In defence of rooted Indian nationalism
In his reply to the motion of thanks in the Rajya Sabha, Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi emphasised the importance of Indian nationalism, and argued that nationalism in India is neither narrow-minded nor aggressive. But he suggested that it has come under attack of late, with every occasion being used to mock and demean India. Referring to the threat of “foreign destructive ideology”, the PM was right in underlining that we remain far too much in awe of the theories and constructs flowing in from the West.
The false parallels drawn between nationalism in western countries and nationalism in India exemplify it. Unlike the exclusivist nationalism in the West built around linguistic or ethnic supremacism, Indian nationalism emerged in opposition to imperialism. Since its inception, Indian nationalism endeavored to bring together people of different languages, religions, castes, classes, and ethnicities based on unity in diversity.
And despite the setback caused by Muslim separatism and consequent Partition, it continues to champion the same values of democracy, liberty, diversity, and equality. To equate it with the western concept of nationalism and “de-construct” it in line with fashionable western intellectual trends is remarkable intellectual bankruptcy.
Take, for instance, the grandiloquent talk about being a patriot and not a nationalist. Patriotism is a pre-industrial construct rooted in the patriarchal notions of “blood and soil”, i.e. defence of land and kinsmen. It served the same practical purpose as nationalism in an industrial society. But a faux debate is generated to make nationalism sound regressive and, in millennial slang, uncool and glorify the agrarian, patriarchal construct of patriotism.
With intricate ties to the wider Anglosphere, India is precariously placed in the face of wokeness and social science theories emanating from American universities. For many years, there has been a concerted attempt to delegitimise not just India’s anti-imperialist struggle and Indian nationalism but also Hinduism and the existence of Hindus as a people too. In this academic discourse, each of these categories has been converted into an “oppressive identity”, whose destruction is crucial to attain the elusive “azadi”.
This mirrors academic and intellectual trends within America itself. Just like the “preservation of slavery” has been sought to be placed at the heart of the American war of independence, the “preservation of the caste-system” has been attributed as the main motive behind India’s freedom struggle. Indian nationalism is painted as a conspiracy of the upper castes to deny the political aspirations of the Dalits, backward classes and minorities.
But far from being a tool of oppression, Indian nationalism has been a force of integration and upliftment of the masses. The growth of nationalism enabled people to transcend the narrow confines of caste and community. It propelled them to create common platforms and advocate social reform and economic upliftment of the masses.
Indian nationalism does not seek to conquer or colonise other countries. Instead, it supported national struggles in other countries under imperialist rule, emphasising sovereignty and democracy.
Indian nationalism has always been inward-looking and focused on national development, which was always strongly imbued with welfare and social justice goals. The resolutions on fundamental rights and national economic programme in 1931 Karachi resolution of the Congress, an umbrella organisation of mostly Hindu nationalistic forces, amply demonstrate this. In India, nationalism resonates with the masses as a positive construct, unlike its western variant. Nationalism binds this diverse geography and demographics together, something that would have been otherwise unimaginable.
But this critical distinction is often forgotten, and the idea that nationalism needs to be banished has taken hold in urban intellectual discourse. But such adventurism has proved costly even for America, where the deconstruction of a common narrative, banishment of nationalism and dethronement of religion has created a crisis of identity and polity.
Instead of a nation, there are just different groups in silos such as Blacks, White males, LGBTQ+, women, and a range of ethnic categories, making agreement even on basic issues strenuous. With a far more complex society and social fault lines, India needs to academically, socially and politically contest attempts to push such theories and ideas in our context.
The sanctity of the nation and territorial integrity of states should not be confused with grandiose constructs such as constitutional patriotism. A Constitution simply reflects the underlying working of the nation and demographics, and not the other way around. Without state power to enforce it, it is just another book. This is starkly reflected in how the Indian Constitution is weakest in regions where Indian nationalism is weak. Another charge of nationalism vs Hindu nationalism is an old one. Before Independence, the Congress was called a Hindu nationalist party and nationalism a Hindu supremacist construct. There is nothing new in these charges and the language now deployed against the BJP and Indian nationalism.
India needs to strongly reassert nationalism in the realm of ideas and mass culture and push back against the attempt to confuse or delegitimise it. And the task starts with resisting the theories sweeping in from the Anglosphere while rejuvenating social sciences in India, rooted in Indian reality. The decoupling of social sciences in India and the wider Anglosphere must be the next decolonisation movement.
Abhinav Prakash Singh is an assistant professor, economics, Sri Ram College of Commerce
The views expressed are personal