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One nation, many Indias

S Irfan Habib amp Jayaprakash Narayan | Updated on January 08, 2018
More than history remembers: “Most of the present generation know him (Jayaprakash Narayan) for his role as a fighter against Emergency but nothing much about him as an ideologue who had very distinct views about nation and nationalism.”

Indian Nationalism: The Essential Writings; Edited by S Irfan Habib; Non-fiction;Aleph Book Company; ₹499

Close call: JP advised the RSS, the main protagonist of the Hindu Rashtra, to ‘disband itself’ and admit Muslims, Christians and other communities

Jayaprakash Narayan’s reservations about nationhood based on caste and religious identity reflect in his writings in the 1950s and ’60s

Jayaprakash Narayan evolved as an intellectual from being a young Marxist to a socialist, finally talking of Total Revolution. He defined nation and nationalism in several of his writings. JP was committed to pluralism and also believed that we should question the conventional and honour only the valuable. This commitment is reflected in whatever he spoke or wrote as an ideologue and a political activist. JP was convinced that in ‘the long struggle for national freedom there emerged a clear enough concept of a single, composite, nonsectarian Indian nationhood’. All those who spoke about divisive and sectarian nationalism—Hindu or Muslim, were therefore outside the pale of this nationalism, evolved during the freedom struggle. The hostile and alienating nationalism we hear about today is antithetical to the ethos of freedom struggle and against the belief of all those who helped it evolve.

We need to emphasise that JP was more than just an anti-Emergency crusader. That was really his last political battle where he functioned as a pivot for all those in opposition to come together and fight against Indira Gandhi.

He was open to changing his opinion about the RSS and even said that they were not communal and fascist—an opinion he always held about them. However, he was soon disappointed and had to advise the RSS to ‘disband itself and merge with the youth and cultural organisations of the Janata Party’ and admit Muslims, Christians and members of other communities. He also expressed the hope that the RSS would ‘give up the concept of Hindu Rashtra and adopt in its place that of Indian nationhood, which is a secular concept and embraces all communities living in India’.

Most of the present generation know him for his role as a fighter against Emergency but nothing much about him as an ideologue who had very distinct views about nation and nationalism. — S Irfan Habib



Nationhood: The Concept

For the understanding and promotion of Indian unity or national integration it is first of all necessary to clarify the concept of Indian nationhood. In the long struggle for national freedom there emerged a clear enough concept of a single, composite, nonsectarian Indian nationhood. But the fact that there also emerged at the close of that struggle a rival concept based on Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s two-nation theory—a separate Hindu nation and a separate Muslim nation resulting in the division of the country and the establishment of an Islamic state—clouded the freedom movement’s concept. As was only to be expected, the two-nation theory was not slow, particularly after partition, in strengthening in his country the cry for a Hindu nation, which had in fact already been raised at the time of the freedom struggle.

Certain other factors which have contributed to this development need to be understood. First, though the Hindus are in an overwhelming majority in this country they still suffer from the psychology of a minority. This is because the Hindu community is divided owing to the caste system and untouchability, and the Hindus, though in majority, lived for centuries under the rule of non-Hindu minorities, chiefly Muslim and Christian, who originally came from outside India. Given the minority mentality, it is not difficult to see why the slogan ‘Hindu Rashtra’ should be appealing and attractive to them.

Second, while it was easy in the freedom struggle to appreciate that success required the joint effort of all communities, thus promoting the concept of a single composite nationhood, after independence there was no such compulsion left, particularly as increasing numbers of the majority community began to be persuaded that, being in an overwhelming majority, they could easily impose their will on the minority communities.



Concept of Hindu Rashtra

How dangerous this concept of nationhood could be in spite of its attractiveness to immature minds, not only for the unity of the Indian nation but also to the Hindu community itself because of its deep divisions, is little realised by the protagonists of ‘Hindu Rashtra’. They also fail to realise that just as the goal of national freedom required the joint effort of all communities so does the present goal of national strength and national development.

As the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is the main protagonist of ‘Hindu Rashtra’, the comment of its central executive on the Srinagar meeting of the National Integration Council may be of interest. It is reported to have said in a resolution that ‘a well-consolidated Hindu society which rose above all differences of caste, sect, party or language could alone form a firm base for real national integration.’

There can be no objection to the consolidation of any community provided this does not lead to a separatist mentality, inter-communal alienation, communal politics and domination of one community, no matter how large, over another.

It is difficult to understand what the RSS executive means by a well-consolidated Hindu society rising above party. If it means that Hindus, by virtue of being Hindus, should all belong to a single party, this is a very dangerous thought which recalls to the mind the pre-partition slogan—Gar tu Muslim hai, to Muslim League men aa. If in this manner every community were to have its own exclusive party and politics national unity would become an impossibility.



