The Idea of India Is a Myth
[An] ideology based on the premise that the individual’s loyalty and devotion to the nation-state surpass other individual or group interests
Nationalism is a modern movement. Throughout history people have been attached to their native soil, to the traditions of their parents, and to established territorial authorities; but it was not until the end of the 18th century that nationalism began to be a generally recognized sentiment molding public and private life and one of the great, if not the greatest, single determining factors of modern history.
— HANS KOHN / ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA
Subsequent to a recent attack on the Indian military in a corner in the district of Baramulla in Kashmir, the battle cry of Indian nationalists of all hues have redefined absurdity—while those in the mainland are yelling for waging a war against the enemy, read Pakistan, those in the frontline are not impressed. A war does unite people. On the other hand, some ‘other’ people are also not impressed about any one of them.
This write-up is a recollection of these other people with reference to the so-called Indian nationalism. Also, when even the greatest empires and dynasties in history have turned into dust, the destiny of a ‘unit’ called nation-state or nation or a country is not marked on stone. Also, the notion of nationalism—originating from Europe with the contributions from the German, French and English people—is hardly three centuries old and so is the concept of social revolution.
First of all, the idea of India is a myth. Ask a Manipuri about the idea of India; ask the same question to a Kashmiri or anyone belonging to the Red Corridor, or for that matter, someone in a mainland city—all of them would give a different answer each, but which are nevertheless similar on the line of how the idea of India is fragmented so deeply.
One of the motifs of the Indian nation-state is the evocation of its ancient civilisation. Nationalists would love to believe in the linear timeline but what it shows immediately is the non-inclusion of various people and places that define the modern India. In my hometown it is a common saying that the national anthem, which sings of this linearity, has nothing for us. Incidentally, armed organisations had banned the singing of the anthem while we were in high school. The ban continues till today.
Again, by referring to history, the nationalists are only driving a wedge between the people; and never in the past was India a homogenous entity. In fact it was the outsiders, the British specifically, who popularised the name of the country. What’s more, it was also the Persians who introduced the other name: ‘Hindustan’. If we talk about unity, it was always based on caste or creed; for instance, see the formation of Pakistan and Bangladesh. If there was ever a concept of unity, it was also solely from the issues of exploitations by the British colonialists, though it was not absolute.
This was most obvious when India was about to become a free nation. Perry Anderson, the noted indologist, had written extensively that MK Gandhi did little to bridge the gap between the Hindus and Muslims and that Gandhi protested, by resorting to his famous hunger strike, against Dr BR Ambedkar who was vouching for a separate political entity for the Dalits.
Anderson was also the one who introduced the term ‘caste-iron democracy’, which in the Indian context refers to this phenomenon. It was also Dr Ambedkar who foresaw that India will have equality in politics—whichever perspective it was defined from—while inequality in social and economic spheres. We can go on with references to other political leaders of the past but the point has been made clear.
Another distinct feature of the present India, despite its fragmentation, is the appropriation of the concept of colonialism. It is interesting to note here that once Karl Marx remarked that British India was developing due to the English colonialists by making a cultured people out of zamindars!
To begin with, for instance, policy makers in the then newly independent India usurped the colonial law, the Armed Forces Special Powers Ordinance of 1942, and made it worse by renaming it into Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and using against its so-called citizens. This was legislated in 1958 in the wake of the Naga resistance. Anyway, the Indian nationalists, they must also remember that more than 60 per cent of the Constitution is directly lifted from the British-made Government of India Act 1935.
Say it is inspiration or for the convenience or give any justification; juxtapose these issues with the problems of insurgencies particularly in the frontiers of the present country, where army is deployed and the people are ‘controlled’ with emergency-type powers though the government of the day would term it as an internal problem arising out from unfavourable law and order conditions. Let’s not even talk about how Manipur was merged by using muscle and money, which illustrates that the epitome of nationalism is violence.
