Saturday, April 29, 2017

Golden Age of Indian Nation Is Yet to Come

In a recent op-ed in a national daily, Dr Rakesh Sinha, a Delhi University professor, sought to clear the mist around the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s idea of cultural nationalism, and rescue it from the attacks of the critics, whom he caricaturises as pseudo-secularists. But in doing so, the writer, first of all, misread what a renowned political scientist has said about modern nations.

Image courtsey:
Late Benedict Anderson, a Cornell University professor had stated in his 1983 book that modern nations are best understood as imagined communities (also the title of the book) because, to quote him, “the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.” Dr Sinha asserts that the RSS’ idea of Hindu rashtra “disqualifies Benedict Anderson’s concept of nation as an ‘imagined community’”. It is difficult to understand why it should be. The probable explanation is that an imagined community seeks participation from its citizens in creating a common culture, while the state in the Hindu rashtra is busy ensuring that Muslims, Christians or communists as well as the Dalits and adivasis are falling in line with the Hindutva ideal of cultural “unity”. Dr Sinha is well within his rights to bring forth the magnanimity of Sri Golwalkar with regard to cow protection and Muslim baiting but hero worship must not blind him to what the second sarsanghchalak had said in his Bunch of Thoughts. Similarly, even though Anderson is no apologist for nation or nationalism, for the sake of intellectual honesty, a gross misreading of him must be avoided.

By “imagined” Anderson does not mean “unreal”, “false” or “artificial”, it merely notices that in modern times people all over the world have creatively visualized and shaped, i.e., imagine, their collective and distinct existence as a nation. He says, “Communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined.” In India, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, animists, atheists all must come together to imagine how we would like to live. However, Dr Sinha would like us to believe that the final word about Indian nationalism had been spoken; we only now have to impose it without any further attempt at dialogue.

Ernest Renan, the nineteenth-century scholar in whom RSS ideologues might discover a kindred spirit, made a valid point when he said there are two things that constitute the nation: “One is in the past, the other in the present. One is the common possession of a rich heritage of memories; the other is the actual consent, the desire to live together, the will to preserve worthily the undivided inheritance which has been handed down.” While Hindutva organizations and ideologues go hammer and tongs about the former, they exhibit a glorious disregard of the need to engage with others in a dialogue to collectively shape a common future.

And the above are not the only failures of the Hindutva movement.

The insistence on the so-called “cultural nationalism” and the talk of “civilizational trajectories” proffer an extremely narrow view of Indian history. Scholars call it an essentialist view; we might even refer to it as the fossilized image of India’s past. Modern India has moved far ahead from the “golden period” first popularised by the European Indologists of eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The upper-caste Hindu intellectuals took advantage of the scholarly discoveries of the Indologists and fashioned the language of modern Indian nationalism. This new language was in essence patently brahmanical—eulogizing, at different times and in different regions, cow, Ganesha, Krishna, Gita, mother goddess, temple, so on and so forth. But it excluded the contrapuntal contribution of many other Indians who at that moment were just beginning their exciting journey in articulating their points of view. Universal education, political mobilization, participation of women, has now made it possible for a truly representative majority of Indians to engage in a fruitful conversation about the meaning and essence of Indian nationalism. If ever there was “golden period” in Indian history, it is now; but, by harping on Hindu Rashtra, Dr Sinha—and the movement he represents—is missing a golden opportunity to create a genuine Indian nationalism and a genuine Indian nation.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Disillusioned Bhaktas: Barbaric Times, Not Good Days, Ahead

Tavleen Singh (Image: Indian Express)
Senior journalist Ms Tavleen Singh was, and is, seeking Hindu renaissance but so far all she's got is gau rakshaks (cow vigilantes) on a terror spree—harassing, beating, killing Indian citizens in the name of protecting cows, considered holy by Hindus.

