Thursday, December 14, 2017

Political Nationalism is in Real Danger in India

S. V. Narayanan

The recent two events, the Madras High Court giving orders for singing Vande Mataram and Uttar Pradesh government under Yogi Adithyanath giving guidelines to Madrassas on how to celebrate Independence day and submit video evidence for the same has once again opened up the politics of nationalism and patriotism in our multi-national Indian state. Even though nationalism and patriotism are used interchangeably, there exists a perceptible difference between the two. Lord Acton in his seminal essay on nationality (1862), explained that nationalism is more of a emotional identification and connection with our race, which is natural or physical, whereas patriotism relates to our consciousness and alertness of our moral duties towards our political community. Here, the political community is clearly understood as the community within the territorial limits of political state, which could be of different nationalities. Thus defining patriotism in a multi-national state like India has to be inclusive creating a secular consciousness in the fulfilment of our moral duty.  In a complex and multi-cultural society like India, the national identity cannot be found in the past and has to be constructed in future through our secular endeavours. But, the exclusive nationalist propaganda, with majoritarian national symbols and cultural values can never invoke the patriotic feeling  among the minorities.

Marxist have identified the nation and national consciousness at a particular period of history as epiphenomenon of the prevalent exploitative relations within the society and to camouflage such exploitation. Patriotism and nationalism have a material foundation, where exploiter and the exploited cannot carry the same kind of feeling for the nation together. By imposing a particular cultural mono-national identity and practices, the present right-wing government is in the process of creating or inventing the "other" in those who resist such imposition. Further, such mono-cultural nationalist endeavours attempts to conceal the existing exploitative social relations based on caste, religion, language etc. Cultural nationalist always trace the genealogy of nation exclusively in terms of unique history and culture in a exclusive manner. It further purifies the genealogy of its contradictions and constructs an progressive image as a solution for all existing social problems. But, in contrast to it, the political nationalist tries to work towards a representative inclusive state, emphasizing the citizenship rights of everyone rather than the social identity based on varied historical reasons. The present governments attempts in the domain of nationalism and patriotism is more of cultural in character re-emphasizing the exclusive Hindutva politics, demonising minorities and their cultural practices including food habits.

Vande Mataram and Cultural Nationalism
An idea or an text completely deprived of its context will lose its real meaning and will be followed like a mere ritual. Nationalism and patriotism are not mere rituals devoid of meaning to be performed by everyone, as it carries emotional and moral duties towards the associated political state. Vande Mataram, in spite of its literary excellence and its significant role as protest slogan against British, cannot be accepted wholeheartedly in a multi-cultural state like India, ignoring its context and meaning which was not inclusive to evoke any patriotism among all sections of the population.

Anandmath, the novel by Bankim Chandra  Chatterji, which contains the song Vande Mataram (hail to the mother) has been in controversy for quite a long time. The novel, its context and its politics were seen as propagating exclusive Hindu nationalism. The novel originally in Bengali was written in 1882, which was later translated into English as Abbey of Bliss in 1906 by Nares Chandra Sen-Gupta. Later in 1941, at the peak of nationalist resistance against British, translated again by Basanta Koomar Roy accordingly to suit the nationalist movement. The excerpts of preface to 1941 translation by Dr.William J. Jackson, Professor, Department of Religious Studies at Indian University-Purdue University, USA reads as follows

" The story, set in eighteenth century India, concerns a Sanyasi revolt against the Muslim rule. In the last chapter, a mysterious physician speaks of the English presence as a necessary phase of reform, a helpful prelude to ' a revival of the True Faith' of Hindu culture. It would seem that even if Chatterji did see the British intellect as narrow and unable to do justice to the realities of India, he nevertheless saw a positive potential for India under the British rule. The following translation of Anandamath, by Basanta Koomar Roy was first published in 1941, during a critical period in Indian history when the independence movement had to take a decisive stance rejecting foreign rule. Hence, the mysterious physician's suggestion was deleted. We can only conjecture that if Chatterji had been alive would he have approved of this omission."(page 7 & 8)

The 1941 translation, published by Orient Paperbacks (1992, 2006, 2016), has been an deliberate attempt to sanitise the novel of its minority bashing and praising of British, and to bestow a truly nationalist image of anti-British. The reading of this translation, never reveals the true context and meaning of the novel and the song Vande Mataram, which exemplified Hindu nationalism.

The 1906 translation named " Abbey of Bliss " by Nares Chandra Sen-Gupta printed by T. C. Dass at the Cherry Press, reveals the real context and politics of the author. The translator's prefatory note clearly explains the anti-Muslim sentiments in the novel and Hindu nationalist and patriotic feelings in the novel. The excerpts of prefatory note reads as follows

" Two outstanding features of our author's conception of patriotism are its provincialism and its religious tone. .....   
He evidently thought that the only nationality India was capable of was a religious nationality ;-the sentiment probably which inspires people who talk about a Hindu Nation and a Mussulman Nation in the same Indian soil. To say the least, such an idea is absurd. .......

Sectarian sentiments are ill dignified by being named in the lofty vocabulary of patriotism. Two very sinister consequences are seen to flow from this conception of a religious basis of nationality in the present work. The first is the attempt to rehabilitate the Hindu Pantheon with new-fangled patriotic gods and goddesses, and the second is the morbid dislike of Mussulmans that seems to be indicated in this work. ..... As for the first, it sets a premium upon superstition ....... If it is sought by this means to instil patriotism into the superstitious mind through superstitions, it fails sadly; for patriotism thus distorted can never develop into genuine patriotism and must remain a superstition forever. ...... Thus patriotism gains nothing by this distortion and it only helps to hinder the growth of true Indian Nationality by preventing the participation of Hindus and Mussulmans and other religious communities in a common patriotic work. ......

