The Politics of the Idea of India

india independence day 

What is India? A question can neither be answered nor be defined easily. However, we celebrate India as a civilization, as an idea, as a nation, as a notion as a culture, as a sentiment, as an emotion and as dynamic geographical concept. We try to define in it many ways.  Though everyone has the freedom of visualizing the idea of India but only the visualization of the privileged gets noticed, recognized, generalized and popularized. This means that the very of visualization of the idea of India is not democratic. If it is so, many would have visualized according to their priorities. Indians consciously began to visualize the idea of India, from 19th century, first by royal and feudal lords in the fight for survival against the British and second in 20th century, by the nationalist forces fighting for political freedom from the foreign rule. It took life in the minds of the Indian ruling class, it passed on to the Hindu intellectual bourgeoisie in twentieth century and remained the dream of the dominant. In India, this privilege of the visualizing the idea of India, first, comes from social position offered by religion and caste. Secondly, it comes from the upper-class position. However, the upper class that consisted of the enlighten educated across religious communities had less to contribute than the earlier. It is the social position of the upper caste which made their access to modern education easy that furthered their position to dominate the spheres of power and economy. For more than a century (1800-1906), the upper caste nationalist forces have maintained monopoly over the visualization of India. For the first time, a different idea of India was emerging from Muslim.

First, Sayyad Ahemad Khan and later Indian Muslim League voicing their concern over the underdevelopment of Muslims in British ruled India or exposing the internal contradictions within the larger idea of Indian nationalism that is failing to include concern of the Muslims or restricting them to be part of the visualization of the idea of India. But these concerns by Muslims did not turn into a problem till 1940s. In other words, they were pointing out about the apperant problems in the very process of such visualization in which they found to be outside of the spectrum.  The downtrodden idea of India,  began by Jythibha Phule in Maharastra, Narayan Guru and Ayyankali in Kerala, AyothiThass in Tamil Nadu have been countering the idea of India that was propagated by upper caste and were visualizing their own version of India which was not taken seriously as their visualizations were involved in questioning the shortcomings in the idea of India. Later, it was Ambedkar who consolidated the ideas of all these social thinkers/reformers and visualized casteless democratic India. At the same time, All India Hindu Mahasabha and its radical wing Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh (AIHM-RSS), as a knee jerk response to Muslim League, began to advocate the Idea of India (India is for Hindus). Later, Gandhi,who quickly became leader of the national movement from 1920s, a decade earlier in 1908, in small pamphlet Hind Swaraj, quite aptly titled, visualized India that was similar to radical right-wing Hindu minus wanting to be secular and unified. Swadeshi Movement of 1905, perhaps, was a movement that forced the Indian intelligentsia to visualize the idea of India as a political necessity.

The idea of swadeshi, in every sense, not only was taking shape but also efforts were being made to transform it into reality. Gandhiwas influenced the Swadeshi Movement’s Idea of Swadeshi, at least, to the extent of locating Idea of India in villages which Gandhi believed that they were not polluted by the western culture. His desire to locate it in such an orthodox socio-religious-cultural sphere indicated his priorities which were not only natural to a member who belong to the communal majority but also to a person who was an ardent follower of Hinduism. All his efforts from vegetarianism to Ramarajya, proves that Gandhi was a typical populist-liberal-Hindu intellectual who would have wanted India to turn into a country that is dominated by the Hindu culture. His idea of village swaraja or Ramarajya, a utopian welfare state that was supposedly existing under the reign of Rama, mythical character in Ramayana was to pave the way for the revival pre-colonial village culture. This desire to revitalize the culture that began to face the heat of the modernity, exposes Gandhi’s hypocrisy. Indian villages, though not all of them are Hindu villages but most of them are dominated by the Hindu population have been a perfect constituency that provided continuity to the dismissed orthodox culture of the ancient and medieval times. His overt anti-machinery and anti-modernity rhetoric eclipsed inherent problems in the Indian ‘Hindu villages’.

