OUR NATIONAL IDENTITY
by Shyam Khosla
Warped and skewed Western and Marxist concepts and our intelligentsia’s propensity to be in perpetual denial are among the major causes of the confusion over our national identity. Many thinkers believe that several nations living in this vast land have now emerged, or are in the process of emerging, as a nation largely because our colonial masters brought them under the British rule. If one were to believe them, there would have been no entity called India in this part of the world if the British had not colonized it.
It is a matter of national shame that this fake thesis gained ground in this land that gave birth to the most, at least one of the most, ancient civilization(s) in the world. It is, therefore, imperative to examine the concepts of nation, state and government to clear the cobweb created by confused thinking. In common usage, these terms are loosely used to connote different things at different times and situations. It is ironical that these terms are sometimes used erroneously even in government parlance. One of the glaring examples is the description of bringing industry under government control as “nationalization of industry”. Equally incorrect are the terms state funding, state education and state policy. What is really meant is government funding, government education and government policy. Similarly, the use of the term state for the constituents of the Republic of India is inexact. The Nation, the State and the Government are different concept, as we will presently see.
State and Government
As it often happens with inexact sciences, there is no agreement among political scientists on the definition of state. However, one of the most comprehensive definitions of state was given by Garner in his “Political Science and Government” way back in 1932 in which he says, “state is a community of persons, more or less numerous, permanently occupying a definite portion of territory, independent, or nearly so, of external control and possessing an organized government to which a great body of inhabitants render habitual obedience”. Harold J. Laski defines state as a “territorial society, divided into government and subjects, whether individuals or associations of individuals, whose relationships are determined by the exercise of its supreme coercive power”. A study of these and other numerous definitions given by political scientists identify the following ingredients or elements that constitute a state:
- Government and
People are the first and foremost requirement for the existence of a state. It goes without saying that an uninhibited portion of earth cannot, by itself, form a state. A well-specified territory is universally recognized as the second attribute of a state. There can be no state without a territory. That is why the Jews attained statehood only after they occupied and settled in Israel but they constituted a nation even when they were in exile and spread over several countries. Since state is a politically organized society, there can be no state without a government, though there are instances of a government in control of a country that has lost, or not yet achieved, statehood. The government is the agency through which the will of the state is formulated, expressed and realized. So, existence of a government is indispensable for a state, as there can be no civilized existence without it. However, sovereignty is the most important element in the constitution of a state. It is that distinguishes the state from other associations and groups. Sovereignty means the people living in a particular piece of land must enjoy independence. There should be no rival or parallel authority internally or externally. It should be free from foreign control or dictation. However, it may be subject to certain international obligations and agreements that it voluntarily accepts. Although this is a theoretically sound concept, there are numerous examples of states that have signed on the dotted line not exactly of their own desire but largely because of pressures from one or other super power.
What is a nation?
The term nation has been used in a variety of ways. It is often confused with state. However, many a thinker – both European and Indian – holds that the nations have been in existence even in ancient times while state is a relatively modern concept. Nation is a historical and sociological phenomenon that evolves out of an amalgam of various racial and kinship groups and that it is a territorial community. Ingredients of a nation are well-defined territory, common history and traditions, common religion, race and language and common culture and civilization. Living together on the same geographical area, conversing in the same language, having same or identical historical experiences, common memories of glory and defeat and following a common religion, faith or value system help develop in a people a sense of belonging and love for the land. Unity of religion is a great cementing force and has played a significant role in consolidating nations. There is a broad consensus among political scientists that neither of the above ingredients is indispensable in the emergence of a nation. What is indispensable are a people living on a well defined territory and having lived together for centuries and millennia on that land has developed a unique historical and cultural bond culminating in a common cultural consciousness.
Existence of a common language is one of the most important ingredients in the emergence of a nation. Earnest Barker holds that the closest of affinities exist between language and nation. Fredrick Schumann insists that language is the best index of an individual’s cultural environment and says, “Most of the nations on earth are nations not because they are politically independent and socially unified but because their people use a common speech which differs from that of other nations.” Undoubtedly language is a great unifying force yet there are nations that are multi-lingual. Language alone can’t unite people into a nation otherwise all English speaking people would constitute one nation.