Incidentally, this form of coercive power has remained a legacy for the present-day legislators and it is visible from an unlikely angle. The legislative class in the country boast of having the highest number of criminals—which in 2013, BBC revealed that ‘[a] third of the current members of [the] [P]arliament have criminal cases pending against them’.
Apart from the appropriation, the Government of India has also set a new benchmark of neo-colonialism. When PM Narendra Modi became a model for a distinguished corporate house recently, mainland India must have been worried about the ‘prostitutioning’ of the Union government but in many parts of India, it fell into the category of just another narrative of being a neo-colonial power.
Leaving these issues aside, one common string that runs through the narrative of India is its arrogance; after all, yes, the region is called an Indian subcontinent and it has an ocean named in its name. In this brouhaha, democracy in certain corners of the nation has been equated to the electoral politics while the military rules the roost. The lives of many a people today still depend on the marching tune of the army and paramilitary forces.
Fortunately, an entity like the caste system with the help of brave nationalists has ensured that India can call itself the largest democracy of the world, making sheer numbers the only determiner while it is a hell for groups of people with comparatively low population.
Again, talk about inclusiveness and non-inclusion in India, you will find a thousand justifications and excuses ranging from the failure of governance to the incompetency of the establishment; and the more it is justified, the more will be the contradictions. Besides, such reasoning hardly changes the equation on the ground. You can talk about another thousand more things and deliberate endlessly on the concept of inclusion in the Indian context but the nation-building process has flaws as many as there are in the idea of an ‘India’.
These flaws were visible from the day one of the formation of an Indian identity during the early twentieth century when liberals, extremists, political campaigners, intellectuals, anti-colonialists and other well-qualified, politically conscious professionals arrived on the scene. They did a good job in laying the foundation but it was apparently not enough. Nevertheless, it was good for India but certainly not for those who are involved in contemporary resistance in the name of sovereignty, autonomy and what not.
It will be understatement to state that, apart from its fragmented self, the nation-building process of India has been a long process. By definition, a nation is but a shared political entity that is bound by certain similarities of the people regarding history, culture, values, language and so on—or the collective subjugation under the British imperialists in case of India. With such a high population, referring to mainland India, the unification, even if it is of just a certain area, can be remarkable. Who knows that population can be political! Albeit, no matter what, this unification is a work-in-progress stuff—the fragmentation is visible throughout the contours and terrains, the national awakening is literally in a deep slumber and a lot remains to be done if India cares to live up to its name.
In this regard, to cite an example, those individuals belonging to the Naga resistance movement proudly justify their right to self-determination on the ground of its lack of relationship with India in history. On the other side of the hills, the Indianisation of Manipur had started in the 18th century with the onslaught of Hindusim that was imposed with a heavy hand. Any kind of hostility between these ethnic groups is an advantage point for the Indian establishment. Still, it is an idiot-proof statement that a voluntary process will always last longer than a forced unification.
India has a history of marginalising its minorities that continues till today. Perhaps this explains the countless clarion call for political division at the international level. Neither breaking bread with the Dalits nor pumping in money for development projects cannot change the equation—and this is most apparent from the example of Manipur that survives on the beggar-ish 90% funding from the Union. In this province, a chunk of the population as well cannot call themselves as a citizen of the nation. Elsewhere, a few lifetimes ago, BR Ambedkar would preach about the annihilation of caste but it is still surviving and thriving in 2016. Perhaps the first group of nationalists that came out after the departure of the colonial masters was too idealistic about the then new nation; and without realising that some of them had appropriated the colonial ethos and values.
Consider the definitions of imagined communities by Benedict Anderson: a nation is made of imagined communities because ‘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’. It was also Anderson, with his book on imagined communities, who initiated the deliberation on nation-states in contemporary world history. On the ground, between Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, the definition is just a given however, things turn worse when it is applied to a group of people who is not only imagined but never was a part of the consciousness.