Towards 1930s and 40s, Jawaharlal Nehru, communists and E.V.R Periyar were formulating their ideas of India. the AIHM-RSS’s Hindurastra has to be shelved with the partition. Yet, dream was not dead. with the assassination of Gandhi, the radical Hindu right wing not only declared its radical intentions but also the incident exposed them as people with dangerous, unfair, unjustifiable intentions. However, they had to postpone the realization of their dream. This is also to do with Nehru and his secular and agnostic and rational ideas.

Nehru being at the helm of affairs at this time was able to facilitate the emergence of India that is what we see today.Nehruvian idea of India which eventually became a reality was not entirely was the product of Nehru’s thought and actions alone. However, being at the helm of affairs, he has to be credited for not only respecting and borrowing progressive, secular and democratic ideas of India from his predecessors but also for facilitating those who involved building new India. Quite often Nehru was called as ‘The chief architect of modern India’. Since he was Prime Minister of the new born India, it may be fair to accord the position of chief but that does not mean that the contribution of the long list of builders of modern India that includes women, scientists, engineers, statemen, constitutionalists, communists and noted bureaucrats to be ignored.

Nehruvian and Communist Idea of India, though, displays ideological commonality, to some extent, they are not the same. Nehru despite being an agnostic, believer in science, humanism and socialism, failed to develop a radical idea of India. On the other hand, communists Idea of India was facing hiccup from the very beginning as they were trying to replace the Soviet model into a new social milieu. Neither Nehru nor communists would be able to visualize a perfect idea of India. However, they had to visualize a nation that would be less problematic to many. Nehru was succeeded in it.  Communists too tried their idea of society and nation. In some isolated pockets, they got chance to prove the success of their model and they found that it can work. Successfully forming governments in first in Kerala (1950s), West Bengal (1970s) and Tripura (1990s) in post-colonial India allowed them to make a point that their idea of India is possible. Nehru’s Idea of India which began to take shape from 1930s onwards acquired a concrete shape, at least as an abstract idea, by 1946 which was outlined in his Discovery of India may not have met everyone’s expectations. It was neither a socialist nor capitalist, neither cattiest nor casteless, neither traditional nor modern and neither superstitious nor rational. It is this balancing act of Nehru which allowed India to be deeply religious on the one hand and insufficiently rational on the other hand. Biku Parekh, who worked on Nehru’s vision and ideas, found that Nehru had developed seven philosophies (National Unity, Secularism, Parliamentary Democracy, Industrialization, Scientific Temper and Non-alignment) all of which he called as national philosophy which is modernization. But the question is which among these seven philosophies took off and what was their success rate. If we look at few of them, we can conclude that their success rate was quite minimal. Socialism and Scientific Temper never took off. Unity of India has many layers of meanings. However, one general understating of it is that all Indians are connected with a general ‘Indian culture’ believed to be composite but never got defined what is it. Though the general culture of India has not emerged in colonial times, Indians were making efforts to define it in order to develop nationalism as pan-Indian cross cultural sentimental and emotional idea for achieving political freedom.  However, all along, from 18th century, the culture of majority was positioning itself as Indian culture. Symbolically, culture of the religious minority and the subaltern though get accommodated into the larger frame of national culture, they would not get the same patronage as the culture of the majority. Despite, the custodians (upper caste and caste Hindus) of Hindu culture realizing that their culture has been dominating the national culture for a long time, they neither gave the impression that they have the ability of shedding the foundational socio-cultural hierarchies nor they have ever shown the ability of accommodating the culture of the other into the so-called national culture. Hindu majority’s culture is a de facto national culture. Unity that has been long celebrated as a unique character is a forced unity. Both the caste and religious minorities, in this country, have been under the domination of the majoritarian culture.