Broadly speaking, nation is a territorial community that includes and embraces all persons, of whatever ethnic stock or religious faith, provided he/she resides permanently on the same territory and accepts it as his/her motherland, and have a sense of belonging to its history, cultural values and traditions. The people, thus, evolve a common psychological make up or national character that is not static but tends to undergo changes as conditions of life change over time. In short, unlike the state that is a politico-legal entity, the nation is a geo-cultural concept that has civilizational dimensions. It is a stable historical community that can’t be easily expanded or reduced.
Two great myths – the Aryan Invasion theory and Bharat was never a nation and it emerged only after the British brought the land under their empire – were hammered into our psyche by colonial rulers aided and abetted by Western scholars and historians to de-link the people of this great country from their civilizational and cultural roots. The first myth was spread with the help of ‘scientific’ tools that greatly influenced many of our great leaders and thinkers. As profound a thinker as B G Tilak was persuaded to ‘discover’ that Aryans came from the Arctic region to settle down in what was later known as NWFP and Punjab. However, archaeological excavations carried out by renowned foreign and indigenous archaeologists during the second half of the 20th century have decimated the myth and proved that Sindhu and Vedic civilizations are one and the same. There is no scientific, historical or archaeological basis to sustain the Aryan invasion theory that was ‘invented’ by our colonial rulers and blindly accepted by anglicized and leftist historians.
Besides, there is no reference in the Vedas and other ancient works to any land from where they might have migrated. It is inconceivable that the learned men and women who wrote those scholarly works would not make even a single reference to their ‘motherland’, if they had indeed migrated from there. In fact, we have no civilizational memory of Aryans having come from any other part of the world.
The second myth is equally unfounded. It is not correct that political unity evaded us for most part of the known history. Veteran journalist and author, Giri Lal Jain, says that the perception that we had had no chakravarty samrat after Harsh was absolutely wrong. The fact is that the center of power shifted from the north to the south where we had Chole and Vijaynagar empires that ruled most of India and even areas beyond our geographical limits. Vishnu Purana says the territory south of the Himalayas and north of the ocean is Bharat and the people living on that land are known as Bharatis. Description of the country’s cultural and civilizational unity also finds mention in Agni and Vayu Puranas. These references effectively negate the myth that we emerged as a nation only during the British rule.
Building a network of railways and roads by the colonial rulers was imperialists’ imperative to administer and control a country as vast as India. It did bring people together but to suggest that a people diverse in every sense of the word evolved into a nation because of the rail links is to deny the civilizational and cultural dimensions of our nationhood. Many thinkers and political scientists under the western influence fall prey to the myth of a splintered India divided into numerous nations. They failed to distinguish between a state and a nation and completely ignored the fact that India was a cultural and civilization entity long before the British arrived here. A simple example is that of Adi Shankaracharya who established four Muths in four corners of the country to underline the age-old unity of the nation. Bharat may have been divided into several states but it remained a nation through millennia. To describe it as a nation in the making is to negate history and tradition.
While it would be wrong to ape the Western concepts, it would not be proper to totally ignore these principles, as they too are products of an evolution in human thought. Leftist thinkers and writers lay great stress on language and culture in the emergence of a state. Karl Marx while admitting that nation is a territorial and historical phenomenon insists on “local” cultures of the people helping them evolve into nationhood. Several authors argue that since India has no linguistic affinity, it is a multi-nation state. It is a flawed concept as absence of a common language is no bar in the emergence of a nation. Bharat has been for long divided into small states yet there has been a strong thread of unity among the people living in this vast land. In any case, it is not correct to say that we had no common language. We can ignore the role played by Sanskrit in unifying the country at our own peril. If one were to question the role of Sanskrit and insist that it is a “dead” language, it must be recalled that the same was said about Hebrew. Didn’t the Jews revive the language after they got back their land in 1948? It is now spoken by all Jewish people and has become a live language that binds their nationhood. Noted French Journalist Francois Gautier argues that the same should have been done with Sanskrit but our political leadership failed to do so after we attained independence. If the Sanskrit were to be revived even now, it would lead to the dawning of renaissance.
