A counter-narrative based on an understanding of India as a civilizational entity is the need of the hour. Only a political discourse shaped by this understanding of India will promote tolerance, co-existence, concord and harmony in our society.
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By Nazarul Islam, Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi, 29 December-2019,USA, TIO: Unlike neighboring Pakistan, which has lately has been fueling the concept of militant nationalism, by promoting ‘Naya Pakistan’ —the fundamentals of the concept of New India have their origins in the belief of their own, Hindu nationalism—something that is only a recent phenomenon, to have eclipsed Indian minds, for a hundred-odd years. Expectedly, the issue of Religion has overwhelmed the concepts of the national political community, in its process of rapid resurgence.
Pretty much, in contrast, understanding of India as a civilizational entity had formed the basis of a pluralistic and inclusive narrative—something that had emerged during the national movement. This narrative overshadowed attempts at constructing other, singular and exclusivist narratives to form the basis of India’s national political community.
What really has been the motivating force or the guiding beacon of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party’s New India? Did the leaders of BJP re-imagine their vital social relationships or seek to redefine their ideas of citizenship—embodied in the nation’s Constitution, and also tainted with an oblique contempt, for rule of law.
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Quite a lot of us who live in this subcontinent, have believed that cultural project of Hindu nationalism—is based on a flawed assessment of our history, culture and also Hinduism; it weaves issues of nationalism and patriotism into religiosity. Therefore, they have good reasons to assume it is lacking in the historical context and is divisive. It negates India’s rich cultural heritage and its syncretism.
There seems to be an ongoing political discourse, revolving around passions, that were roused in the name of nationalism, patriotism, and religion. And, this had created discord and disharmony in society. This project is antithetical to our syncretism and composite culture.
Perhaps, the idea of New India derives its inspiration from the works of people like V D Savarkar, M S Golwalkar and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya who were all great sons of India, and had believed that the Hindus constituted a political community, distinct from the Muslims. This had been an exclusivist narrative, that remained in abeyance till the emergence of the BJP, backed by RSS as a force to be reckoned with, in India’s politics in the 1990s.
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And, quite, in con
trast, people from all faiths have constituted their integral belief, that India is a pluralistic society. Which, has proudly carried forth, an inclusive narrative that followers of all different religions in the country share the bounties being equal stakeholders now and in the future. This pluralistic and inclusive narrative formed the backbone of our national movement that had provided a check on exclusivist narratives.
We find this narrative in the vision and works of Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Rabindranath Tagore, and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad—who had all believed that India was a mosaic of different faiths and cultures and therein lay the strength and resilience of its civilization.
This imagination of India accounts for the secular nature of our Constitution and our polity during the Nehru era. The resurgence of BJP and the success of the project of Hindu nationalism poses a serious threat to this image of India.
Lynching in the name of cow protection, vigilantism, utter disregard for constitutional values and rule of law and erosion of institutions characterize the last five years of BJP rule. The cultural project of majoritarian nationalism seeks to establish the hegemony of the majority; there has been a systematic attempt at othering the minorities, particularly the Muslims and the Christians, and to relegate them to second-class citizens.
The plural and diverse character of our society is an anathema to this project. The real bases of authority seem to be shifting from the organs of the government to groupings managed by the custodians of this cultural project.
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A renowned Professor Thomas Blom Hansen, a scholar in South Asian Studies and a doctor of Anthropology at Stanford University, had opined that the ‘mightiest socio-political force in India’ today is not the state or the law but its ‘deeply embedded vernacular ideas of popular sovereignty’.
He has further added that one of the crucial enabling conditions for public violence is the lack of the ‘application of the force of law in the face of such exertions of ‘the law of force’.
Religiosity has been let loose in the public sphere as the handmaiden of this project. How do Indians restore sanity in the public sphere and confine religion to the spiritual and devotional realm, where it should rightfully belong?
As students of society and politics, it is not only our duty to raise ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ about social phenomena, but also to produce social and political theory that provides a counter-narrative and performs moral function of reaffirming plural and diverse character of our society and restoring our faith in constitutional values and rule of law.
Such a counter-narrative can be constructed on the reading of India as a civilizational entity. Indians may continue to stake claims on the legacy of our rich civilization and syncretism only when such a counter-narrative becomes the stuff of political discourse in our country. A political discourse shaped by plural and inclusive narrative will promote tolerance, co-existence, and concord in our society.
BJP’s resounding victory in the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections is an endorsement of the project of Hindu nationalism. Brinkmanship and application of brute force to make a major chunk of the population in Jammu and Kashmir fall in line are being presented as acts of statesmanship by the leaders of the ruling dispensation and government-supported media.
Many scholars have continuously argued, which has marked a radical departure from Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s approach based on Insaaniyat, Kashmiriyat, and Jamhooriyat. This is an abnegation of Gandhian principle that the end doesn’t justify the means, howsoever great a cause maybe.
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The recent pronouncements by Union Home Minister Amit Shah on ‘Hindi’ quickly toned down—following public outrage, and the contents of National Register of Citizens (NRC) we’re found to be deeply disturbing.
It is highly doubtful whether measures such as in Jammu and Kashmir; and an approach as reflected in pronouncements on Hindi and NRC, will strengthen substantive aspects of our democracy.
We need to be aware of this critical timing in history. At no other point in independent India, has there been a greater need for a counter-narrative, than at this juncture? Shall we keep learning our lessons, after picking up the pieces?
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