It is the spirit and determination that builds nations
By Dr JK Bajaj
In the flow of history, nations rise and nations fall. But the nations that are rooted in a great civilisation do not ever disappear; they rise again and again and again. India is such a nation and such a civilisation. However, in order to rise from a deep fall, to shake out of the slumber of centuries that India slipped into during the long periods of Islamic and Christian rule, we need to invoke a passionate faith in ourselves, in our civilisation, in our land and its intrinsic abundance, in our people and their genius and skills. In the recent past, several lesser nations and civilisations have been able to invoke such passion for national resurgence; India does not seem to be yet spirited enough for the task.
After the conversion of half a million of its people to Christianity by the Jesuits in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, Japan closed its frontiers to the people from Europe for more than two centuries. It is only around 1860 that it reopened itself to the western world. In the intervening two hundred years, Japan kept very little contact with the world, except through a small Dutch presence at one of the Japanese ports, which served as a sort of photographic camera aperture through which Japan could take note of what interested it in the world, and yet not be distracted by being exposed to what did not concern it.
Soon after Japan resumed links with the West in 1860, it sent some of its young men to the western countries. One of them was Maeda Masana. He went to France in 1869 and seeing the splendour of Paris felt very depressed for months, believing that Japan would never be able to match France. But soon after the Franco-German war, France was in shambles and had to rebuild itself again. While the happening itself must have saddened Maeda Masana, somehow his spirits picked up from then on and he could write that “I felt confidence in our ability to achieve what the West achieved”.
Maeda Masana returned to Japan in 1878 and became one of the major architects of Kogyo Iken, Japan’s ten year plan. The plan was completed in 1884 in thirty volumes. Discussing the various constituents required to make a country functional, the plan stated:
“Which requirement should be considered as most important in the present efforts of the government in building Japanese industries? It can be neither capital nor laws and regulations, because both are dead things in themselves and totally ineffective. The spirit/willingness sets both capital and regulations in motion. …If we assign to these three factors with respect to their effectiveness, spirit/willingness should be assigned five parts, laws and regulations four, and capital no more than one part.”
If India of today lacks anything, it is this spirit and willingness that builds nations. We have an abundance of laws and regulations, and there does not seem to be any real lack of capital either. But, the national spirit that “sets both the capital and the regulations in motion” is certainly lacking. While those of us who have access to resources and are in positions of power seem quite intent on building ourselves up, the nation hardly seems anyone’s concern. To engage in nation-building, to live frugally and work hard, to sacrifice the leisure and luxury of today for the sake of a shared national future, are ideas that sound not only wrong, but also odd and perhaps obscurantist to the educated and resourceful Indian of today.
But India was not always like this. Till about 60 years ago, we had a man like Mahatma Gandhi among us, who taught us to have faith in ourselves, our land and our people; and, we believed him. At his call, numerous young men and women sacrificed their families and their careers. At that time, we all had a dream to rebuild India as the greatest nation of the world; and most Indians were willing to undergo another few decades of suffering and deprivation for the sake of realising that dream. Now, to most of us, even Gandhiji has begun to sound somewhat odd and obscurantist.
We can disagree with parts of the politics of Gandhiji: political actions and positions are taken within specific contexts and circumstances, and there can be varying interpretations of these. But, how can we begin to disagree with the timeless core of his thought, with his passion for the intrinsic virtue of the Indian civilisation, Indian land and the Indian people. Perhaps the only sure remedy for the current situation of India is to once again invoke the deep sense of patriotism that Gandhiji had himself and was able to invoke in a large majority of the Indian people.
Gandhiji formulated the meaning of being patriotic in his Hind Swaraj that he wrote in 1909, years before he was to become active in the public life of India. It is instructive to recall some of the fundamental formulations of this seminal text. The core thought on which Mahatma Gandhi bases everything else is that the Indian civilisation is fundamentally sound, fundamentally moral and righteous, and therefore it surpasses all other civilisations devised by man:
“I believe that the civilisation India has evolved is not to be beaten in the world. Nothing can equal the seeds sown by our ancestors. Rome went, Greece shared the same fate, the might of the Pharaohs was broken, Japan has become westernised, of China nothing can be said, but India is still, somehow or other, is sound at the foundation.”
…The tendency of Indian civilisation is to elevate the moral being, that of the western civilisation is to propagate immorality. The latter is Godless, the former is based on a belief in God. So understanding and so believing, it behoves every lover of India to cling to the old Indian civilisation even as a child clings to its mother’s breast.”