Islam and nationalism
Famous Iranian historian Al-Biruni in his penetrating account of our country of 11th century says, “Mohmud Ghaznavi utterly ruined the prosperity of the country” and observes, “The Hindus are totally different from the Muslims in religion and this constitutes the widest gulf between them”. Sir Sayyed Ahmad Khan of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) took the idea forward by articulating the theory that Muslims are a separate nation in his speeches in 1887-88. Mohammd Neman also of the AMU, in his ‘Rise and growth of All-India Muslim League’, asserted, “No Muslman of note after that (Sir Khan’s speeches) joined the Indian National Congress excepting one or two”. Tara Chand in his ‘History of freedom movement in India’ (Volume III), says a learned Muslim leader and a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi while addressing his community on the eve of the Khilafat agitation of 1920-21 said, “Muslims duty is only to act strictly in accordance with the commands of the God that are incorporated in the Quran. They should empty their minds of all man-made ideas and national sentiments and surrender themselves to the instructions and guidance of the Supreme Educator”.
In ‘Future of Muslim Civilization’, Prof. Ziauddin Sardar says, “terms like Islamic nationalism and Islamic socialism are self-contradictory and absurd. Islam demands loyalty, submission and dedication to the one and only God”. If this thesis is accepted, followers of Islam are incompatible with the very concept of nationhood. Is it acceptable to the Indian Muslims? Let them take a clear stand. They can’t have it both ways. Either they are part and parcel of this nation or they are not. Do the Muslims still think that they are ‘totally different’ from the Hindus and can’t live with them forgetting that they are not children of Mohmud Ghaznavi or Babar and that most of them belong to the Hindu stock and were for whatever reasons got converted to Islam. Have they or have they not developed affinity with this land even after living here for a millennium? Negation of nationalism by Islam notwithstanding, Muslim scholars and politicians of India propounded the pernicious two-nation theory that led to the painful vivisection of our motherland. Poet Iqbal took forward the concept and Mohammed Ali Jinnah transformed it into a reality. The founder of Pakistan spoke thus at Lahore in 1940: “The Hindus and the Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs and literatures … to two different civilizations…”.The concept of Muslim nationalism based on religion is flawed as was proved within 24 years of the creation of Pakistan. A new Muslim-dominated country – Bangladesh – emerged in 1971 arguing it had a different language and culture.
Distortions in history introduced by the foreigners and readily accepted by the Marxists and so-called liberals confounded our thought processes in the later half of the 20th century and prevented political thinkers and writers from looking for the roots of our nationhood. The famous trio of the freedom movement – Bal, Pal and Lal (Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal and Lala Lajpat Rai) – that dominated the political scene in the early decades of the last century talked about Bharat being a Hindu nation. The great freedom fighter and thinker, Bipin Chandra Pal, in his ‘Nationality and Empire’ (1916) describes the freedom movement as essentially a Hindu movement for the consolidation of Hindu nationalism. According to him, Hindu nationalism is the product of Hindu philosophy and thought processes and pointed out that the Muslim rule for centuries failed to destroy the integrity of Hindu culture and says, “Nationhood is by no means a mere political idea or ideal. It is something that touches every department of our collective life and activity. It is organized in our domestic, communal, social and socio-economic institutions. In fact, politics forms, from certain points of view, the least important factor of this nation-idea among us”.
