The power of false arguments
The image of India as a Hindu majoritarian democracy where anything against them is anti-national, is catching up fast. This has a lot to do with the opportunist attitude of the Left carried throughout in terms of its party ethics, write Mohit Kumar and Anish VR
Recent debates over issues of nationalism, freedom of speech and expressions, have had great implications for Indian democracy. The slogans raised within the campus of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and also in other university campuses, generated unfocused emotions not only among the students, but also among the masses. The debate over nationalism has drawn new fault lines, dividing people into national and anti-national camps, often leading to the privatisation of the Indian state and its ideology of nationalism as an exclusive domain of a majoritarian Hindu one. These developments raise some questions on the relation between contemporary Left-liberal intellectuals and their pre-occupation with state and nationalism.
The Left-liberal intellectual discourse has abandoned the nation state (critiquing, decrying and at times even humiliating nationalists), without creating sufficient political imaginaries for people to identify with. Such an approach circumscribes ‘nation’ within a specific image and vocabulary of nationalism, often projecting it as the dominant idea of nation and discourse of nationalism, erasing the possibility of a new imagination of nation/nationalism. The hegemonising of ‘nation’ has created an atmosphere where any reference against the dominant version of nationalism is dubbed as ‘anti-national’, demanding punitive action. Recent events, including the Ramjas College incident in Delhi University, point to hatred towards political groups, particularly the Left, who disagrees with the prevalent idea of nationalism.
The key question, which emerges is: Why, in this decisive battle for the idea of India, the Indian Left is despised and cornered? And the answer lies within the intellectual perimetres set by the Indian Left. The Left has failed to accommodate the question of nation and nationalism within its ideological perimetres.
Left ideology has historically rejected the idea of national concerns and demanded international solidarity of proletariat. Anti-colonial nationalists were attested as bourgeoisie strugglers, often discounting the long periods of hardships, sacrifices and emotions, as false consciousness, which people had invested in constructing the nation. The Left failed to sense ‘an effective relation’, the nationalist struggles had created between nation and the masses. In the case of Indian, despite its elite, casteist overtones, Gandhian-Congress movement disseminated a perennial idea of India, perpetuated as a sanatan Hindu religious culture by Mahatma Gandhi, which survived all waves of invasion and colonialism, particularly the Muslim rule.
British colonialism was another episode in the long biography of the nation. The need was to recuperate the dormant nationalism into a universal religious zeal to which everyone could attach either as an English educated elite or as aharijan or as nationalist woman. The Indian nation emerged as a perennial and universal entity, if not representative, one which had withstood all invasions, protecting its inhabitants, creating a sense of territoriality to which everyone could eventually connect with.
Every struggle was in relation to the nation; for the nation, rather than for being outside nation. The Left intellectuals have historically failed to replace this idea of civilisational Hindu nationalism with internationalism or more aptly, why is this nationalism is insignificant than the issue of poverty, Dalit and minority atrocities or agrarian crisis in post-independence phase projecting nation and nationalism as ‘false categories’. However, socialist leaders like Nehru conceived poverty eradication or social redistribution as acts of ‘national rejuvenation’ reverberating a civilisational nationalist discourse aiming to re-imagine and disseminate a discourse which would be a better representative, accommodating diverse aspirations.
The Left’s failure to constantly ignore these specificities of Indian national history has made it ideologically vulnerable. The left position in the India-China war and its support for communist China had created a long-lasting suspicion for left in the mindset of the citizens. Left’s history in Europe and Asia particularly Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and its Eastern block and other satellite countries had never negated the idea of nation. On the contrary, it was the primary building block on which the international proletarian solidarity was built. Nationalist feelings have been widely welded to communist ideologies in the former USSR, Yugoslavia, or contemporary China to sustain ideological dominance and contain political rivals. For example, the issues such as Xinjiang issue, dispute with Japan over Senkaku islands, contestation over the South China Sea have been interpreted by Chinese Communist regime as threats to national security or attempts to contain Chinese national sovereignty. The movement of ‘Free Tibet’ and China’s atrocities have never drawn the attention of Indian Left. Instead, the invasion of Tibet was justified as an end of feudal practices in Tibet. Stalin had urged soviet citizens to defend the national honour of Mother Russia from Nazi hordes during the Second World War. In the Indian context, if one looks at the way Naxal issues was handled by Left state Governments, one can draw threads of territoriality and law and order, often located at the state level, which is largely an extension of the nation. These double standards are opposed to the theoretical positions of ‘internationalism’ which is claimed by the left in general.
The inability of the left to produce a vocabulary and language to re-conceptualise nationalism is increasingly marginalising. Indian left, within Indian politics, is increasingly subjected to the market interest and new social media, informed by a dominant Hindu discourse. It is important for the left to understand the dialect of change which has occurred with the change in the structures of society and economy post-90s. The wave of Globalisation, instead of obliterating national boundaries, has strengthened nationalist identities across the world. Samuel P Huntington in his famous book, The Clash of Civilization and the Remaking of World Order, argued that increasing diversity in terms of people, culture or religion will draw new fault lines of conflict retaining nation-state at the heart of world politics.
The forces of globalisation, that endangered and tried to repress the cultural identity of India, have made Indians more assertive towards the idea of Indian culture and nation. The dominant discourse is setting new rules which have made people vulnerable to the ideological and exclusive understanding of nationalism. Therefore, the Left need to seriously re-examine and reclaim the ideas of nation-state and its ideology of nationalism from the majoritarian discourse and re-interpret it as a native mass accommodative theory.
(Mohit Kumar is an Assistant Professor at Bhagini Nivedita College, University of Delhi; and Anish VR is a Phd Research Scholar at the University of Hyderabad)
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