Since the last few weeks post the incidents in the JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) we have had a raging debate going on various platforms on social media as well as the mainstream media on what is “Nationalism”. On the one hand we have Pratap Bhanu Mehta criticizing the current government saying ” It is using nationalism to crush constitutional patriotism, legal tyranny to crush dissent, political power to settle petty scores, and administrative power to destroy institutions” and on the other hand we have Rajdeep Sardesai saying ” I am proud to be ‘anti-national “.
But 1st let us see what is the most common definition of Nationalism. I am using the definition provided by Merriam-Webster:
Simple Definition of Nationalism
: a feeling that people have of being loyal to and proud of their country often with the belief that it is better and more important than other countries
: a desire by a large group of people (such as people who share the same culture, history, language, etc.) to form a separate and independent nation of their own
Nationalism is a complicated issue. Analysts/Experts have not been able to come up with a universally agreeable definition to define this feeling and the subsequent role it has to play in society. Nationalism, as it is largely understood in the “West”, is a specifically modern phenomenon which came into existence in the 18th and 19th century. ( I would like to loosely define the term West here. I will be using the definition provided by Rajiv Malhotra in his book ” Being Different ” on page No. 3 in his introduction. ” The West ” is cultures and civilizations stemming from a rather forced fusion of the biblical traditions of ancient Israel and the classical ones of Greece and Rome. )
According to Ernest Gellner nationalism is a direct outcome of the industrial revolution in the West which leads to a fundamental change in the overall structure of society as it stood. But is Nationalism understood and perceived the same way by all Western scholars? Nationalism started off as a positive contribution towards the development of a liberal democracy. Scholars like Alexis de Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill saw nationalism as a great source of social solidarity and political stability in a liberal society. Giuseppe Mazzini the 19th-century liberal philosopher from Italy was sure that some form of democratic nationalism was a necessary prerequisite for world peace. Obviously, all this changed drastically in the 20th century, with the rise of Nazism and Fascism in Europe which lead to wars, ethnic cleansing, and the Holocaust. This particular experience in Europe left a deep scar in the Western psyche. This has resulted in a majority view that nationalism is a direct impediment to the development of a liberal democracy. Post the 20th-century horror of Germany we have 2 camps in the West. The 1st camp comprising of Beiner, Habermas and Hobsbawm are of the view that nationalism is a road block that needs to be completely eliminated and others like Dahrendorf, Kymlicka and Tamir are trying to find a middle ground where liberal democratic values and nationalism can mutually co-exist. (” Russian and Euro-Asian Bulletin Vol.7 No.12 December 1997. Published by the Contemporary Europe Research Centre University of Melbourne. Two Types of Nationalism in Europe? Stefan Auer Dec 1997 “ )
Now let us go even deeper and try to understand the two major and the most known forms of Nationalism that we know of in the West:
Civic Nationalism / Liberal Nationalism: Civic nationalism is the idea that considers a nation as a large set of people who are bound together by a political entity with equal rights. It rejects the notion of a common ethnic ancestral identity. The best examples of civic nationalism are the United States of America and France. John Stuart Mill is one of the most famous Civic Nationalists. Obviously, there are subtle differences between American and French Nationalism too. While both claim for equal treatment of its own citizens they have a deep superiority complex woven into them. Americans draw a great sense of pride from ” American Exceptionalism “. In the words of political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset America was “the first new nation“. French Nationalism is based on the principles of ” liberty, equality, fraternity ” which were used by Napoleon Bonaparte to expand his territory on the basis of the superiority of French values.
Ethnic nationalism: The basis of this form of nationalism is that ethnic groups on the basis of a common ethnicity like a common language, a common faith, and a common ethnic ancestry can form a nation state. The nations that are a direct result of this form of Nationalism are Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Russia etc.
The common factor found between both ethnic nationalists and civic nationalists is their distinct superiority complex. Both take pride in the inherent superiority of their identities which result in the expansionist tendencies of the Western society at large. American Exceptionalism has been used by American Neo-Conservatives to wage wars under the garb of ” giving democracy ” to the others.
Now that we know the two major forms of Nationalism known in the West it is the time we ask ourselves some very important questions. Do we need the concept of Western Nationalism ? If not, what is Indian Nationalism ? Is it the same as Nationalism as we understand it in the West? Do we fall into the above categories of Civic Nationalism or Ethnic Nationalism ?
The current Indian Leftist Marxist analysis considers Indian Nationalism as a reaction to British colonialism. It considers this as a very recent phenomenon which was a product of the independence movement. In fact, they go to the extent of stating that it is the British that created India. Otherwise, we were a collection of different princely states which had nothing in common.