In her latest Indian Express column (“Is This Hindutva?”, 9 April 2017), Ms Singh has lamented that India no longer seems to have “Rule of Law”. Exasperated over the recent lynching of a Muslim dairy farmer from Haryana, she writes:
"A man was beaten to death in a manner that reminded everyone of earlier barbaric times when there was no rule of law."
And again:
"This is not about cows and cow slaughter. It is not even about Hindus and Muslims even if the killers were Hindu and the victims Muslim. This is about whether India is a country in which there is the rule of law or not."
For a long time, week after week, Ms Singh used her mightier-than-sword pen to advance the saffron juggernaut. Every Sunday, she tried to convince her readers that the rise of the home-grown fascists is good for the country. What made her, a foremost English-language journalist, a non-card-carrying member of the Hindutva brigade? To understand that we must pay attention to her peculiar intellectual journey.

Coming from a privileged background, Ms Singh received best of education in some of the elite educational institutions. But modern, Western education had an alienating effect on her. She opens the preface of her 2012 book Durbar with this sentence: “When I was sixteen years old I first became aware of being a foreigner in my own country.” She goes on to explain that the elite classes who eventually ruled India since Independence have been too Westernised and did not have any deep understanding or appreciation of  their own country. She says further in that Author’s Note: “I would go so far as to say that my generation of Indians was possibly more colonized than those who lived in colonial times and out tragedy was that most of us lived out our lives without ever finding out.”

Ms Tavleen Singh is, thus, on a mission—the mission to decolonize India’s ruling elite. Sadly, she saw the ruling elite only in the Westernised upper class and not in the brahminic revivalists. To defeat the former she put her trust in the latter. To help vanquish the dynastic disease in Indian politics, she put her trust in the communal poison—only that the cure proved to be worse than the disease. Hence, Ms Singh who rightly abhorred the rule of dynasty, now rues the demolition of the rule of law.

By the end of that preface, Ms Singh is pining for an “Indian renaissance”, which in today’s column she calls “Hindu renaissance”, and which she assumes has been held captive by the Westernised ruling classes. Five years later Ms Singh, in disillusionment, writes: “No renaissance can ever come from this [horrible violence in the name of the cow].”

This perhaps is the fate of all our modern-educated, elite supporters of the brazenly Hindu nationalist party.

Arun Shourie (Image: Indian Express)
Nearly a quarter of a century ago, another top journalist of India, Mr Arun Shourie attempted decolonization of the Indian mind by an unfair attack on the missionary movement of the nineteenth and twentieth century in India. In his 1994 book, Missionaries in India: Continuities, Changes, Dilemmas, Mr Shourie had rehashed the popular myth that missionary movement was the handmaiden of British imperialism.

Vishal Mangalwadi, an Indian Christian writer and activist, began to write letters to Shourie responding to many of his allegations. However, as Mangalwadi points out the real problem with Shourie’s book wasn’t the calumny or attack or bitterness, but a certain way of presenting history.

Mangalwadi rightly points out that in the true postmodern (pre-modern brahmanic) fashion, Shourie had already made up his mind as to what he wanted to say and then used the evidence in a selective way to prove his prejudice. While closing his last letter, Mangalwadi had an important observation to make. He wrote:
"Let me conclude: it does not disturb me greatly if you write untruth concerning missions and the missionary motive. The bigger problem is that you are promoting a relativism which assumes that nothing really true can be known; this means (whether you acknowledge it or not) that everything is relatively false. In this setting, truth is whatever suits me at this moment. … I understand, Mr. Shourie, your intellectual compulsions behind accepting a worldview of half-lies. But I am sad that you do not seem to have thought through the long term implication of this position. To begin with, your commitment to relative falsehood will undermine your credibility as a writer. You will, no doubt, still be useful to one or other interest group … however, the community as a whole can be blessed only by rigorous commitment to Truth."
By promoting half-truths and utter lies, Mr Shourie, has helped create an atmosphere in India where today people, especially on social media, are not interested in honest, truthful debate but getting their point—or prejudice—proved. If they don’t have facts to back themselves, they resort to shouting, abusing and threats of physical violence. Mr Shourie himself has been a victim of the viciousness of Internet trolls. And, why only Internet trolls, election campaigns are run on lies in this post-truth era.

When the elite of any culture is driven not by truth but by a misplaced sense of prestige and pride, it does irreparable harm to the society. It strengthens the forces that eventually shatter their own cherished dreams.

What both Singh and Shourie's experience tells us is that their reading of their own history is erroneous and their solutions to India’s problems will be nothing but catastrophic.