks of life; that is inspired by a grand vision to usher in an India proud of its cultural values and ethos; an India of peace and prosperity; an India free of exploitation and discrimination on the basis of caste, religion, language or sex and an India committed to world peace and universal brotherhood. Only such an India can, and will, emerge as a super power with a mission; not to dominate the world by brute military and economic power but to spread across our civilisational message of universal brotherhood – Vasudhaiv Kutubakam (World as an integral family).
The significance of the question about national identity is manifest in the raging debates all over the world about identities – national and sub-national. Samuel P. Huntington, the late American political scientist, powerfully raised the issue in his famous work: Who are we? The challenge of American national identity. The book triggered a huge debate over whether or not American national identity subsumes other sub-national identities based on ethnicity or religion. These and other related issues are not mere theoretical propositions. Answers to these questions have serious implications for all societies. It is not surprising that Huntington identified American identity with Anglo-Saxon Protestant Christianity because, unlike us, they believe their nationalism is religion-based. Again, Westerners generally don’t differentiate between state and nation because for them nationalism is a political concept. We, the people of India, believe that nationalism is a geo-cultural concept and is different from state. That is why our nationhood survived under foreign rule and flourished even when large parts of our country were politically divided into several sovereign states that were, at times, at war with each other. Unfortunately, public discourse about our national identity has been distorted by warped and skewed Western and Marxist concepts and our intelligentsia’s propensity to be in perpetual denial. Many of our intellectuals and politicians believe that several nationalities living in this vast land have now emerged, or are in the process of emerging, as a nation largely because the British brought them under their rule. Going by this “thesis”, there would have been no entity called Indian nation if the White men had not colonized us. What a shame that this fake thesis gained ground in this land that gave birth to the most, at least one of the most, ancient civilisation (s) in the world.
Distortion in history introduced by foreigners and readily accepted by Marxist historians confounded our thought processes in the later half of the 20th century and prevented political scientists and thinkers from looking for the roots of our nationhood. However, the mainstream thinking in early decades of 20th century was different. The famous trio of freedom movement Bal, Pal and Lal – Bal Gangadhar Lokmanya Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal and Lala Lajpat Rai – who dominated the political scene in that period proudly and unambiguously believed India to be a Hindu nation. Bipin Chandra Pal, in his Nationality and Empire (1916) describes the freedom movement as “essentially a Hindu movement for the consolidation of Hindu nationalism”. He goes on to elaborate that Hindu nationalism is the product of Hindu philosophy and thought processes and insists that Muslim rule over India for centuries failed to destroy the integrity of Hindu culture. “Nationalism is by no means a mere political idea or ideal. It is something that touches every department of our collective life and activity…In fact, politics forms, from certain points of view, the least important factor of this nation-idea among us,” he argues. Supreme Court of India too in a series of judgments held that Hinduism or Hindutava can’t be confined to the narrow limits of religion alone, excluding the content of Indian culture and heritage. Suffice it to say that Hindu nationhood has territorial, civilisational and cultural dimensions.
Much of the confusion about our national identity has been caused by the flawed perception that religion and dharma are synonyms. Characteristics of a religion are, thus, automatically attributed to the larger concept of dharma. Religion is a creed or a sect. It is a system of beliefs and practices relating to the sacred uniting the adherent in a community. It is a comparatively narrow concept that believes in one sacred book, a messenger and a God likes the ones in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. They believe there is only one path to the achievement of the highest spiritual goal. Religions with roots in India do believe that their path is supreme but unlike Abrahamic religions they are not intolerant of other faiths and accept that all paths lead to the Supreme. dharma, a much wider concept, is concerned with all aspects of life. Fundamental principles of dharma are eternal and universal. It transcends religions and holds that all paths lead to the same goal as beautifully expressed in the Vedic maxim: Ekam Sadvipraha Bahudha Vadanti (Truth is one, savants tell it variously). M V Nadkarni in his work Hinduism – a Gandhian perspective points out that traditional term for Hinduism is Sanatana Dharma. That, he argues, doesn’t connote fixed, let alone stagnant. Sanatana means eternal. It doesn’t mean orthodox or conservative. The secret of Hinduism’s endurance for millennia is its dynamism. The quality of dynamism is closely related to tolerance for pluralism, for diversity, for inclusiveness and, thus, to liberalism in its purest form.
Theocracy has no place in our value system and secularism as a value is an integral part of our national psyche. The shared cultural outlook and civilisation that evolved in this land for millennia have produced a cohesion that is an essential attribute of our nationhood. Muslim and British rulers who held sway over large part of this land for 800 years were non-secular. They discriminated against religious groups and bestowed huge favours on persons belonging to their respective faiths. They are the exception in our long and glorious history of not discriminating against people on the basis of their religion or race. A secular state must maintain a basic symmetry to all religious groups. The noble concept of secularism has been given a bad name by certain sections of political class who have distorted the concept by extending certain rights to minorities that are not available to the society at large and take illogical measure to appease them. They do this not because of their commitment to secularism but to create vote banks.
Jawaharlal Nehru persistently described Indian culture as a composite one – Ganga-Jamuna culture – probably to underline the fact that it had absorbed countless strains during its long journey over millennia. Krishan Kant, who later rose to be Republic’s Vice President, countered this argument by asking which culture in the world is pure and had had no foreign influence. Why then, single out Indian culture and dub it as a composite one? Isn’t it because the political class is hesitant to accept the Hindu roots of our culture and nationhood? B C Pal, Veer Savarkar and Shri Guruji forcefully argued that it is a Hindu nation. While asserting the Hinduness of our nationhood, Pt. Deendayal Upadhyaya chose to call it Bharatiya. Some others insist on calling it Indian nation on the premise that etymologically, both Hindu and Indian have a common origin in the word Sindhu – the Sindh river – that was called Indus by the Greeks. It goes without saying that Bharat too is an ancient name associated with our country. Puranas described our motherland as Bharat and its people as Bhartis. There is no need to quarrel over nomenclatures if the intention is not to distort the core, our nationhood namely the civilisation that evolved on this vast land over millennia, our cultural ethos, the pride in our ancient history and heroes and Hindu Dharma that has room for all religious faiths and is the soul of our nationhood.
(The writer is a senior columnist.)