The JNU episode has resulted in two extreme reactions in our polity. At the one end is the question of freedom of expression, represented broadly by the left and western elites; at the other extreme are those who believe in true nationhood and who consider the JNU affair as anti-national.
Yet there are many others somewhere mid-way. Those who emphasize that it is the freedom of expression, give a number of instances from the western societies where even anti-national expressions are allowed as freedom of expressions. It is possible there because more than ninety-nine percent people in those societies are nationalists and that there is no ambiguity as far as their nationhood is concerned. They have a strong and efficient system of resolving disputes and to sort out if any such issue arises.
On the contrary and unfortunately so, in India our nationhood is still ambiguous. There are half a dozen different major social groups with a sizeable following who have different and contradictory perceptions of our nation and nationhood. The JNU dilemma and several such other dilemmas are the net result of such ambiguity since independence. That is the reason why so extreme reactions are seen about the JNU incident of February 9, 2016.
Unambiguous definition: The root cause is our inability to define our nationhood unambiguously. During the independence movement, our socio-political leaders avoided defining precisely and with clarity what was our nation and nationhood for which independence was sought. Most of them believed it to be the traditional ‘Bharat’ with Hindu ethos. But the advent of Mahatma Gandhi as a leader, who believed that independence would be possible only if Hindus and Muslims demanded it together, led to the blurring of our nationhood and after independence under the hegemony of Nehru as Prime Minister it became totally confused.
Nehru believed and effected that all residents were nationals. In particular, Muslims, who had demanded and voted for separate Pakistan, but could not migrate to Pakistan, were also considered as nationals though their ethos was distinctly different from those of the Hindus. Nowhere else in the world, it would have happened.
It is very strange that if someone criticizes Mahatma Gandhi, even the Supreme Court insists on not criticizing Gandhi and expects that due respect is given to him as ‘Father of our Nation’. If somebody criticizes Nehru, the left intellectuals and sycophants of that family take it otherwise. It only means that one cannot criticize such great leaders of our country. But the same intellectuals consider the criticism of our motherland, doubting its integrity and even expressing the desire to break this nation, as freedom of expressions.
Such extreme anomalies in our polity arise simply because our nationhood has been confused by the so-called secularists completely. If we define our nationhood logically in clear terms, it might not be acceptable to a large section of our population representing very diverse opinions about our motherland. That is the reason why some of them refuse to chant the slogan ‘Bharat Mata ki Jay’. Some intellectuals consider it as freedom of expression. That is why many jokingly say, “it is India that is Bharat”, whatever that means.
Constitution as nationhood: What is our nationhood then? To avoid this ambiguity the left intellectuals consider our Constitution as our nationhood because everyone has to accept it without any reservation. It is true that those who live in this country cannot defy Constitution or else have to face trial and maybe conviction. Though there is nothing in our Constitution that clearly states our nationhood, it may help develop nationhood in due course of time as the development of nationhood is a historical process.
Let us examine whether and to what extent Constitution is capable of defining our nationhood. Our Constitution is based on five basic values like liberty, equality, fraternity, socialism, and secularism. Some even put these values as our nationhood. Out of these values, nobody really knows what is exactly meant by socialism and secularism. Everybody defines them as per individual choices. That makes Muslim League as secular and RSS as anti-secular. These two values were hastily introduced in the Constitution during the Emergency period under duress and without any nationwide discussion.
How can such meaningless expressions define our nationhood? Everybody accepts liberty and equality as national values but they do not define nationhood in any way. The fraternity is the only value in the Constitution that has something to do with national feeling. But it does not define nationhood unambiguously. Mere words do not convey nationhood in any way because nationhood is nothing but common ethos evolved over years of collective living and constitution is an arrangement to establish a peaceful society.
The state by itself does not define nationhood. It is a contract between the people and their government. The Constitution makes it explicit so that there is no conflict between the state and the people. It helps maintain a peaceful society to ensure progress individually and of the society. It prevents state becoming autocratic and inflicting unnecessary restrictions on the people in their endeavors towards progress. It works as a sobering effect on both. By itself, it is incapable of developing the national ethos and thereby the nationhood. Hence, nationhood is quite different from the constitution.
Expression of common consciousness: Nationhood is merely an emotion of the people that conveys faith in common cultural values, common view of history in the form of common perceptions of friends and foes, common feeling of fraternity in view of common social goals leading to national glory, common and integrated endeavours to help national progress in all possible directions, common will to counter aggression and so on. It is essentially a bond between a group of people residing on a piece of land and possessing a strong sense of unity.
It is a common consciousness with emotional, spiritual and psychological bonds. It is an intangible expression. The example of Jews typically fits into this definition of nationhood. The Jews kept it intact for over eighteen hundred years because of their very long history. Nationhood is strengthened and transformed into tangible expression if such people live on a piece of land as one society.
