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.
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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.