In his ‘The Hindu View of Life’, Philosopher-President S. Radhakrishanan says, “Hindu civilization is so called, since its original founder or earliest followers occupied the territory drained by the Sindh river system corresponding to the North Western Frontier Province and the Punjab… Persian and the later western invaders called the people on the Indian side of the Sindhu, Hindu. This is the genesis of the word Hindu”. According to him, “The term Hindu had originally a territorial and not a creedal significance. It implied residence in a well-defined geographical area… Aboriginal tribes, savages and half-civilized people, the cultured Dravidians and the Vedic Aryans were all Hindus as they were the sons of the same motherland. Hindu thinkers reckoned with the striking fact that men and women dwelling in India belonged to different communities worshipped different gods and practiced different rites but were the manifestation of the same soul or spiritual idea. In Encyclopedia Britannica, the term, Hindu, has been defined as “the civilization of Hindus (originally, the inhabitants of the land of the Indus river). It properly denotes the Indian civilization of approximately the last 2,000 years. …” The Supreme Court of India in a series of judgments has held that “Hinduism or Hindutava can’t be confined to the narrow limits of religion alone, excluding the content of Indian culture and heritage. It is also indicated that the term Hindutava is related more to the way of life of the people of the subcontinent.” It is obvious from the above that Hindu nationhood has territorial, civilizational and cultural dimensions.
Dharma is more than religion
Much of the confusion has been caused by the flawed belief that religion and Dharma are synonyms. As a result, characteristics of a narrow religion are automatically attributed to the concept of Dharma. Religion means a creed or a sect. Longman English Dictionary defines religion as a system of beliefs and practices relating to the sacred and uniting its adherent in a community. Religion, thus, is a comparatively narrow concept that believes in one sacred book, a messenger and a God likes the ones in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. These religions believe that there is only one path to the achievement of the highest spiritual goal – whatever it may be called. Dharma, on the other hand, is a vastly wider concept that is concerned with all aspects of human life. The fundamental principles of Dharma are eternal and universal. It transcends religions and holds that all paths lead to the same goal. This concept is beautifully expressed in the Vedic maxim: Ekam Sadvipraha Bahudha Vadanti (Truth is one, savants tell it variously). Fundamental laws of human nature that decides the propriety of human behaviour is Dharma.
M.V. Nadkarni in his work, ‘Hinduism – a Gandhian Perspective’ points out that the traditional term for Hinduism is Sanatana Dharma. He argues that it doesn’t connote fixed, let alone stagnant. The dictionary meaning of Sanatana is eternal. The secret of Hinduism’s perpetuity is that it is not fixed for all times but refreshes itself every now and then, adjusting to new circumstances, incorporating new and noble values. Sanatana, he insists, also doesn’t mean orthodox or conservative. The secret of its endurance for millennia is its dynamism. Nadkarni quotes Shri Basaveshwara as saying, “What is standing fixed perishes, but not one which is dynamic.” The quality of dynamism is very closely related to tolerance for pluralism, for diversity, for inclusiveness and, thus, to liberalism in its purest form. That is why Arnold Toynbee called Hinduism a “Live and let-live religion”.
Question may be asked if Dharma is eternal and applicable to all times and all climes and races, why call it Hindu Dharma. The fact of the matter is that since times immemorial, it was called Sanatana Dharma – eternal law. However, in the course of history, it began to be called Hindu Dharma. Somehow, the word Hindu stuck and is now more popularly used than Sanatana Dharma. Shri M S Golwalkar (Shri Guruji) 2nd. Sarsanghchalak of the R.S.S. argued that it was historically wrong to say that the word Hindu was of recent origin or that the name was given to us by foreigners. “We find the name Sapta-Sindhu in the oldest records of the world – the Rig Veda – as an epithet applied to our land and our people. And it is also well known that the syllable ‘s’ in Sanskrit is at times changed to ‘h’ as in some of our Prakrit languages and even in certain European languages”, he argues and adds, “Thus Hindu is a proud name of our own origin and others learnt to call us by this name only later”. In his countless speeches and talks spread over almost four decades, Shri Guruji forcefully argued that it was a Hindu Rashtra. His conviction was rooted in his profound understanding of Hindu culture, history and civilization.