Parliamentary democracy and industrialization,though successful, compared to other philosophies of Nehru, while the success of the earlier which was seen as counter to the ‘natural’ domination of the upper caste/class on various spheres of national, in actuality, did not   offer much to those who were kept out of power and human dignity for long time, the success of the later failed to create economically equal society. The fruits of Nehruvian large scale industrialization was appropriated by the socially dominant for a long time. Accumulation of capital by the minute minority, today, explains how Nehruvian socialism was kept under pressure and finally let neo/crony capitalism to take over and demolish the whole idea of welfare state.  It is not just right-wing Hindu radicals, people who supposed to carry forward the Nehruvian legacy have buried socialism deep in the ground. It may not comeback alive at national level. P.V. Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh’s economic liberalization and disinvestment was an attack on Nehruvian socialism and Rajeev Gandhi’s surrender to rightwing Hindus in the case of opening the Ram Chabutra inside Babri Masjid was an attack on Nehruvian secularism. Thus, modernization of India as Nehruvian philosophy has failed to achieve its ultimate target. Nonetheless, Nehru needed to be appreciated for developing an idea of India that could not offer complete relief from the atrocities faced by women, Dalits and Adivasis in this country but at least provide some amount of speakability.

Compare to the visualization of Idea of India by Hindu elite (Gandhi, Nehru and Gowalikar), it is the subaltern (Jyhothi Rao Phule, Ambedkar, AyotheeThass, Ayyan Kali and Periyar) visualization naturally had the potential of eliminating all the inbuilt religious, social and cultural evils. Their humanism and rationalism are two potential tools which could have subjected entire the civilization to a proper scrutiny. Indian Hindu elite who were authors of reforms have understood the dangers of rationalism to Hinduism. Therefore, they used reforms as tools of protecting religion and rituals.In its long history, India has never allowed rationalists thoughts to flourish and rationalism to scrutinized social and cultural absurdities. From Charvakas to Periyar, rationalists have faced prosecution and rationalism always been considered as anti-national philosophy. But subaltern intellectuals who understood the hypocrisy of Hindu elite reforms showed great courage in challenging and exposing the absurdities of Hinduism, its texts and scriptures and its customs and rituals. They chose rationalism as tool of questioning absurdities.Jyothi Rao Phule attacked on the absurdities in purnas and epics. Ambedkar exposed caste system as a social conspiracy, fight for annihilation of caste, rejected Hinduism, fought for rights of Dalits. E.V. R. Periyarrejected Brahminism and Hinduism, rejected and cultivated and propagated rationalism as a tool for fighting against absurdities. Radical ideas of all these subaltern intellectuals could have turned India into a nation where natural rights of every individual are respected and personal growth of every citizen is taken care.Their attack on the inbuilt religious/cultural/social absurdities and abnormalities which for generations have been causing pain, suffering and agony to women, sudras, Dalits and Adivasis would have released all of them from such cultural tyranny. Unfortunately, the subaltern ideas of visualizations of India failed to become pan-Indian philosophies. Compare to Gandhi’s Ramrajya, Nehru’s secular but Hindu dominant India, Ambedkar’s casteless India and Periyar’s rational India could have been better for every citizen. Moreover, Ambedkar-Periyar’s India could have completely eliminated all inbuilt absurdities and also could have locked the dangerous communal forces forever.

Today, we are witnessingIndia which could be cherish by those takes pride in the idea of India that is exclusively of one religion, one language, one race and one identity. Heterogeneity has been an unavoidable feature of all ancient, medieval and modern empires, kingdoms and nations. Never in the history of the world, there existed a kingdom, empire and a nation of one single religion, language and race. But, unfortunately, in most of the modern nations, there is, at least, one social group which is religious, racial and linguistic majority. In the modern nation states, governed by constitutions who belongs to what identity is not mattered but what matters is the equality of every citizen across race, religion, caste and language before law, government and justice. Reversing this idea of India for political gains not only amounts to taking the nation back to the medieval times but also amounts to emptying it of all its positivity that it has acquired in its long course of history.

Dr. Y. Srinivasa Rao  is Assistant Professor, Department of History, Bharathidasan University, Thiruchirapalli




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