In one of his columns titled, Modi’s ambivalence, Prof Ashutosh Varshney tried to differentiate between secular nationalism and Hindu nationalism. In response to the same, prominent thinker and senior journalist had written a response which Organiser had published in July 27, 2014 edition. As Romila Thapar & Co. make the same fallacy Prof Varshney had made, hereby reproducing the write up for the benefit of readers
I read with interest, Shri Ashutosh Varshney’s article published. The article suffers from two maladies. One is the confused thinking about the two concepts of Nation and State. And other is the prejudices about the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). I will not here, address the latter malady and confine myself to the former.
Shri Varshney has used the term ‘secular nationalist’. I want to ask whether there can be secular nationalism. I not only admit but emphatically say that the State is secular, nay it should and must be secular. The State deals with things that can be called this-worldly. It need not be concerned with spiritualism or any other worldly matters.
‘State’ and ‘Nation’
Though ‘state’ and ‘nation’ are inter-related, they are basically different in spirit and content. In one ‘state’ there can be many ‘nations’, as we saw in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) till 1985. And there can be many ‘states’ in one ‘nation’, as we know from the history of ancient India. To give an example, in the 6th century, to the north of the river Narmada, there was a Kingdom of Harshvardhan that is a different state. While to the south there was the rule of Pulakeshi, meaning another state.
Meaning of State
State is a political association. I will like to quote Ernest Baker, a French author. He says, “The State is a legal association: a ‘juridically organised nation, or a nation organised for action under legal rules’. It exists for law: it exists in and through law: we may even say that it exists as law. The essence of the State is a living body of effective rules; and in that sense the State is law.” (Principles of Social and Political Theory, page 89)
The State to exist requires the physical force to enforce its laws, without which the laws will not be effective.
Meaning of Nation
Nation is a different existence. People are the nation. There are three main factors that determine a ‘nation’.
1) One is Peoples’ sentiment about the land where they live. Do they
consider it just a piece of land, an
inanimate entity? Or do they regard it as their motherland? Once people regard it as their motherland, their relation with the land changes. Then it does not remain an
insentient, lifeless existence. Then they are proud to pronounce ‘Vande Mataram’.
2) People’s attachment to their history and therefore to their forefathers. History may contain episodes of both joy and victory as well as of shame and disgrace.
3) And the most important are their standards of judging well from evil i.e. their value-system i.e. their
Again I am quoting Ernest Renan. He says, “The soil provides the substratum, the field for struggle and labour, man provides the soul. Nothing that is material suffices here. A nation is a spiritual principle, the result of the intricate workings of history, a spiritual family and not a group determined by the configuration of the earth.” He adds, “Two things which are really one go to make this soul or spiritual principle. One of these things lies in the past, the other in the present. The one is the possession in common of a rich heritage of memories and the other is actual
agreement, the desire to live together and the will to make the most of the joint inheritance……….
To share the glories of the past, and a common will in the present, to have done great good deeds together and to desire to do more—these are essential conditions of a people's being. Love is in proportion to the sacrifice one has made and the evils one has borne.”
In our country the name of these people is Hindu. Therefore, this is a Hindu nation. It has nothing to do whether you are a theist or an atheist, whether you are an idol-worshipper or you are against idol-worship.
Dharma and Religion
Hindu in a spiritual sense is ‘dharma’. Dharma has a very wide connotation. In English language there is no adequate equivalent for ‘dharma.’ Religion is only a part of ‘dharma’. Dr S Radhakrishnan has aptly observed, “Hinduism is not a religion; it is a common-wealth of many religions.” Therefore opponents of idol-worship like Arya Samajists, or those who do not accept the final authority of the Vedas like Jains and Buddhists are included in the umbrella of Hinduism. This is evident from the explanation No. 2 appended to Article 25 of our Constitution, and also from the applicability of Hindu Code bill to Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs. Mark the words “Hindu Code Bill” Christians and Muslims are also welcome under this umbrella, if they accept Bharat i.e. Hindusthan as their motherland and accept the value-system that appreciates the plurality of faiths, religions and thoughts. Hindu is a ‘dharma’ and ‘dharma’ has a very wide connotation.
I am tempted to cite an example in my life. It took place in 1956. I was a teacher in a Christian college in Nagpur. My identity as a RSS activist was known to all.
A senior Christian teacher, who was about two decades older than me, asked me, in a discussion, whether he can become a member of the RSS. I said, “Yes.”
He asked, “What shall I have to do?” I said, “You need not to leave your Church or your Holy Bible.” I did not fail to observe symptoms of
surprise writ large on his face. I added, “But Sir, you have to accept the validity of other faiths and beliefs.” He immediately replied, “I cannot accept it. If I accept it, I will not be able to propagate my religion.” I said, “Then you cannot become a member of the RSS.”
Now about State, as earlier
emphasised the State has to be secular, because it deals with mundane matters. There should not be an official state religion. People should be free to
follow their religious pursuits.
What is Secular?
An individual need not be secular. Only an ardent atheist like Charvak can be secular. Secularism is the
quality of a State, not of an individual, nor of the people.
Our State was secular from the very beginning. It did not become ‘secular’ after constitutional amendment in 1976 that inserted the word ‘secular’ in the preamble was made. But the behaviour of our political leaders that were elected to run the affairs of the state was anti-secular in the sense that they did not behave equally with all the sects. For their petty political ends they favoured certain religious groups, so much so that they could not enact a common civil law.
The Reason for Democratic Polity
Just consider why a state in India that is Bharat is secular and not in Pakistan or Bangladesh. I am purposely referring to these two states because just 67 years ago they were parts of Hindusthan. I am avoiding naming other states in the western side of our country. The reason is, in India i.e. Bharat, Hindus are in majority. For this reason alone, we have almost an uninterrupted functioning of democracy in our country.
The RSS honors Mahatma Gandhi. His name is included in the daily morning recitation of all such names that have brought glory to this land. But Mahatma Gandhi too committed a blunder by agreeing to the partition of the motherland on the basis of religion. That was the most anti-secular misstep that caused indescribable
carnage and eradicate of millions of innocent people. If this inclusive character of the Hindu people, I mean Hindu nation, is understood, no
religion, no faith can feel danger to their existence and their rites and rituals. That has been a glorious tradition of all Hindu kings and dynasties. n