The Hindus thus, qualify to call themselves as a nation in Bharat. By Hindus is meant as defined by Dr. Ambedkar for the purpose of Hindu Code Bill, since they have the common traditional ethos. Instead of cultivating this thread of traditional nationhood by adopting existing traditional ethos we squarely denied our cultural thread of unity and equated citizenship with nationality in the hope that common ethos will be developed in due course. It is a historical process that evolves common ethos and therefore the nationhood.
In fact, we forgot to cultivate the new ethos sincerely after independence. We perverted it for our narrow electoral gains. The result is, Nagaland, Khalistan, Manipur, Kashmir, Naxalites and some sections of Tamils would like to secede from India. They do not believe in whatever is the Indian nationhood. They are prepared to raise armed struggle to achieve this end. Our Constitution has proved totally helpless before them. How can the Constitution be our nationhood then? To understand nationhood let us first understand what modern nation means.
The Concept of Modern Nation: The concept of modern nation is hardly three-hundred-year-old. Prior to that, there were only kingdoms all over the world. India was no exception. The new concept of nation is often referred to by political scientist as ‘nation-state’. It is more dominated by the concept of state, arising out of the prior kingdom, than by that of the nation. A state is a contract between the people and the rulers whereas the nation is purely an intangible ethos and more psychological in nature. One may accept it or reject it.
The perception of nation-state evolved out of the industrial revolution and the generation of wealth on a scale unseen before. In due course, several nation-states came up, particularly in Western Europe. The ‘value-trio’, blossomed after French revolution in the form of ‘liberty’ ‘equality’ and ‘fraternity’, led to the transformation of these kingdoms into nation-states. Until then common ethos had been evolved under the aegis of the kingdoms. Hence, most of them set up the monarchy-led democracies by adopting proper democratic constitutions based on the above-mentioned value-trio.
The left and half-baked westernized intellectuals in India erroneously consider adoption of the Constitution, based on above human values, as a formation of any nation-state. In that sense, many nation-states should have been formed after the British left India since there were many kingdoms in India prior to British arrival. But what was it that bound all Indians together to demand independence? What was it that led Sardar Patel to integrate India as one nation? We had the traditional ethos to make us one nation. But instead of recognizing this traditional thread of our nationhood we decided to establish a new nation out of whoever was residing in India, irrespective of whether he was loyal to India or not. As a result, mere citizenship was equated with nationhood after our independence. In Europe each one of such kingdoms had somewhat its own ethos evolved over time that made them individually different from the other. That is how Pakistan was demanded and Muslims got it.
Common Values determine Nationhood: If the mere constitution had defined the nationality of different kingdoms in Europe and since most of their constitutions are almost alike, then there was no reason for the evolution of so many different nation-states in at least Western Europe. Christianity was their common religion and which could have helped for their merger into one nation-state of at least the Western Europe. In reality, earlier adverse geo-conditions for earning the livelihood and later onset of the industrial revolution had turned these kingdoms into intense competitors with each other to earn more wealth for better living of their own subjects. It helped to evolve them their own national identity to some extent. That is why tiny Belgium and Luxemburg having common borders with France evolved as separate nation-states.
The values like liberty, equality, and fraternity helped them to consolidate their different national ethos as distinct from each other. Hence, their nationhood is not their constitution based on value-trio but separate ethos evolved over at least several centuries. Without understanding these fundamental principles of evolution of European nation-states we erroneously presumed our constitution as our nationhood. It was more to deny the Hindu ethos its due status of nationhood.
Hindu ethos natural basis of our nationhood: In reality such unified ethos was traditionally present only in Hindus. In spite of fighting kingdoms through our history, the common people lived here happily with common cultural understanding all over India and had evolved similar ethos all over India. That is how they considered it as their mother and holy land. At the time of independence, India was bifurcated on the basis of Hindu and Muslims only and not on any other count. Hence, Hindu ethos should have been declared as our nationhood as a natural fall-out. Muslims in particular, while keeping their religion as the mode of their worship separate; they would have been assimilated as nationals provided they had accepted this as their motherland. Hindus, even otherwise, do not discriminate people on the basis of their religion. But this problem got embroiled in electoral vote-bank politics and that blurred our nationhood, almost beyond repair.
Had everyone accepted constitution as our nationhood then there was no scope for some sections to try to secede from India. But it is not so. Allegiance to constitution would have led us by now to enforce the directive principles legally; Article 370 for Kashmir would have withered away; no constitution amendment would have been made for Shahbano; no proselytizing activities would have been allowed to convert Hindus to Islam and Christianity to merely increase the numbers as finally the voters, without knowing what these religions mean. Using the same constitution the country is being sub-divided psychologically by the Muslims and the Christians (exceptions apart) as both of them do not believe in national boundaries; they believe in universalism through their own faith alone. If tomorrow the strength of Muslims or Christians increases beyond a certain proportion what is the guarantee that they will not ask for another partition? The constitution will prove helpless in that possible scenario. The problem is not the constitution but our ambiguous nationhood. It must be defined clearly to avoid possible future partitions.
