Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Notions of the Nation

Legitimising or Delegitimising Violence


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.


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.

Continued . . .

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