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Notions of the Nation




I

Within hours, literally, the world will know whether the nation-state in America as decreed by the American Constitution has or has not triumphed finally over the competing, even if subterranean, notion of the nation as race.

If indeed Obama wins the Presidency, the American voter would have set an example to other regions, India included, where Constitutional stipulations with regard to nation and citizenship continue to be bedeviled by racial and religious supremacists who contest the ideal of secular equality under a commonly accepted regime of laws as stipulated by the Constitution at any given time.

These impulses of course work severally: they can be pressed into service to seek from the state a redistribution of largesse by privileging one identity or the other, internally.

Often an identity that has been reviled previously finds itself elevated to favour subsequently (today’s Maharashtra offers a fine instance; for now, neither South Indian lungivalas nor Marathi-speaking Muslims are the targets of Maratha chauvinism); More ominously, a reformulation of the notion of the nation-state in toto becomes the object.

Which of course is not to say that the nation-state is already too evolved to be meddled with on behalf of those that derive rather little participation in or benefit from its decisions and operations.

Occasionaly, intermediate forms of racial privileging detrimental to the idea of the nation-state also surface with strident insistence on behalf of some sections of the citizenry, without overtly challenging the nation-state per se.

A fine current example of this in India is the pressure built within Tamil Nadu on behalf of fellow-Tamilians in another country.

Members of the Indian parliament from this state have thought nothing of making a gesture of resigning their parliamentary memberships if the Indian state fights shy of intervening in Sri Lanka to protect the interests of Tamilians. Never mind that in that beleaguered country, the government of the day is battling the world’s first and worst terrorist outfit, banned in most countries including India, namely the LTTE.

Not only did this outfit invent the suicide bomber, it also murdered an Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, using such a bomber.

Tamil parties in India, with the honorable exception of the AIADMK, supported also by bevies of film stars, have thus expressed their primary allegiance to their racial tribe in another country rather than to the Indians who elected them to the Indian parliament.

Not to speak of sections of more vociferous racists among them who have clandestinely supplied munitions to the LTTE for many years, and who make no bones about going to war on its behalf.

Given all that, the Indian government which depends on the support of the Tamilian parliamentarians has felt obliged to send its foreign minister to Colombo to do some talking, and to make repeated statements on behalf of Tamilian refugees in Sri Lanka.

Speaking of which, imagine how the government of India would react were Sri Lankan Muslims to issue statements with respect to real or imagined excesses perpetrated on Kashmiri Muslims, or Muslims in Tamil Nadu itself. Unbearable thought that. Not to speak of Indian Muslims expressing the least anxiety about Muslims anywhere else. That would be pure treason.

Thus, in short, much like many Muslims the world over who privilege the Muslim nation, or the Ummah, over the nation-state, India’s Tamilians feel that the “Tamil nation” takes precedence over the Indian state when push comes to shove.

As to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (Global Hindu Community), it is on record as believing that “in pre-Christian times, all people, everywhere in the world, were Hindus” (see H.K.Vyas, The VHP, Communist Party of India Publications, New Delhi, 1983). And yet, it only sees enemies everywhere, including in India. You might well wonder why.

II

Dating from colonial times, of course, the most concerted challenge to the notion of a secular-democratic Republic wherein the ideals of equality and non-discriminatory justice, with due consideration for the preservation of the specific needs of non-Hindu Indians—some twenty or so percent of the population, all taken together– against hegemonising oppression, either by the state or the majority community, would define and inform citizenship has always come from the Hindu-Fascist right-wing.

That at least a third of the so-called “Hindu majority” feel as oppressed by the hegemonising brahminical upper-caste minority of Hindus is of course another little- discussed matter. Indeed, one thoughtful Dalit intellectual was to feel impelled to write a whole book, explaining why he does not regard himself a “Hindu” (see Kancha Ilaiah, Why I Am Not A Hindu: A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture, and Political Economy, Samya, Calcutta, 1996.)

But, to return to the “Hindu/Muslim” question:

Before you bring up the question about the Muslim League, let it be reiterated that the earliest formulation of a two-nation theory was not to come from the League but from Savarkar.

Explicitly in his pamphlet, Hindutva: Who is a Hindu? (1923), Savarkar was to say that India comprised two distinct nations, “Hindus and Muslims”.

As has been often noted,,Hindutva for him had little or nothing to do with the Hindu religion (not that the Hindu religion is any one identifiable monolith either, although those that have hegemonised it over ruthless millennia is). The man claimed to be an atheist and did not approve of the Hindu caste system.

