“Patriotism cannot be our final spiritual shelter; my refuge is humanity. I will not buy glass for the price of diamonds, and I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live.”
The concept of nationalism today has travelled a distance too far from Tagore’s view on nationalism. The right-wing ideology present today is exploiting the concept of nationality as a tool to create divide among individuals. Under the name of protecting the pride of the nation, people belonging to minority religions are being killed ruthlessly. Also under the name of nationality, the right-wing groups are imposing certain ceremonial rituals on the common people, like mandatory standing up when the national anthem is played in movie theaters. In the current scenario the topic of nationalism has come to limelight because of the personification of nationalism as a controversial character. This can also be justified with one of the first incidents of proving nationalism when sedition charges were imposed on three students of Jawaharlal Nehru University, who have thereafter been called anti-nationals and tukde-tukde gang by mainstream media.
The right-wing ideology has been using the concepts of patriotism and nationalism interchangeably, wherein in actuality the two words have different connotations. Also this ideology, in the name of uplifting nationalism and one’s own nation has been demeaning other nations. All these put together led me to choose this as the topic as my paper. This paper would look into the origin of the concept of nationalism by incorporating Anderson, Partha Chatterjee and Rabindranath’s ideas. Also I would be concentrating on the lectures given in Jawaharlal Nehru University by Nivedita Menon, Romila Thapar, Prabhat Patnaik, and Satyajit Rath on Nationalism. In the process of analysing these lectures I would like to bring out the contradictions present between the right-wing ideology of nationalism and the other ideas and also would look into the matter of how much the idea of nationalism has been distorted today.
The book “Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism” by notable political thinker Benedict Anderson is regarded as one of the most important works written about the sources of modern nationalism. Key to Anderson’s understanding of nationalism is the notion of “imagined community”, the fact of nationalism being not something material or natural (as often thought) but rather something that exists in the connection between culture and psychology. The national community is defined by Anderson as “imagined” since its members do not personally know each other but yet they bear in their minds the thought of mutual connection. “It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion” Somewhat important before diving into an analysis of Anderson’s landmark work is to grasp the understanding that what he was talking about at the time was more along the lines of creating a conceptual nation—a virtual country, if you will—as projections of Anderson reminds us, nations are imaginatively projected before they are realised.
A challenging critique of Anderson’s work came from Partha Chatterjee, who raised the question “Whose imagined community?” In this essay, Chatterjee challenged Anderson’s idea of modular forms of nationalism developed in the West as providing the mould for various anti-colonial nationalisms. Partha Chatterjee believed that the production of consent about the nation meant that subaltern narratives had to be suppressed and at the same time accommodated by the elite. Hence, he argued that Andersonian process was much more complicated in practice rather than in theory.
Coming to the Indian context, close home, Tagore has always been a vocal critique of nationalism as a concept. Tagore often also accused nationalism to be the source of war or other violent actions. He condemned the idea of radical nationalism that acted as opiate of the people making these individuals irrational and fanatic in nature. Tagore perceived nationalism to be an utilitarian model which overemphasises on the political and commercial aspects reducing the depth of the concept itself to an incomplete, monolithic and uni polar ideology.
Moving on to the contemporary scenario, Menon initiates the discussion by talking about the linguistic monopoly and who decides what is going to be the dominant language of the nation, ‘the Indian language’? Menon argues that in this present hierarchical capitalistic society that we reside in, the dominant language will always be the language of the powerful, the upper-caste capitalist individuals. Putting forward basic statistics, Menon shows that only 20% of the population of India considers Hindi to be their mother tongue. She further talks about sanskritisation of hindi and how the concept of purity is also attached to hindi. Further, Menon goes on to talk about the history of nation building and how it emerged in the 18th century in Europe and in the 19th century in India. She delves into how achieving independence is seen as a legitimisation of not asking any questions. She also speaks about how whoever poses a question contradictory to the dominant ideology is labelled an anti-nationalist. Deducing from Tagore’s ideology, Menon also considers the concept of nationalism to be weak, volatile and exclusionary in nature.
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Romila Thapar unlike Menon, focusses on the historical aspect and the correlation between history and nationalism. Nationalism, she believes, means understanding the society and finding an identity as a member of the society. Nationalism has emerged in modern time as a response to historical changes. It didn’t exist in the pre-modern society. This concept came into existence at the time of capitalism and colonialism. The concept of nationalism ideally should encourage inclusivity and secular identity, but it doesn’t do so in practice. Thapar is also of the belief that historicity is in the root of the idea of nationalism, but also asserts that the history should be a shared one and not one dominated by only one identity.
Moving on to the Indian context, Thapar talks about the presence of diversity in the pre-colonial India. Religious sects, rather than any monolithic religion, argues Thapar, played a significant role in the pre-colonial Indian society. But surprisingly, this diversity is not recognised in any writings of the history, rather the entire history was fragmented into periods of Hindu Raj, Muslim Raj, and British Raj emphasising on their religious identities, which in actuality was just incidental. The importance of religion was dramatised by constantly portraying the Hindu nation and the Muslim nation as separate and hostile to each other.
The two nation theory which gained much attention in time was also based on the divide and rule policy, by dividing the entire nation into the majority and the minority. Because of the prevalent thought that the Aryans were the root of civilisation, it used to be taken for granted that India necessarily has to be an Aryan country which then depicted the Hindus. This entire concept broke down with the emergence of the Indus valley civilisation in 1920. Later, the rise of the overarching concept of anti-colonial nationalism advocated the issue of egalitarian society. Eventually this also led to the evil of communalism which preceded the foundation of the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha. The individuals belonging to the Hindu mahasabha collaborated with the British and they believed that only the Hindus could rightfully claim to be true Indians.
Incidentally the fact happens to be so that these religious bodies reflect the ideology of French fascism. Thapar, like the rest of the current historians, argue that culture don’t grow into isolation, so it is important to know what other cultures co-existed and contributed and how did this cultural mixture amalgamation evolve? Romila Thapar drew a conclusion emphasising on the issue that nationalism needs to be based on reliable history, and not mere personal or community fantasies.
The above discussion elicits how the concept of nationalism and the historicity attached to it has been distorted to suit personal and communal gains. The term ‘nationalism’ has boiled down to a matter or an issue of individuals showing off their magnitude and intensity of their love for the nation. Whenever anything is hyped not withstanding its historical implications, naturally enough the concept gets dilated and serves more of personal interests than the nation.
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