In the imagination of India, stereotyping a Manipuri fellow as a foreigner is easier than accepting the truth of an imagined community, if not it is missing entirely. Mainland experts say that their people started imagining the inclusion only when China whipped the derrière of India in 1962. Still, if you are of a Mongoloid stock, then it is almost a daily event to run into people—from traffic police personnel to fancy engineers—who would ask you about your nationality. And I’m not playing the victim-victim game here, because at the end of the day, it matters little what nation you belong to.
To many people, the image of India is its onslaught on the freedom of choice. The best that it is portraying is constitutional patriotism, which according to Jürgen Habermas, is the concept of encouraging people’s attachment to a democratic constitution in lieu of a single national identity. However, countering this possible development, Kashmir has as always been burning and Nagaland has semi-officially started observing its Independence Day on 14 August, while in Manipur, it has sharply divided people on the basis of a national political affiliation. Alternatively, the notion of constitutional patriotism articulates on the highly artificial nature of states and nation-states that can be re-fixed in accordance with the requirements of a particular time in history while it is stark contrast to our free will and free conscience. We can safely conclude that the nationalists can relax because this issue does not pertain to only India or Pakistan or Burma or whichever nation, but the resistance is against the very idea of a nation. Such a nation is as well filled with ulterior motives of subjugation in the hands of a few powerbrokers over the masses.
A nation is one of the best things to happen to human beings, as experts would say, it is one of the factors how we are the most ‘successful’ living being and have conquered the top slot of the animal world. Albeit if we look back into history, we will also see that this association of large groups of animals is also a reason behind the oppression of humanity because inside its boundary the state is supreme and outside, it has the right to use any means for its supposedly self-preservation. Just visualise the world of fascism, Nazism, the left–right centred governments and closer home, the Hindu nationalism. So it is preferable that our connection to another human is based on trust and respect—and it is possible as we can see from our naturally formed societies, rather than forced bonding that can have dire consequences. As a reminder, this opposition to the idea of India has nothing to do about anti-India or for that matter, against any nation but the very concept of a nation. It is suffocating to say the least. The Indian self-interest should not be a reason why groups of people should be suffering from chronic mess; and an example is that of the province of Manipur, where everything is possible and paradoxically nothing is also possible.
Every human being wants to be free, everybody needs emancipation, and all of us love to romanticise the concepts of peace, justice, equality and collective welfare, solely on the basis of humanity rather than on parochial foundations like nations, states and religions that are as ephemeral as the narratives of humankind that keep changing according to existing milieus.
You can make a flag and hoist it but you cannot simply force someone to carry it.
Alternatively, as long as there is oppression, there will be resistance but, obviously, not for the sake of resistance. In short, you can make a flag and hoist it but you cannot simply force someone to carry it. As Ernest Gellner says, nationalism is a mere fabrication. On the other hand, the knee-jerk and sporadic reactions to the call of nationalism as in the present case of Indians baying for Pakistani blood is merely an infantile diseased as described by Albert Einstein.
The only good thing out of Indian nationalism is its mildness as compared to, say, the military junta of Burma or the Nazis and fascists in Europe and elsewhere. Yes, India never dropped an atom bomb though it did bomb Mizoram and has been militarising heavily a substantial portion of its Northeast region.
As thing stands today, India has become a brand, particularly with regards to the present ruling party at the union. See again the case of the prime minister becoming the sort of a salesman and a model. India is now a label that has been polished to attract capitalists from all across the world even if it is listed amongst the worst place to do business. The label has as well been further anointed with Hinduism, with only time to tell what the myth is to become of.
Related posts on this blog
- A Perspective on Benedict Anderson’s Concept of ‘Imagined Communities’
- India and I (in Two Parts)
- Race, Sex, Nationalism, Identity and Over-flooding Cum
- On Nationalism & Others
- Nationhood: A Reflection on Ethnic Hostility in Manipur
- The Responsible Indians
- Nationalism: The Destruction of a Nation