Hindutva for Savarkar constituted purely a racial thesis; only those could be regarded genuine Indians who were both born in India and whose places of worship lay within the territorial confines of India. That most of these places of worship do lie within India is of no account, since Mecca remains outside, a fact sufficient to negate millennia of Hindu-Muslim syncretism.

This formulation has since become the source of the call on Indian Muslims either to fall in line or accept without question the primacy of the “Hindu Nation.”

In modern parlance, the RSS/BJP call this “cultural nationalism”—a racial concept which is deployed to question and dislodge the ideal of secular citizenship, bedrock of the Constitutional Republic.

In 1939, Golwalker was to write about the “minority problem” thus:

they must “merge. . .in the national race and adopt its culture, or to live at its mercy as long as the national race may allow them to do so and quit the country at the sweet will of the national race.”

This he called the only “sound view on the minorities problem…that alone keeps the nation safe from the danger of a cancer developing into its body politic of the creation of a ‘state within a state.’”

(see We, Our Nationhood Defined, Bharat Publications, Nagpur, p.47)

Remarkably, as has often been pointed out, the entire ideological equipment of the Hindu Right which prides itself for representing the essence of Indianness, was imported from Fascist Italy where Munje, who was to become head of the Hindu Mahasabha, met and imbibed Mussolini, and from Nazi Germany. (Interestingly, it was also in 1923 that Mussolini’s Doctrine of Fascism appeared.)

Munje, whose great friend Hedgewar was, passed these thoughts to the RSS which has ever since not just lauded Hitler and Nazi Germany for the height of their “race pride” but sought to impose this notion of nation on independent India.

III

As visuals now of “Saffron terror” splash across some Indian tv screens, the occurrence does not surprise those who are familiar with Hindutva history and ideology.

And if the exposure has taken so long to become public, it is for the simple reason that the Indian state, however secular its protestations, has never really on the ground practiced even-handedness as between Hindutva violence, be it mob-terror or bomb-terror, and violence inflicted by non-Hindu militants/insurgents/terrorists—call them what you will.

As we take in the “shock” of the current revelations, such as:

—a “sadhvi” implicated in the Malegaon blasts of September 29, 2006, remarkably, two years after the event, something that goes to suggest the alacrity of state agencies when it comes to “Hindu terror”;

–alongwith her a retired army major, Upadhyay;

–a serving, no less, Lt. Col. named Purohit;

–a whole Military Academy at Bhonsala in Nagpur, headquarters of the RSS, its director, one Raikar, now also hauled up for questioning, since the school, it is acknowledged, had been very kindly handed over to the Bajrang Dal for military training for a full two weeks;

–an organization called Abhinav Bharti run currently by, guess who, Himani Savarkar,– the daughter of Nathuram Godse’s brother, Gopal Godse, a co-accused in the Gandhi murder, and niece also of the good old Savarkar,– who has made bold to state publicly on tv channels that Hindu reprisals are justified, we must remember that militarism and violence, often of a secretive and Masonic variety, have been part and parcel of the fascist ideology of the Sangh.

The Hindu right-wing has always berated Hindus generally for being “pacifist”, Golwalker going to the extent of saying that Ashoka’s preaching of “ahimsa” (non-violence) after converting to Buddhism subsequent to the carnage he wrought at Kalinga in Orissa (3rd C, B.C) “makes cowards of Indians.”

Although Gandhi’s murder at the hands of the Hindu- Right remains the most telling instance of its willingness to commit to violent terror, more shady details are also on record pertaining, disgustingly but revealingly, to its own internal culture.

For example, Balraj Madhok, the founder of the Jana Sangh, recounts in his autobiography, Zindagi Ka Safar, how the shady murder of the President of the Sangh in 1968, Deen Dayal Upadhyay, was sought to be passed off as an “accident.”

Upadhyay’s corpse was found on 11th February, 1968 at the Mughal Sarai Railway Station. The then S.P and S.S.P refuted the theory that the death was the result of an accident.

Pointing a finger squarely at Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Bala Sahib Deoras—who became, respectively, President and Secretary of the Sangh after Upadhyay’s murder—Madhok records how Vajpayee admonished him to float the accident theory. Refusing to do so, Madhok was asked to resign from primary membership of the Sangh.

If since India’s Independence the chief violent recourse of the Sangh has been to instigating and effecting mass killings of Muslims in one pogrom after another, (Commission after official Commission over the last six decades has found the Sangh complicit in these pogroms) it has now obviously taken a further leap to engage what it calls “Islamic and Jehadi terror” with its own brand.

Having done so, it invites us shamelessly to desist from calling this brand “Hindu terror.” The pronouncements of Himani Savarkar and Bala Sahib Thackeray notwithstanding. Remember that the latter, not too long ago, had publicly expressed the view that Hindus also need to prepare terror squads that would do more than measly damage to Muslim areas.

