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Nationalism in India

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Samved Iyer
Samved Iyer
Eternal as evolution is, I cannot purport to have grown in thorough measure, and I am hopeful of augmenting my perspicacity in the company of beings far more erudite than me.

The incontrovertible reality of the contemporary world is the existence of nation-states. Notwithstanding a perceived sense of partial, if not complete, loss of sovereignty on account of subjection to international organizations in economic terms, the nation-state remains administratively and politically sovereign.

That a firm conviction of their people in the destiny of their respective countries; and the indispensability of the assertion of their unique geopolitical interests; constitute the driving sentiment of these nations, is an unimpeachable truth. It is these two waves of emotion that together constitute the popular locution: nationalism.

As observed by the venerable former diplomat, and the incumbent Union Minister of External Affairs of India, Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, contemporary nationalism in India is that of confidence, for Indians have seen their stature rising in the international arena. Notwithstanding this positive wave of sentiment in consequence of India’s growth, wars have been fought the world over on the very notion of nationalism. For did not the spirit of nationalism among the subject people of Turkey lead, as nobly noted by Dr. B R Ambedkar, to the disruption of Turkey in the first world war? In Dr. Ambedkar’s own words, “That it was nationalism which had brought about the disruption of Turkey is proved by the revolt of the Arabs in the last war (World War 1) and their will to be independent.”

His erudition further observed the reasons behind the disintegration of Czechoslovakia, “Really speaking, the destruction of Czechoslovakia was brought about by an enemy within her own borders. That enemy was the intransigent nationalism of the Slovaks who were out to break up the unity of the state and secure the independence of Slovakia.”

The two aforesaid examples make manifest, the potential volatility that accompanies nationalism. It is true that nationalism as a driving sentiment is quite positive. It is not, however, the mere implementation of nationalist fervour that is potentially volatile as proven in the cases of Turkey and Czechoslovakia. The very debates on the subject are accompanied with impassioned views.

Indian nationalism has had roots in history, for it was the same sentiment that drove the Marathas against the Mughals. The conceptualization of Hindavi Swarajya bears witness thereto. In form and in scope, it did metamorphose, yet the sentiment of Indian nationalism remained when the British had established their rule over the land.

The established scholarly consensus is that it is the same nationalism that led to the independence of India. Lamentably, the manner of writing history creates the impression that Indian nationalism, under the British Raj, was one-dimensional. No conclusion could be so unfortunate, for it was, in actuality, multi-faceted. Parallel to the constitutional and non-violent narrative, ran an organized narrative of revolution, constituting of youths from across the territory of British India, fired with the zeal of freeing their motherland from the colonial misgovernment, with the will to put their lives at peril. It is expedient upon the independent country to not merely acknowledge, but also express gratitude, not only to the activists of the constitutional narrative, but also to the martyrs and lion-hearts of revolution. For is it not a travesty of history to indoctrinate people with only part of the history that makes for convenient telling?

The debates appurtenant to Indian nationalism are sure to evoke strong passion, for it has everything to do with interpretation of history as well as the very truth behind the creation of India as a modern nation-state. There appears to be a propensity to debate without requisite maturity and civility. Often, the atmosphere degenerates, leading to such pandemonium and disorder as may be evinced by banging of benches, akin to that in Parliament, of which we have all, on occasion, been unfortunate witnesses.

The recent anarchy prevailing all over the country on account of the introduction, passing and subsequent presidential assent to the Citizenship Amendment Act is for all to see. Notwithstanding the possible involvement of shady forces behind them, not all of the protesters could be termed renegades. Many were just idealistic youngsters with passion for their idea of India, quite ignorant of the nuances they were protesting against. One may well construe it as a contorted sense of nationalism, for the disposition of many of the protesters appertained to their idea of India.

A logical deduction of the incident is not so much the absence of reading among them as much as the presence of strong emotion. As said earlier, the very debates on the subject are accompanied with impassioned views. Therefore, should the youth be engaged in exploring Indian nationalism, the travesty of history they shall be subject to, as evident in our syllabi by way of propagation of a single narrative, may well be warned against.

