Civil life in India, especially during the last two decades, has been afflicted by the twin war cry of patriotism (rashtrabhakti) and treason (rashtradroh). The three pillars of the Indian democracy – the legislative, the executive and the judiciary, including the fourth pillar – the press, the education and research institutions as well as independent and committed intellectuals of the civil society and activists working in different fields/peoples’ movements have been witnessed participating in this war of words. Even the country’s defense-establishment is often seen battling on the subject. It is not possible to accept the presumption that within the given power-structure, the lower and lower-middle strata of the society has not been affected by this phenomena.
This war has picked up speed since the present government came to power. The reasons are obvious. The idea of patriotism and treason are closely linked with the idea of nationalism. Nationalism, on its part, is associated with capitalism. Aggressive capitalism, in order to flourish, needs aggressive nationalism. In such aggressive nationalism, a focused exploitation of the national identity and spirit of people is being conducted in order to secure the capitalist loot of the national resources. In this process, a fake enemy is constructed before the people to be given the role of a traitor. People forget about the real enemy of the nation, which is corporate capitalism in the present era, and start fighting against that imagined enemy. The emergence of aggressive nationalism in India and many other countries of the world is a manifestation of this very aggressive capitalism, in one or the other form.
The ongoing war between patriotism and treason in India does not have at its core a well-thought-out and serious ideological content concerning the nation. There is no need to give extensive details of the various ideological-strategic contexts and dimensions of this war to prove its truth. The way the roles, characters, thoughts, narratives, issues, symbols, goals, strategies etc. change every moment, the futility as well as craftiness of the war of patriotism and treason is self explanatory. The absurd and ridiculous nature of this war becomes clear by looking at just three episodes related to it. One, the attempts to keep a military tank in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in check and the order to inculcate patriotism in the students and teachers and two, the binding of a citizen to the bonnet of military jeep by an army officer in Kashmir while confronting the protesters and thirdly the diktat to display a bizarre show of the national flag by the Muslim pilgrims of India at Mecca where they went to perform Hajj.
Many scholars find different narratives of the nation and its conflicts contributing into the making of this war. I do not want to go further into that debate here. I would simply like to say that the concept of nation, in modern India, is essentially linked to anti-colonialism. If any narrative of the nation does not address today’s neo-imperialism, then it itself accepts the truth of its fakeness. This is not to say that in the center of national life exists politics. Politics can be real, and fake too. When fake politics prevails collectively and with pomp and show, everything goes fake in the national life. This has been happening in India for the last nearly three decades. The arguments propagated by those who face the allegations of treason, the claimants of the Indian-Nation (bharatiy-rashtra), are often as shallow as of the claimants of Hindu-Nation (hindu-rashtra) theory, who are always happy in providing the certificate of patriotism to themselves.
A recent example would be quite adequate to explain the point. There was a considerable debate about the former President, Shri Pranab Mukherjee agreeing to deliver a speech at the headquarters of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). When his speech was over, those who opposed him for accepting the invitation, immediately changed the tune and began to build a monument of praise upon him. They explained that Shri Mukherjee has taught a good lesson on the idea of Indian-Nation to the RSS, right at its headquarters. They were elated to say that the idea of Indian-Nation and its mentors, which includes themselves, are so great.
The important question, how the emergence of the Hindu-Nation, and that too on such a huge scale, became possible despite the presence of the solid idea of the Indian-Nation and its mentors, was not even touched while eulogizing the speech of Shri Mukherjee? The idea of a fanatic Hindu-Nation has been present in the country for the last 80 years, and, if one takes a reference from Dr. Lohia’s essay ‘Hindu versus Hindu’, the idea has prevailed for thousands of years earlier in a constant clash with the liberal stream of Hinduism. Notwithstanding the presence and influence of the claimants of the Indian-Nation in all the academic, educational, literary, artistic, cultural institutions and big NGOs of the country, it is natural to wonder as to how and why the educated and well-off Indians, in India and abroad, along with the ordinary masses, went on to support of the Hindus-fascist mindset?
Actually, the claimants of the Indian-Nation do not want to question their own responsibility in the debate. The question of responsibility will naturally require introspection and maybe some self-criticism. But that can be done only when one does not consider himself/herself beyond criticism. Especially the Marxist, modernist and libertarian claimants of the Indian-Nation would not be ready for this kind of discussion that would lead to the open question of owning up responsibility. This is so because they make just a strategic use of the idea of the Indian-Nation basically in order to oppose the Hindu-Nation of the RSS. This strategy is applied to portray the RSS as a lone enemy. Ironically, it applies to the RSS as well because it has the same strategy of using an idea.