Uncannily, it is pushed to gurgitating all those protestations and arguments which Muslims have thus far sought to present to the world: to wit, presume innocence till proven guilty, do not brand whole communities; do not view terrorism as a religious/Islamic phenomenon etc.,–arguments which have found little use as far as the fascist Hindu right-wing is concerned.

As Kavita Krishnan speculates brilliantly in an article on the subject, just imagine that the “sadhvi” was not a sadhvi but a “maulvi”; the discourse of the Sangh would have been blood-curdling in the extreme. (see Countercurrents, The Tip of the Iceberg, October 10, 2008).

Likewise, her further charge related to the role of the state and its investigative agencies in suppressing the facts regarding the Malegaon blast for full two years is both germane and indicative; as is the further charge regarding the quiescent nature of the state’s response to the other known recent instances in which Bajrang Dal activists have been found bomb-making, and have indeed also been found dead as some of those bombs went off in their own hands. Complete with the discovery of false beards and “Muslim” attire hidden in their houses. Not to speak of venomous anti-Muslim and anti-Christian printed materials littered in their hide-outs.

IV

Nothing, it must be emphasized, spells more cataclysmic prospects for the Republic than any attempt on behalf of the state or any of its agencies to become complicit in legitimising one form of terror as an “understandable” form of violence—reprisal, if you like, and “patriotic” in intent, don’t you know, and delegitimising some other as ab initio “anti-national.”

And, indeed, the reprisal theory must anyday yield a better argument to India’s Muslims than it can to the Hindu right-wing. One long look at all the pogroms that have been affected since 1947 and the meaning of that becomes clear. On the contrary, it may well be asked, what is it that India’s Muslims have done to the Hindus which calls for “reprisals’? Ask for equal citizenship, contrary to the edicts laid down by Golwalker?

Or are we here to understand that the “reprisal” theory is meant to apply to the long, secular, and creative rule by Moghul monarchs in India? Or against the insistence of the Gandhi-Nehru-led and Communist-supported freedom movement which defeated the Hindu-fascists’ collaboration with the British to forge a theocratic state, and against their success in placing the Republic on a secular and pluralist footing?

It is something of a pity that the secular, pluralist, egalitarian, and anti-colonial impetus that impelled the freedom movement led by the Congress party should be finding exhaustion even within that august bastion; and that the Congress should frequently also be seen to partake of a version of nationalism that, however surreptitiously, yields pride of place to a so-called Hindu culture and religion. No dearth of cabinet ministers who sport idols of gods and godmen in their very office spaces that belong to the secular state.

The sooner this oldest of parties readjusts its coordinates, and rediscovers its sources of creative hegemony among India’s labouring and secular masses the better for everybody. And it may not have much time either.

A test of all that will be how it deals, and is seen to deal, with the terrorism that comes from the Hindu right-wing. And where it places considerations of electoral failure or success in so doing. And whether or not it remains undeterred in the many constructive initiatives it has taken to improve the lot of the Muslims.

Likewise, the test of India’s upwardly-mobile urbanites who have tended to see in the BJP a guarantor of their commercial and cultural aspirations, together seen as a formula for hegemonising the labouring and the low-caste and putting the Muslims in “their place” in close embrace with American corporate imperialism, will be to take their blinkers off so they may see beyond their thoughtless , sectarian and self-regarding noses.

They would do well to recognize that two of the accused in the Malegaon blasts have been members of the BJP, just as Sadhvi Pragya Thakur was a member of the RSS student wing, the ABVP.

They should also learn to stop pointing an instant finger at one kind of imagined “terrorist” outfit even before a crime has been committed, and to be more tolerant of those in civil society who raise questions that are contrary to their world of a priori certainties. Precisely as we do not pronounce on the guilt or innocence of the Sadhvi and the rest before the courts have adjucated.

They should also understand that law-enforcement in India is not such an untainted procedure as they wish to believe when it suits their predilections, and that more repressive laws in the hands of tainted enforcement agencies, far from mitigating terror, provoke it many times more.

It is also to be hoped that the discovery of the Sadhvi and, with her, the clan, will bring some perspective back into the flourishes with which our globalised media channels often glibly pronounce on the menace of “terrorism.” Or, huckster-like, demand to be told by the police and the politician that some or the other Muslim organization is involved even as a blast goes off.

That shift and correction in perspective should oblige a far deeper acknowledgement of the concrete sources of disaffection among diverse segments of the polity than an impatient, money -and -news-spinning culture of “modernity” seems to enjoin.

Even blame games deserve to be fairly distributed and explored. And the truth to be nailed, however such an occurrence may hurt our own innards.

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