The Leftists fail to recognize the inherent Integral Unity of ” Bharata “. This Integral unity stems from the Dharma traditions that are steeped in the metaphysics of the nonseparation of all reality, physical and nonphysical, from the divine. ( Page 102, Being Different by Rajiv Malhotra ). Western models of Nationalism are a result of a synthetic unity, at best, a convenience, it misses out on the much deeper bonds that hold people together across the boundaries of hierarchies and diversities of various kinds. ( Page 110, Being Different by Rajiv Malhotra ).
India has been a country for more than 3500 years united by its sacred geography and common Dharmic Culture. This sacred geography is not inscribed in the form of a constitutional document. The uniqueness of India lies in its dynamic multicultural, multilingual, multi-ethnic, multi-racial society bonded together by the concept of Bandhu. Bandhu is a concept used to explain how the whole and parts are held together in integral unity. This idea of integral unity, with the whole manifesting in the parts, and they in turn aspiring to unite with the whole – is reflected in all facets of Dharmic systems, including in their philosophy, science, religion, ethics, spirituality, art, music, dance, education, literature, oral narratives, politics, marriage, economics and social structures. ( Page 116, Being Different by Rajiv Malhotra ) It is this Bandhuta that is the reason that the 51/108 Shakti Peethams are located in all the 4 directions of India. It is this very Bandhuta that made Adi Sankaracharya establish four Peethams in different directions of India. If India was not a singular sacred geographical unit why are the 12 Jyotir lingams located in different areas of India?
It is the time that we reevaluate the Western notions of the Nation-State and Nationalism completely. Indians cannot be classified as Civic or Ethnic Nationalists. This brings me to the concept of Constitutional Patriotism that was presented by Prakash Bhanu Mehta. A constitutional patriots loyalty for his country will always be conditional. A constitutional patriot will be bound to a particular document which can be altered by a simple parliamentary majority. This is a cause of serious concern.
India at best can be called a Civilisational State where its citizens are bound by Dharma. It is the time we float the idea of Dharmic nationalism. A Dharmic Nationalist will not have a superiority complex. Dharmic nationalism will be based on the principle of mutual respect. While he will take pride in the values of his own civilization he will not impose his views on the other. One of the biggest problems with Western forms of Nationalism is the deep superiority complex embedded in them which then leads to expansionist tendencies. You will see this common trait in both the western liberal as well as the western conservative nationalist. Both view other societies as barbaric and backward and always want to save them by giving them liberal democratic/history-centric divine values. This always leads to unnecessary conflict and tension.
Dharmic Nationalism will not lead to dogmatism. Rather it will lead to the creation of an open architecture which will include the world’s most multicultural, multilingual, multiracial, multi-ethnic society. A Dharmic Nationalist will be someone who welcomes debate, mutual respect, evolution, and fluidity. At the same time, Dharmic Nationalism will have to protect itself from being too elastic and falling into fragmentation and relativism i.e the attitude of anything goes or sameness. ( Page 234, Indra’s Net by Rajiv Malhotra ) A Dharmic Nationalist will believe in Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam i.e the whole world is one family. But the family metaphor is about mutual respect for internal diversity, not for sameness and homogenization. ( Page 335, Being Different by Rajiv Malhotra )
Another key difference that needs to be mentioned is that Dharmic Nationalism is not related to material benefits. The average Indian considers his country as his Mata. The love for a Mata is unconditional because the Mata nourishes you and provides you with everything that you have in your life without expecting anything in return. You owe your existence to your Mata. It is the time that we ask our friends in the west ( Especially North America ) that if their nation stopped providing them with x amount of material benefits would they still love their country? An average Indians connection to his Matra Bhumi is very different from that of a westerner. It is fascinating how Indians even after they leave India, tend to identify themselves as Indians. Even if they are born and raised in another country all together they still have a deep love and affection for their Matra Bhumi. While America might be someone’s Karma Bhumi, India will always be their Matra Bhumi. What makes them call themselves Indian is the Dharmic Bandhuta. The Indian bond cuts across boundaries and nations. Each and every Indian connects to the motherland via Dharma. It does not matter what religion/darshan they follow. It is Dharma that binds them together in this world that is like an Indra Jaal.
The points presented above are just a basic presentation of random thoughts that I have gathered over the last few years. They are inspired by reading books/articles/research papers presented by different authors. What I would love to do is to start a larger discussion on this topic. I would also be more than happy to have detailed recorded video discussions with people who have found my proposition interesting. It does not matter if you agree with me or not. But I want all of us to have a discussion on this subject. As a Dharmic pluralist, I request you to engage in a civilized debate with me.