Whither Nationalism?

Ananya S Guha

Whither Nationalism- what did it really mean to our freedom fighters who fought for it in the vicissitudes of the time spanning the freedom movement? When they thought of freedom did they think only of a country in the making, or was not the country already ‘ made ‘ in terms of diversity, ethnic and religious, in terms of minorities, tribes and caste, in terms of a conglomerate of regions? And when the Constitution was drafted and then honed and put before Parliament was there not freedom of speech and the right to education manifesting in various forms? Today all the talk of Nationalism has mounted tension, because only one way of Nationalism is thrust on a Nation which is diverse in terms of religion, culture and history. In fact the great Historian D.D.Kosambi ( today he will dubbed as a leftist Historian) in his book on Ancient Indian History analysed India’s diversity not only in racial and ethnic terms, but also in terms of geography and climatic conditions. He averred that in this vast ‘ sub continent ‘ we even have extreme climates- from extreme heat, salubrity to extreme cold. A Historian was making a point or two about Geography to discover a Nation which could be so different and pluralistic yet be so one and complete. And in doing so he used the historiography of other Historians such as A.L. Basham to trace the ancient and medieval lineage of the country, whether they were under Hindu or Muslim patriarchs. Amartya Sen used this rationale of an argumentative India who could run skein deep to see the complexity of the country intuitively foreseen by Asoka, Akbar and even Tagore. True an independent movement came much later, and the British were seen as the enemy, true still that in the medieval history there were internecine feuds but men like Akbar could foresee a country right from the North to the South. The prescience of such rulers was to establish Delhi as some kind of capital, even as the British cleverly veered to Calcutta.

Now Nationalism is the patronage of a few which means the government, cannot support an ideology which speaks for the economically week, the poor or the oppressed, cannot think of minority rights or their alienation; whether they be Christians, Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis, Santhals and Tribals in general. To invoke names of people like Nehru is anathema if not subversive, and institutions of national importance and heritage with traditions of freethinking are dens of iniquity. Internationally known thinkers like Romila Thapar and Amartya Sen are not only pooh poohed but outrageously insulted. These are worrying times, and times of impoverished thinking, even reading.

So how has an individual to prove, let us use that word, that he or she is a Nationalist.

Let us look back at the early twentieth century when the seeds of a patriotic fervour and the then Nationalism( as sharply contrasted with the present one ) was born. Tagore visited Japan and delivered lectures no not on Nationalism, but on Internationalism! Did this mean that he was a less patriot than his peers? Did this also mean that Tagore was moving away from the Nationalist tendencies of the times, and washing his hands off it? An emphatic No. Tagore was saying, that it is humanism which pervades a world, even so in India, and that humanism was direly in need in a country with its diverse customs, practices, and races or communities. Gandhi set to put this into practice by mingling with the common folk and calling hitherto untouchables Harijans. However upper caste thinking is still prevalent today as recent evidences show.By propunding his views on Internationalism Tagore was also looking at other models such Japan, not only in terms of economic prosperity but as a heritage of nations. Similarly in looking towards Western advancement, Tagore was looking to it’s philosophy, literature and thought. Tagore went a step ahead, when in his Hibbert lectures delivered in Oxford University ( he was the first Indian to be invited for the same) he articulated his vision of the Religion Of Man, which in effect is a common humanity, irrespective of caste, creed, colour or religion, and this he transmitted in one of his poems in The Gitajanjali, the poem is prescribed in schools across many boards in the country. Similarly Tagore’s lectures on Internationalism should be a must for students of Humanities and the Social Sciences in the country.

But today Nationalism means symbols only, and these symbols must be brandished in public places and offices. And if we do not do it, are we the less Nationalist? If we promote the cause of Mallika Sarabhai, Dr Binayak Sen, or Irom Sharmila are we toeing the line of sedition? Freedom means, freedom from fear where we can think, write and assert with a kind of independence, that does not mean of course supporting nefarious designs of another country, but probing into what is happening, why it is happening, the disgruntlement of students and Dalits, and why a whole body of literature is emerging out of them, including North East India. One should read the Manipuri poet’s Thangjam Ibopishak’s trenchant poem ” I Don’t Want To Be Killed By An Indian Bullet”, deeply ironical, but certainly not anti – nationalist or virulent, and moved by pathos, to understand the inner psychosis of a community bedevilled by violence and caught in the trap of militancy and militarism. Will our leaders understand such a predicament ? instead of castigating firebrand student leaders with an ideology of nation and nationhood? Try and understand them, and see where the pitfalls are ! Dissension is settled when one meets the opponent half way, when you might radically disagree but can be empathetic. But by constantly reviling and ridiculing some higher bodies of learning, known for their academic excellence in teaching and learning in the portals of Higher Education the authorities are alienating young minds and the intelligentsia.. For the first time in the history of the country teachers and students have come together not in political bonhomie, but in deep empathy with one another.

Ananya S Guha lives in Shillong where he has been raised. He has over thirty four years of teaching and administrative experience. He has seven collections of poetry in English and his poems have been widely anthologized and published both in India and abroad.