Muslim communalism

It should be noted that there is also a strong movement among Muslims led by the Jamaat-e-Islami aiming at consolidating the Muslims not only as a separate religion but also as a social and political community. The next natural step can only be the assertion of a Muslim nation. Similar developments are bound to follow in every other sizeable community of ‘Hindu Rashtra,’ and not Bharatiya Rashtra, becomes the goal of the predominant Hindu community.

If the people of India with their many diversities are to become an emotionally united nation able to preserve and strengthen their political unity, they cannot but deliberately and understandingly choose the ideal of a composite, nonsectarian nationhood and work actively to that end. It is the task of this convention to clear away all mental cobwebs and give a bold and unambiguous lead in this regard.

There is a view that ‘the achievements of our sages and savants, smritikars and purankars, poets and artists, statesmen and warriors, comprise really the warp and woof of our national heritages and provide the real basis of India’s national oneness. In this sense ‘India is an ancient nation’ and it is fallacious to regard it ‘as yet a nation in the making’.

The confusion here is between the cultural unity of a people and their political unity. Despite the fact that the people of India, from the Himachal to the Setu, have shared for centuries (with local variations) a common cultural heritage they very rarely belonged to a single political state. Nor is this a peculiarly Indian phenomenon. Elsewhere too such as in Europe or in the Arab world, cultural unity has coexisted for centuries with political disunity.

Our central concern at the present moment of our history is to ensure that the political unity established by the constitution should be made firm and enduring. Events have shown that even those sections of the people who share India’s ancient heritage have not hesitated when aggrieved, whether rightly or wrongly, to harbour, even proclaim, secessionist sentiments. It would therefore be wrong to think that the task of moulding a modem nation out of the diverse elements of Indian society has already been completed by the achievements of our savants and sages.

There is another view which considers the sense of belonging to India’s historic past and of being with all those who share that past an essential qualification of a true Indian national. National integration, according to this view, mainly consists in inculcating this sense of belonging and identity. There is no doubt that those for instance who think that Indian history began with the first Muslim or Christian invasion and who feel no attachment to the India of earlier times lack the deeper, emotional qualities an Indian national is expected to possess. It is interesting to notice that as modern nationalism develops in such ancient lands as Iran or Egypt, the Iranians and Egyptians, despite their history, are rediscovering themselves in their ancient glory.



Meaning of national heritage

At this point it is also necessary to bear in mind that our national heritage includes not only what has come down to us from ancient times but also what came later. There has been in this country from times immemorial a commingling of foreign cultures and races with indigenous ones. In the case of the later arrivals such as Islam and Christianity, when political adversity drove Hindu society to defensive devices, the commingling was much slower.

Nevertheless Indian Christians and Muslims are very much Indian in their blood, appearance, ways of life, caste attitudes (whether for good or ill), language (even Urdu is very much an Indian language), literature and other arts, thought and philosophy, material culture. Even their religions have come to acquire a quality of Indianness. In their turn they have also had a profound influence on Indian philosophy, science, literature, music, architecture, painting and the religious teachings of the medieval saints.

The point to emphasise here however is that our national heritage is a very complex affair and includes all we have inherited not only from the past millennia but also from the past centuries of our history. It is not only a question of Muslims and Christians and others with religions of foreign origin accepting India’s ancient past as a part of their national heritage, but also of Hindus and others of indigenous religions accepting India’s medieval and recent past as a part of their national heritage. There may be much in the two periods that each may reject, but by and large all Indians must accept the totality of Indian history as their own.

To avoid possible, misunderstanding it should be added that feelings of identity with a country’s past do not at all imply blind acceptance of or admiration for all that belonged to that past. It should also be stressed that the kind of emotional identification discussed above is a delicate process requiring patience, mutual respect and understanding and accommodation. Any attempt to hasten the process by force or intimidation can only produce further alienation and national disruption.

An all-inclusive Indian nation is fundamentally different from a Hindu nation. Protagonists of each will necessarily follow different roads to national unity. Protagonists of the first concept would look upon all citizens of India, irrespective of religion, language, etc., as ‘sons of the soil’ while protagonists of the other (such as Mr Golwalkar) would consider only Hindus sons of the soil and treat Muslims and Christians as ‘aggressors.’

It would therefore be a very valuable contribution of the forthcoming convention on national unity and democracy to clarify this issue. Continued ambiguity regarding it and the failure of the secular parties, who together form an overwhelming majority of political opinion in the country, to face this issue have left the field unchallenged to the protagonists of ‘Hindu Rashtra’ and Muslim separatism, causing grave danger to the unity of India and the character of the Indian nation.

Indian Nationalism: the essential writings was published in December 2017

Published on January 05, 2018

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