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Cultural Vs Political Nationalism

M C Raj

It will look as if Hindutva has borrowed much of its tenets on nationalism from the Western capitalism. Nation State was initiated and strengthened in the West during the period of the development of capitalism and industrialization. The role of national governments was visualized to take up infrastructure building for the industry. The State had to tax the citizens and collect enough revenue to create the infrastructure for the industry, for trade, for transportation, for workers’ mobility etc.

The rise of Karl Marx’s ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ posed unanticipated and uncontrollable problems for the design of the nation-state. A lot of redesigning had to be done in the constitution of the nation-state to accommodate the demands of the labouring class. The discourse of human rights began to take the centre stage at one point of time and it finally ended in the passing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in the United Nations. Heavy pressures were applied on the nation-states in the West to integrate into their constitutions rights of the suffering masses of people and to respect their equality. Nationalism through the provisions of the Constitution can broadly be understood as political nationalism. The basic belief of political nationalism is that every individual has inalienable constitutional rights and that constitution is the same for all citizens. A common dictum within the framework of political nationalism is ‘all are equal before law’.

There were attempts still to subvert such an understanding of political nationalism under different excuses. There were many dictators who attempted to twist the provisions of the law to suit their personal ego, ambition and dictatorial plans. They would make use of anything that came in handy in order to hoodwink the people. They had to gain a tacit approval of the people in order to survive the onslaught of other nations. They had to show to other nation=states that their brand of nationalism had legitimacy with the people. They improved upon their popularity through multifarious shenanigans. The basic purpose was to dismantle the fabric of the nation and the most convincing discourse they spread among the citizens was nationalism. Citizens were trained to be consumers and they would consume anything that went in attractive packages.

Two World Wars had to be fought to preserve the idea of the nation. Many more wars had to be initiated by the US against the oil-rich nations. However, nation and nationalism had come to stay with deeply embedded political, economic and cultural rights in the covenants of the UN. They still remain the harbinger of hope for all those who have reconciled themselves to the inevitability of the nation-state. The indigenous peoples have nothing much to do with the evolution of the nation-state. However, they still struggling hard to preserve their community rights within the framework of the UN Conventions. This is unfortunate, to say the least.

One of the groups that never subscribed to the idea of political nationalism was the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that represents today’s Hindutva anti-nationalism. I call them anti-nationals mainly because they do not recognize the legitimate existence of many communities of people within the borders of the nation that they define. They mark those sections of society that lay a legitimate claim to their existence as a people, as anti-nationals, seditious, separatist, extremist etc.

The constitutive elements of the nationalist discourses of the RSS are cultural. They care a damn about constitutional rights. They would respect the constitution only in as much as it denies the legitimate rights of many sections that actually constitute the nation.

The trajectory of Indian nationalism presents a confusing picture. Gandhi, for example, proposed a sort of a semi-political and a semi-cultural nationalism. He wanted Bhagavad Gita to be the foundation of the ‘Ram Rajya’ that he wanted India to be. He wanted a Hindu India but did not subscribe to the brand name of the RSS. Jawaharlal Nehru wanted India to subscribe to a political nationalism of the Western brand name. Since he did not want to hurt the sentiments of Gandhi he reconciled to Gandhi’s brand name.

Ambedkar and Jinnah stood their ground in their claim for a political nationalism in India. Both these men were the most erudite among the makers of the new India. However, Ambedkar was a poor compromiser in his demand for a separate electorate which was a significant political right of the Adijan people. Jinnah read clearly the writing on the wall and decided to go as a separate nation as he did not see any hope of political nationalism being alive in India.

What then was the problem in the emerging India’s nationalism? Gandhi, Patel, Radaksrishna etc. were strong cultural nationalists in their heart. They projected themselves as progressive and camouflaged their weakness towards Hindutva by presenting a secular face. RSS was vociferous in their claim on cultural nationalism. Just as all fascists, they claimed their culture to be an exclusive culture of India. The myth of Indian culture was created to mesmerize the uneducated masses of people and stir their national sentiments in order to create hatred towards other communities of people. Indian culture was equated with Brahmin culture, known also as Hindu culture.

A glimpse into the Vedas will clearly establish that such an exclusive cultural nationalism was nothing new in India. The innate hatred towards the now known Dalits is splattered all over their holy books without any sense of shame. Most religious scriptures have these sections of hatred to other people. Even the Communists, the Dalit intellectuals, the secularists are all guilty of Hindutva anti-nationalism in as much as they consider Indian culture as one culture. To profess that India has one culture will amount to saying that Brahmin culture is of paramount importance in India. They are all in one way or other tacitly or openly supporting Hindutva anti-nationalism.

The big question before us is this: Can India have a cultural nationalism? There is even another bigger question: Can India have a political nationalism? The biggest question is: Is there anything called Indian? Unless the intricacies that surround these three questions are analysed threadbare and dispassionately Indian nationalists will still be beating around the bush and Hindutva anti-nationals will have a field day.