The idea of the modern Indian nation has been discussed and nurtured from the time of colonial domination to the time of Independence. This idea, with its strengths and weaknesses, is still being discussed and taking shape. Unfortunately, many Marxists, modernists, libertarians and even liberals do not want to come clear about their faith in it. They seem to be more interested in intellectual manoeuvres so that the entanglement or debate of nationalism keeps going on, so as to allow the conflict between the claimants of the Indian-Nation and the claimants of the Hindu-Nation to drag on. Most of these English-language bred intellectual elites are not ready to understand that the toiling masses of India have paid a heavy price for such intellectual manoeuvres; and these masses have now become victims to a variety of misconceptions.
In the context of Shri Mukherjee’s speech, the claimants of the Indian-Nation did not make the remotest effort to raise the pertinent question about the fact that every camp seems to be joyfully sharing the yoke of neo-imperialism. The opponents of RSS may oppose fascism and plead for democracy. But the RSS knows that the BJP government will not always be there. It has invited Rahul Gandhi to its headquarters to know his mind. With the support of the claimants of the Indian-Nation, when any other corporate pawn in political arena gathers adequate political strength, the RSS would then invite him/her too. This is not an appropriation. This, to say the least, is a unity of two fake groups working in favor of neo-imperialism. The collaboration between the two has been strengthened since 1991, the year when the New Economic Policies were imposed.
It is not without a reason. Both these ideas of nationalism are unrealistic in the context of modern India. The ‘Golden Age’, fetished by the claimants of Hindu-Nation is located in a distant time and age. The one created by communists, modernists and libertarians is situated somewhere in a remote ‘place’, which keeps changing according to their convenience. Not surprisingly, the journey of these two unrealistic ideas of the Indian nation essentially culminates at the doorsteps of corporate capitalism. As a result, ‘Manuvad’ is tagged on to the Hindu-Nation and, on the other hand, the claimants of Indian-Nation tag on a bizarre mix of many isms while aspiring to build the ‘digital India’. In the process of the struggle and dialogue with colonialism, the historic enterprise of redefining, reinterpreting and reorganizing the spirit of Indian-ness (bharatiyata) in the midst of global developments has come to almost a dead end. The stagnated idea of ‘nation’ often turns into a mentality, which can be simultaneously violent, conspiratorial and cowardly.
When capitalism persists incessantly, people ultimately rise to resist the resultant capitalist oppression. Usually people do not get involved in much direct resistance, for capitalist regimes have created a network of NGOs to dilute the struggle. But there is no end to capitalist catastrophe in India with its huge population. Here people cannot be cloistered for long by putting NGO fences. If people do not fight a political battle as citizens, they fight in the name of religion, caste, region, and language. All conflicts between the Indian-Nation and the Hindu-Nation claimants are to exploit the resistance of people in their favor. They do not want to leave a middle path. It is not surprising if India is turning into a ‘mob-nation’.
It is a matter of concern that the Indian-Nation’s claimants from civil society activists call upon the caste/religious communities (dalits, Muslims, tribals, OBCs etc.) to come together on one platform against the fascist attack of the RSS/BJP. They take them for granted and treat them like how contractors treat construction workers. The intellectual claimants of the Indian-Nation think that all wisdom/ knowledge is their sole property. The strategy of the RSS has been to mobilize communities on identity lines in its favor since its inception and that makes RSS the biggest hurdle in the path of the modern sense of citizenship. Have the civil society activist claimants of the Indian-Nation also decided that the Hindu-Nation of the RSS is not contrary to the idea of a citizen-nation? There was a time when, with the imposition of the New Economic Policies in 1991, serious efforts were being made to create an alternative politics by bringing together various issue-based resistance movements of different areas in order to defeat the neo-imperialist attack. And now we witness a time when calls are given, by those ensconced in the lap of corporate politics, to various communities to either unite or even fight each other!