Hindu nationalism is under severe attack from “secularists” who perceive Hinduism as a religion and believe that Hindu nationalists are essentially communal and, therefore, against secularism. As discussed above, perceiving Hinduism in narrow context is irrational and historically wrong. In the political sense, secularism requires separation of the state from any particular religious order. Nobel Laureate Amritya Sen in his ‘Argumentative Indian’ says secularism can be interpreted in at least two different ways. The first view argues that secularism demands that the state be equidistant from all religions refusing to take sides and having a neutral attitude towards them. The second – more severe – view insists that the state must not have any relation at all with any religion. The equidistance must take the form, then, of being altogether removed from each other. In both interpretations, secularism goes against giving any religion a privileged position in the activities of the state. Calling himself an “unreformed secularist”, Sen, goes on to admit that the former – broader interpretation of secularism – is the dominant approach to secularism in India. The State, he argues, must maintain a basic symmetry to all religious groups. Unfortunately, the concept has been taken to absurd lengths by certain elements by extending certain rights to a particular minority that are not available to majority community not necessarily out of commitment to secularism but to meet political exigencies. Since secularism demands basic symmetry to all religious groups, any attempt to favour a particular religious group amounts to distorting the concept inviting ridicule. This distorted version of secularism has been aptly dubbed as pseudo-secularism.
Theocracy has no place in our value system and secularism as a value – justice to all and discrimination against none – is an integral part of the Indian value system and national psyche. This land has been a great melting pot that has assimilated people of countless religious faiths and races that made this country their home. The shared cultural outlook and civilization that evolved in this land for millennia have produced such a cohesion – a homogenous identity – that is one of the essential attributes of nationhood. Muslims and Christians rulers who held sway over large parts of the country for about 800 years were, of course, non-secular. They discriminated against religious groups and bestowed huge favours on persons belonging to their respective faiths. These were exceptions in the long and glorious history of this land that never discriminated against people on the basis of their religious faith or race. This is not to deny that social evils like untouchability that run against the basic character of Sanatana Dharma did creep into our society. Nadkarni has shown logically and with documentary proof that Hinduism not only doesn’t support the caste system, but also take a lot of pains to oppose it both in principle and practice, making it obvious that caste system is not an intrinsic part of Hindu cannon, philosophy and practice.
A noted thinker and political leader, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya expounded the concept of Integral Humanism in a series of lectures he delivered in the year 1965. He lays great emphasis on the integral approach of our culture that views every aspect of human life not in isolation but holistically in the light of the universal and enduring principles of man as applied to the specific conditions of each society. Upadhyaya says that every nation has a soul that our scriptures describe as Chiti. Every nation, he says, has an innate nature that is inborn, and is not the result of historical circumstances. Human personality, soul and character are all distinct from one another. Personality results from a cumulative effect of all the actions, thoughts and impressions of an individual but soul is unaffected. Similarly, national culture is continuously modified and enlarged by the historical processes and circumstances. Culture does include all the things that have come to be held as good and commendable but these are not added to the Chiti.
The Chiti, Deen Dayal insists, is fundamental and is central to the nation from its very beginning. Chiti determines the direction in which the nation is to advance culturally. “Dharma, not religion, as it is understood in common parlance, is the backbone and soul or Chiti of our nationhood. It is Dharma that sustains the nation”, he argues. Expanding Abraham Lincoln’s definition of democracy as “Government of the people, by the people and for the people”, Upadyaya says ‘of’ stands for independence, ‘by’ stands for people’s rule and ‘for’ stands for Dharma. According to him Dharm Rajya encompasses all these concepts.
B. C. Pal and Veer Savarkar, Dr. K B Hedgewar and Shri M S Golwalkar forcefully argued that it is a Hindu Rashtra. While asserting the Hinduness of our nationhood, Deen Dayal, and others of his ilk, chose to call it Bhartiya. It goes without saying that Bhartiya too is an ancient name associated with us since hoary times. It appears even in the Vedas. Puranas too described our motherland as Bharat and its people as Bharatis. There can hardly be any dispute over these nomenclatures if the intention is not to distort the core of our nationhood namely the civilization that grew on this vast land over millennia, our cultural ethos, the pride in our ancient history and national heroes and the all encompassing concept of Dharma that has room for all religious faiths and is the soul of our nationhood.