The other is a more serious matter still. Now one thing that would be patent to every reader of this novel is that its heroes are frankly hostile to Mussulmans. This has led me to think thrice before placing the work before a larger public by translation. Our Mussulman friends have no doubt a good right to get offended at the way in which the anti-Mussulman sentiment has been developed in this novel. .....

But with all this one cannot but regret the anti-Mussulman sentiments that our author has so freely introduced in the present work." ( Pages vii, viii, ix & x)

The novel is not only about anti-Muslim sentiments in the name of opposing the Muslim rule, but also glorifying the Hindu religion and its caste based discrimination, which is practised till now. The Muslim has been deliberately identified as "other" and the survival of Hinduism is clearly linked with driving away of Muslims. The Vande Mataram song was sung by the Sanyasins in the novel in such context only.

In every country the bond that binds a sovereign to his subjects is the protection that he gives; but our Mussalman king- how does he protect us? Our religion is gone ; so is our caste, our honour and the sacredness of our family even ! Our lives even are now to be sacrificed. Unless we drive these tipsy long beards away, a Hindu can no longer hope to save his religion.,,( page 35)

The hatred towards the ordinary Muslims were spread over in various parts of the novel in the name of opposing Muslim rulers. The rebellion of the Sanyasins in the novel was not with the intention of overthrowing the British rule, but with the aim of making the British the real sovereign of India. The British were considered the friendly power who can instil knowledge to Hinduism. Some of the below lines expose the real intention of  the author and the song Vande Mataram in his novel.

The villagers would chase any Mussulman that they would meet-some would combine and go to the Mussalman quarters to set fire to their houses and pillage them. Many Moslems shaved off their beards, smeared their bodies with earth and sung Harinam. ....... ( page 167)

The new-comer said : Your mission has been fulfilled, the Mussulman rule has come to an end. You have nothing more to do now. It's no use killing people in vain."

There is no hope of a revival of the True Faith if the English be not our rulers.  The True Faith does not consist in the worship of 330 million deities ; that is only a base religion of the masses. Under its influence the True Faith, which Mlecchas call Hinduism, has disappeared. The true Hinduism is based on knowledge and not on action. To revive it therefore you have first to disseminate objective knowledge. The English are great in objective sciences and they are apt teachers. Therefore, the English shall be made our sovereign. Imbued with a knowledge of objective sciences by English education our people will be able to comprehend subjective truths. Till that is so, till the Hindus are great again in knowledge virtue and power till then the English rule will remain undisturbed. The people will be happy under them and follow their own religion without hindrance. You are wise ; consider all these, desist from fight with the English and follow me.

" The English", said the great man, ''are now traders and are unwilling to take charge of the administration. They will have to do it however, as the result of this rebellion of the Children ; for without doing so, they will see, they cannot raise money. The rebellion was raised,
only that the English might be initiated into sovereignty.

'' Where is the enemy now ? There is none. The English are a friendly power, and no one, in truth, has the power to come off victorious in a fight with the English."
(page 197 - 201)

The above excerpts from the novel shows the real communal nature of the text and its meaning in the novel. The song hailing mother India was also in this context of re-incarnating the Hindu goddesses to fight against the Muslims. The patriotism and nationalist feeling invoked in the novel clearly is the Hindu nationalism, which the minorities and secularist have every right to critically evaluate from a political nationalism perspective. In 1937, the Congress constituted a sub-committee to look at the suitability of Vande Mataram being considered as National Anthem. The Committee identified that only the first two stanzas of the song can be sung by all , as other stanzas are communal in glorifying Hinduism and its goddesses. Just by approving the first two stanzas of Vande Mataram, how it became a secular song to be sung compulsorily by all sections of the population.

The makers of Indian Constitution never thought of including the word secularism[1], as the essence of it is embedded throughout the Constitution keeping intact the complex composition of our nation. Secularism, being the founding principle of our Multi-Nation Indian state was given a short shrift by the present right-wing government,  by directly and indirectly threatening to modify the communal fabric of India. The right-wing BJP government, and its associated organisations were never part of the independence struggle to understand and develop a true political nationalism. Glorifying and imposing exclusive mono-cultural ( read Hindutva) nationalism over the citizens of multi-nation political state and expecting a devout patriotism  by docile acceptance, reeks of fascist ardour of the present regime. Allowing of killing people in the name of cow protection, silencing critics (Kulburgi, Pansare, Dabolkar, Gauri etc.), without strictly following the rule of law and further demonising minorities (Taj Mahal issue) reveals the bigotry attitude of the people's representatives of ruling government.  

Only by strengthening the inclusive political nationalist sentiment, by encompassing the variations and  counter perspectives in a dialectical manner, a true patriotic feeing could be engraved in our national fabric. The failure of present dispensation to act in such a manner increases manifold the responsibility of civil society and vigilant citizenry to uphold the multi-nation fabric of India by protecting the basic values of secularism and political nationalism. Any form of violence against minorities and other dissenters, in the form of cow vigilantism, demonization of their symbols, and murder should be confronted politically and legally to restore the confidence of common people in the idea of India and further to strengthen political nationalism and its allied patriotic duty towards our multi-nation Indian state.

[1] Later included in 1976 through 42nd amendment.

The Author is an Independent Policy Analyst 

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