At one time it was believed that the caste-equation (OBCs-dalits-Muslims) politics is an antidote to communalism in elections. It was cloaked in nomenclatures like ‘politics of social justice’. However, the RSS went ahead and turned that idea to their own advantage, because the claimants of the Indian-Nation did not place the politics of social justice on the constitutional-ideological axis of socialism, secularism and democracy. Social justice politics became confined merely to ‘social engineering’ with a sole aim of winning elections. The rest of the ‘task’ was completed by the casteist-dynastic leaders!
There is no need to explain that the worst kind of misery in this ‘mob-nation’ is that of Muslims. Most of the Muslim society, being isolated from the process of politicization, is bound to become a lackey of this or that caste-equation under this or that political party/leader. There is no place for them in the Hindu-Nation, at least with equal status. Unfortunately, even in the Indian-Nation, they do not have equal status as Indian citizens. They are treated even by their so called saviours with a scornful charity mentality. Such behavior is accepted as secular and comes handy to en-cash for the posts, awards and grants from willing regimes.
All narratives of the Indian-Nation have to together pay attention to their common hypocrisy. They are all against Gandhi. They sometimes beat Gandhi with the stick of Bhagat Singh, sometimes with that of Ambedkar, sometimes with the whip of Subhash Chandra Bose, sometimes under the pretext of Jawaharlal Nehru and sometimes with that of Jinnah as the potent weapon. But as soon as they confront the RSS, they all start to rail against the organization for its role in the assassination of Gandhi. I am not talking about a Gandhi here who blasted the evil face of capitalist industrial civilization even at the heights of its popularity charts worldwide; neither about a Gandhi, who gave a new meaning to politics and a new mode of protest against injustice/suppression in the violence-ridden world. Gandhi was exalted as the father of the nation also but there is no relevance to remembering him that way today since the claimants of the Indian-Nation and the Hindu-Nation both are unanimous on corporate capitalism and thus denying Gandhi’s political philosophy and vision. Even if the claimants of the India-Nation would not declare it openly, like the Hindu-Nation claimants, the ‘Father of the Nation’ Gandhi too is not acceptable to them. The claimants of the Indian-Nation, in fact, should immediately release Gandhi from the shackles of ‘Father of the Nation’ also. There will be no problem in making a consensus on this subject. The Hindutva-minded people, who still derive vicarious pleasure, however unexpressed, in the killing of Gandhi or cater a wish to kill him in place of Godse will readily accept the idea of removing Gandhi from that position.
I am referring to the Gandhi here who linked the collective consciousness of the vast Indian society, which had been divided into varna-caste for centuries and was weakened by the imperialist loot, with the anti-Imperialist spirit. Gandhi went further and forced the then various intellectual streams to unite with the anti-imperialist spirit of the people. Gandhi’s unique contribution to the independent modern Indian nation was that in this venture he did not have the sentiment of hostility towards the imperialist British rulers, and also tried to prepare fellow Indians for the sentiment of antipathy-less opposition. From Martin Luther King Jr. to Nelson Mandela, many activists world over have been thankful to Gandhi for this teaching. If the claimants of the Indian-Nation do not want even that Gandhi, then they should immediately oust Gandhi from the discourse. This task of ousting Gandhi can be fulfilled only by the intellectuals because they, as a group, are the most hypocritical about him. There is no such example in the world where a person who devoted his life to the freedom struggle and did not want or taken anything in exchange for his good or bad role from the new Independent nation, got boundless hatred and disregard from country’s intellectuals.
One of the major achievements of the Indian-Nation claimants by creating a Gandhi-free India will be that the ruling classes will not be able to use Gandhi as a pawn to strengthen their power over people because intellectuals’ hypocrisy about Gandhi helps the rulers to use his name against those people whom he most advocated. On being a Gandhi-free India, the business of spuriously selling Gandhi to the world by the rulers can be terminated soon enough. Gandhi once stated that the purpose and goal of his active participation in politics was to attain salvation. Indian-Nation’s claimants, in fact, will therefore truly liberate Gandhi by creating a Gandhi-free India!
It is not unreasonable that almost all the claimants of the Indian-Nation do not even talk about any political alternative despite the intensity of the crisis posed by the corporate-communal nexus. Rather, they have successfully destroyed all the possibilities of an alternative politics built up after 1991 by forming complete solidarity with the anti-corruption movement of India Against Corruption (ICA) and the resulting party of that movement. It may be noted that Bharat Mata and Tricolor were made brand-equipment of patriotism in the public domain by the mentors of the anti-corruption movement and Aam Aadmi Party. Intellectuals used to enjoy a huge reputation and praise in India from the very beginning. It is ironic that despite the deep crisis in front of the nation, these very intellectuals do not show any inclination for making efforts in the direction of a new path. It is a unique feature of this modern era that whatever is attempted here, the outline is prepared by these very intellectuals who include supposedly certain great leaders as well.