One does no justice to history, unless one seeks or even attempts to comprehend it in its entirety. Amish Tripathi has described history as the immature little child that does not accept multiple truths. I would differ a little to say, “Certain historians with vested interests are immature little children who do not accept a narrative either contrarian or parallel to the one propagated by them.” The unfortunate consequence thereof is the creation of status quo in academia. Author Hindol Sengupta has well described the misfortune of Indian history by attributing its travesty to the rendition of its earliest interpretations as canonical, as opposed to the west where incidents such as the American Revolution and personalities such as Churchill are being reinterpreted almost on a yearly basis.

Several professors, if not all, have undergone the ”canonical” learning of history while being students. The country sorely in want of a culture of research, and thereby the professors themselves having not been acquainted to the same, they have quite become comfortable with it and propagate the same while teaching the students. To them, any contrarian view is akin to blasphemy.

Nothing could be so pernicious to Indian nationalism as the oversimplification of it, thus rendering it to a one-dimensional narrative. One may, in the future, have to endure too much merely to experiment with another approach in the face of new problems. In such times, the collective wisdom of Indian nationalism must serve as a guide. For has not Major General G D Bakshi aptly said, “Where you are going depends on where you came from”?

Nationalism in India would lose its essence upon the abnegation of its cultural history. India is a modern nation-state; a powerful yet relatively nascent republic; a civilization spanning over five thousand years of history; a vast landmass besotted with remarkable diversity; yet unified with a cultural ethos: the ethos of Sanātana Dharma.

For has it not been lucidly enumerated in the Vishnu Purāna:

उत्तरं यत् समुद्रस्य हिमाद्रेश्चैव दक्षिणं ।
वर्षं तद भारतं नाम भारती यत्र संततिः ।।

TRANSLATION: The land that lies to the north of the ocean and to the south of the Himālayas is Bhārata, for there reside the descendants of Bharata.

The conviction with which it is held by some that there was no concept of India till perchance the British gave it one is confounding. The verse from the Vishnu Purāna is evidence that Bhārata had, more or less, been defined in terms of geography a lot prior to the advent of the British.

Verily, therefore, Sanātana Dharma is the identity of the nation, notwithstanding the modern constitution thereof as a republic. Its history, its evolution and its struggles cannot be abnegated on mere account of the aforesaid constitution and contorted construals of modernity. This is the foundation of my assertion that nationalism in India is inextricably linked with cultural heritage and pride.

I lay emphasis on this, for the masses of contemporary youth increasingly gravitate towards western notions of liberalism. It must not be forgotten that western notions of liberalism seek to free the individual from all institutions, such as tradition, culture, society and, in extreme cases, even family. This would positively be pernicious should it be experimented with in India. Readers must be aware that there exists a department for mental health in the United Kingdom. Quite a lot of its work, as highlighted by Amish Tripathi in an interview, pertains to loneliness. What else, pray, could the result be with the abnegation of traditions and customs?

The west-philia that so afflicts Indians in general and Hindus in particular, has led the Hindus themselves to view their very culture with contemptuous condescension. While there are indeed values from the west worth incorporating, westernization alone must not be construed with liberalism. Liberalism is in the very genes of Indians, for how would have they so willingly welcomed the settlement of Jews, Parsis etc otherwise? It must be noted that my accentuation on culture does not pertain to symbolism such as attire, but to values and philosophy. The lamentable devolution of our society on grounds of caste notwithstanding, it is significant that this land also produced reformists who fought against such social tyrannies.

The resurgence of nationalism in India has remarkably amplified interest in past heritage, and the intellectual paramountcy of the elite witnesses a gradual decline. History which never made way to the textbooks is emerging, slowly but steadily.

It is in this age that the said status quo is being deconstructed. Fresh research is leading to new interpretations of history, and facts as never known heretofore! The proponents of the status quo would do well to shun their hostility towards it, and accept the same.

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Samved Iyer
Samved Iyer
Eternal as evolution is, I cannot purport to have grown in thorough measure, and I am hopeful of augmenting my perspicacity in the company of beings far more erudite than me.
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