Gandhiji not only expresses such deep faith in the Indian civilisation, he also has a near revulsion for the western civilisation. Speaking of the latter, he says:
“This civilisation is such that one has only to be patient and it will be self destroyed. According to the teaching of Mahomed this would be considered a satanic civilisation. Hinduism calls it the Black Age. I cannot give you an adequate conception of it. It is eating into the vitals of the English nation. It must be shunned.…”
This, of course, is not mere rhetoric. He “conscientiously” believes in the timelessness of Indian civilisation, and in the ephemerality of the western, and he wants the Indians also to believe thus, not merely as a slogan, but “conscientiously”, deep within their hearts and with studied knowledge of both. Towards the end of Hind Swaraj, he insists that “It is only those Indians who are imbued with real love (for the nation) who will be able to speak to the English …without being frightened, and those only can be said to be so imbued who conscientiously believe that Indian civilisation is the best, and that European is a nine-day’s wonder. Such ephemeral civilisations have often come and gone, and will continue to do so.” And, he goes on to add, “…Those only can be considered to have been so imbued (with the love for the nation) who are intensely dissatisfied with the present pitiable condition (of India), having already drunk the cup of poison.”
Such belief in and passion for the Indian civilisation has consequences. Such passion cannot be merely abstract. Of the many concrete expectations that Gandhiji has from those who are imbued with a passion for the nation, let us indicate just two. First, passion for the country must always mean passion for one’s own language. One can hardly be expected to be passionate about the glories of Indian civilisation while reading, writing and speaking in English alone. And, Gandhiji in Hind Swaraj is greatly concerned about the educated Indian’s fascination with the English language:
“And what is our condition? We write to each other in faulty English, and from this even our M.A.’s are not free; our best thoughts are expressed in English; the proceedings of our Congress are conducted in English; our best newspapers are printed in English. If this state of things continues for a long time, posterity will–it is my firm opinion–condemn and curse us.
It is worth noting that, by receiving English education, we have enslaved the nation. Hypocrisy, tyranny, etc., have increased; English-knowing Indians have not hesitated to cheat and strike terror into the people. …
Is it not a most painful thing that, if I want to go to a court of justice, I must use the English language as a medium; that, when I become a barrister, I may not speak my mother-tongue, and that someone else should have to translate to me from my own language? Is not this absolutely absurd? Is it not a sign of slavery? Am I to blame the English for it or myself? It is we, the English-knowing men, that have enslaved India. The curse of the nation will rest not upon the English but upon us.”
Secondly, passion for the country must always mean a passion for the products of her skills and labour. One can hardly be expected to be passionate about one’s own country while consuming mostly foreign-made products. And, Mahatma Gandhi is passionate about Swadeshi:
“Indeed, our gods even are made in Germany. What need, then, to speak of matches, pins and glassware? My answer can be only one. What did India do before these articles were introduced? Precisely the same should be done today. As long as we cannot make pins without machinery, so long will we do without them. The tinsel splendour of glassware we will have nothing to do with, and we will make wicks, as of old, with home-grown cotton, and use hand-made earthen saucers for lamps. So doing, we shall save our eyes and money and will support Swadeshi, and so shall we attain Home Rule.…”
We talk a great deal about Swadeshi even now. But, we hardly have the passion for Swadeshi that Gandhiji invokes. Our gods continued to be made abroad, in China, if not in Germany. And, we so lack the spirit of Swadeshi that when a great religious organisation decides to build a grand symbol of Indian religion, culture and architectural tradition in the city of Delhi, it decides to import the marble from Italy and proudly advertises the sad fact.
About the languages of India, we have even stopped talking. We seem to have arrived at an elite consensus that the Indian nation in the present times shall have to be built mainly through our mastery of the English language. Consequently, in the public places today, we often come across the saddening sight of young mothers talking to their infant children in broken English. People of several enslaved nations across the world and throughout history have died for the right to speak in their own language; we seem to be dying to earn the right to teach our infant children a foreign language.
Many of us believe that India today is at the threshold of becoming a great nation and a great power. It is indeed time that we acquired such greatness. But, passionate love for and faith in the civilisation, the land, the people and their languages, are always the pre-requisites of a great nation. And, one needs not only faith and love, but also the willingness to die for what one loves and faithfully believes in. It is not for nothing that Gandhiji ends Hind Swaraj with the solemn assertion that:
In my opinion, we have used the term “Swaraj” without understanding its real significance. I have endeavoured to explain it as I understand it, and my conscience testifies that my life henceforth is dedicated to its attainment.”
This solemn assertion, and much else that Gandhiji writes in Hind Swaraj, sounds much more passionate and intimate in the original Gujarati. In Gujarati, he is not merely dedicating his life to the attainment of national resurgence; he offers his mortal body at the altar. We have been fortunate that we have had the opportunity to read and translate the text of Hind Swaraj from the original Gujarati. No nation ever acquired greatness without the passion and love that Mahatma Gandhi evoked. India today, is poised at the threshold of greatness as it is, needs to evoke that passion and love once again. Perhaps that is why, Paramapujaniya Sarsanghachalak Mohan Bhagwatji, while releasing the authentic editions of Hind Swaraj based on the original Gujarati compared this text of Gandhiji to the sacred Jnaneshwari and asked the Indians to not only read the text but try and adopt in their lives at least one of the several expectations that Gandhiji makes from them in Hind Swaraj.