When the Congress introduced New Economic Policies in 1991, Atal Bihari Vajpayee had said that now the Congress has adopted their ideology and work. When the BJP coalition government formed under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1999 and he made corporate-friendly decisions one after the other through ordinances, the socialist thinker Kishan Patnaik had sought an answer from the ‘nationalist’ RSS. The reality of the RSS is now exposed thoroughly. All of its ‘cultural’ and ‘nationalist’ pomposity was meant to grab and capture the left-overs of capitalist markets. The RSS’s ‘Hindu Lion’ Mohan Bhagwat, who roared in Chicago recently, did not even grovel on the government’s decision of 100 percent Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the defense sector. The small and medium traders gave their physical, mental and material resources to the RSS/Jana Sangh/BJP since their establishment. However, as soon as RSS became a crony with multinationals and corporate houses, it threw them down. Therefore, repeated disclosures and opposition to RSS’s ‘hidden agenda’ by the claimants of the Indian-Nation does not have much meaning.
There is no discussion among the claimants of the Indian-Nation about the phenomenon of neo-imperialism spreading in India and all over the world, of which communal fascism is a by-product, as if losing freedom, earned through huge sacrifices, is not a matter of concern. Their basic concern is only to defeat RSS’s fascism. In this exercise, the claimant of the Indian-Nation do not hesitate to misguide the whole debate. They remove attention from the neo-imperialist attacks by presenting the debate as fascism versus democracy, Hindutva versus Hinduism, Brahminism versus Dalitism (dalitwad), Brahminism versus Backwardism (pichhdawad) etc. Their whole emphasis would be on making strategies to accelerate these conflicts. It is a fact that due to democracy, some caste-communities have got political power. They struggle to keep that power safe and consolidate it. Their struggle, however, should be carried out on the democratic ground. Because that strength has been achieved through democracy and can be extended further through democratic methods only. But it is seen that some intellectuals, in their strategy, seek to find ‘militant’ elements in these communities and want to connect them with violent resistance against the Indian state. Is the intention behind this kind of strategy against fascism honest by any stretch of imagination?
At the time of imposition of the New Economic Policies in 1991, Kishan Patnaik tried to provide and delineate a relevant perspective and direction to the debate of patriotism and treason. He based his thoughts on the experience of two centuries of colonial occupation of India while contemplating on this contentious issue. He linked the beginning of neo-liberalism in India with the beginning of slavery once again, and blamed the intellectuals of India for this. He argued that the minds of Indian intellectuals is unable to work freely against neo-liberalism and neo-imperialism. Kishan Patnaik proposes a formula of ‘economic nationalism’ (arthik rashtrawad) to counter the neo-liberal economic subjugation. According to him, those who oppose the plunder and loot of the country’s resources by domestic and foreign corporate houses fall into the category of patriots. However, he has not said it explicitly, but the supporters of neo-liberalism themselves come under the category of traitors. (His books – ‘Bharat Shudron Ka Hoga’, ‘Vikalpheen Nahin Hai Duniya’, ‘Bharatiya Rajaniti Par Ek Drishti’ and several articles published in the Hindi monthly ‘Samayik Varta’ and other periodicals/news papers can be seen for detailed discussion on this topic).
To sum it up, aggressive capitalism is not only looting our resources and labor, but also hollowing our national spirit (bodh). It would be more appropriate to say that since our national spirit has become hollow, it has only facilitated the loot of the country’s resources and labor. Our national life cannot be enriched if there is no national spirit. As we are witnessing, it is doomed to be superficial and quarrelsome. In fact, the ongoing aggressive nationalism is a futile exercise to fill the hollowness of the drying national spirit. It seems that this phase of usurping whatever remains of the loot will go on like this for a while. It is expected that this situation will not prevail or remain forever. The time will come when there will be a hunger for genuine National spirit in a generation or two. If that time does not come in the national life of India, then it should be assumed that we are not worthy of becoming a nation, and slavery is our destiny in the modern world.
(The author teaches Hindi at Delhi University and is president of Socialist Party (India))