It is often said that such people with trans-national ethos are small in numbers. It is better to look at the history, development and present attempts of ISIS in Syria. The number of ISIS terrorists is not in billions and not even in millions. They are merely in thousands, maybe, around 30-50,000 in number. What havoc they have created with such a small number. Our regular experience is that one ‘dada’ in slums controls it fully. How come it is possible in spite of our constitution? Hence, howsoever small is the number, it does count in terms of strength.
Common Religion no guarantee of nationhood: If the constitution was enough to define nationhood of any society then in spite of strong constitutions the great Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and very recently Somalia would not have broken down into several states based on different nationalities. Similarly, there is no reason why Ukraine should face turmoil from within based on different nationalities. All of them had a strong constitution, dealing everybody equally, for their governance. In spite of Government of India Act of 1935, Bharat was vivisected in 1947 by the Muslims. In the same way in spite of the constitution, Bangladesh did separate from Western Pakistan. The Bengali identity in the form of its ethos proved stronger than their constitutional bond with the West-Pakistan. Religion did not help it either. Hence to equate constitution with nationhood is nothing less than the bankruptcy of Indian intellectuals.
Common religion did not help to evolve one nation-state in Western Europe. It did not either help to keep West and East Pakistan together. Hindus have no common religion; there are many. The national ethos of Hindus is not their religion. It is their common cultural and historical bondage. It made them resist several aggressions in the past and exhibit their national bonds. Multiple kingdoms did not come in the way of common nationality in India, unlike in Europe.
‘We the People’: Our constitution starts with ‘We the People’. Who are these ‘People’ and how they are ‘We’? What is the bond amongst them? Our nation is known as ‘India that is Bharat’. India is the identity given to us by the British. But Bharat is our age-old traditional identity. Why deny it? Why not accept it? But all those socio-political groups that can be put as Congress-brand parties, consider that a new nation was formed on 15th August 1947. Then why call it in the same breath Bharat as well? Call it only as India. Do they want to deceive thereby the traditionally national Hindus? The RSS-Parivar calls it as traditional Bharat whose traditional ethos are Hindu ethos (not religion) and hence consider it as Hindu-nation (Hindu-Rashtra).
Citizenship and nationality: In fact, during the independence movement the question of ‘whose independence’ was never discussed openly and freely. The only thing that was put before the masses was to replace the British-Raj by our own Raj. It was replaced by forming a new nation-state as in the west. Those who brought this change are enjoying the fruits without bothering about the welfare of the nation. By equating citizenship with nationality they have avoided answering many inconvenient questions related to our nationhood. Afzal Guru has thus become at par with most of us as true nationals of this nation. No wonder the Afzal Guru gang has full scope to behave the way they did in JNU by vowing to break India. It is all tolerated by the left intellectuals as freedom of expressions. It should be clear how ambiguous nationhood plays havoc in our national life.
Let us also understand that Muslims do not believe in any nationhood. Their history and their behavior can prove it readily. They believe in international Muslim brotherhood with Caliphate at its head guiding their worldly affairs. They do not feel as nationals if they are in a minority. On the contrary, they keep themselves separate from such common ethos. Vote bank politics help them live as a separate nation under the guise of freedom of expressions. The net result is our ambiguous nationhood.
The Communists do not believe in nationhood either. They believe in international Comintern. That is why they are prepared to make India a part of Russia or China without any hesitation, sacrificing our independence.
The NGO dimension: Vast sections of our poor and ignorant masses have nothing to do with nationhood. They are worried about their daily livelihood. Whoever helps them in this regard is accepted by them as their leader and they follow him. There are many international agencies that are prepared to financially support the Muslim and the Christian proselytizing activities under the garb of feeding the poor. It is an attempt to break them from the nationhood ties. In a way their NGO’s attempt to apply break in the progress of India under one or the other garb like environmental damage during development. No progress or development is convenient for them for their proselytizing activities. This is allowed under the garb of religious freedom and tom-tomed as an open society. It should not be overlooked that such erroneous understanding finally led to vivisection of Bharat and creation of Pakistan.
The absence of unified national feeling amongst the population has resulted in a loss of motivation for work for national and social resurrection. For whom one should toil hard and sacrifice? Is it for self or for the society is the dilemma? The net result is that most look after only self-interests in any field of national activity. Corruption in all walks of life is its external manifestation. National progress in general, and progress in economics, in particular, is the first victim.
There are many such hurdles in defining our nationhood unambiguously. Nobody seems to have any way out to deal firmly and effectively with the problem of anti-national activities like those in JNU or those of Naxalites or of other fissiparous groups or the religious conversions. Constitution must spell out the meaning of ‘We the People’ and thereby define our nationhood once and for all. Until then we will have to sacrifice national progress. Once it is done the problem of sorting out of national and anti-national persons and activities will be readily possible. It must be kept in mind how tiny Israel has made progress out of their national convictions. We will also be able to repeat the same wonder provided our nationhood is defined unambiguously.
(P.S. – Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines nation as a form of political organization in which a group of people who share the same history, culture and traditions or language and inhabit a particular area under one government.)