[Goanet-News] Can India's Patriotism Be Built on Accepting Differences? (Rudolf C Heredia, EPW)
Goanet Reader
2018-08-15 13:07:49 UTC
Can India's Patriotism Be Built on Accepting Differences?

Rudolf C Heredia
Rudolf C Heredia (***@gmail.com) is at the Indian
Social Institute, New Delhi.
Vol. 53, Issue No. 29, 21 Jul 2018

There are many avatars of
nationalism premised on very
different understandings of
"the idea of India." This
demands a patriotism premised
on an inclusive love of all our
peoples, a commitment to their
integral welfare, and faith in
an idea of India with its
multicultural, pluri-religious
society as less a nation state
than a multi-nation-state in
the making. The jury is still
out on whether this will be a
failed experiment or a
prophetic sign of the future
for a world still struggling to
cope with diversity, not quite
able to accept the different
"other" and the legitimacy of
the difference.

There is an obvious contradiction between nationalism and
internationalism, and yet they prevail together: national
chauvinism at home and international globalism abroad. Any
response to such anomalies, particularly in a rapidly
changing situation, must be critically assessed lest we pour
new wine that cannot be contained in "old wine skins" and so
burst the skins and spill the wine.

Some Issues and Clarifications

Nationalism and patriotism: Nationalism as devotion
to one's country easily becomes exclusive: my
country first, right or wrong. When national
interests clash with those of others, nationalism
inevitably becomes antagonistic and hostile to
other countries and results in violence and war on
the world stage, rather than dialogue and
tolerance, leading to a compromise for the greater
common good and peace. Such a chauvinist
nationalism thrives on finding or creating national
enemies, whether without or within the country.
However, patriotism as a non-exclusive love of
one's country must be premised on self-confidence
and openness to other countries without fears and
suspicions. This is a far better and more
constructive basis for an inclusive society, both
national and international, than jingoist

An intensification of trade and finance, facilitated by media
and migration, results in an imploding globalising world. The
consequent rapid and radical change brings back uprooted
people who seek lost roots in localisation.

Political leaders often find it convenient, even
profitable to confuse nationalism and patriotism so
as to mobilise people on the basis of a politics of
hate, masquerading as nationalism, rather than
painstakingly cultivating patriotism as a love for
one's people that reaches out to other peoples as
well. Such patriotism is a far more viable basis
for a national community in pursuit of the common
good, rather than the social contract of Thomas
Hobbes (1985) which grounds our politics today in
the self-interest in individual or group, national
or international community. This is what plagues
communities in our country and nations at the
United Nations, despite so much pious rhetoric.

Imagining a nation: Nationalism is the ideology that drives
this process of nation-building: "Nationalism is not the
awakening of nations to self-consciousness; it invents
nations where they do not exist". (Gellner 1964: 169) It was
a powerful idea but one that imposed a uniformity (cultural,
religious, and economic) with a brutal aggression subsuming
lesser communities into the dominant one. The last century
has witnessed horrendous clashes of aggressive nationalisms
in Europe, engulfing the world in two great wars. However, we
have not as yet managed to exorcise such nationalisms from
our world.

Moreover, when religion is used to construct this national
identity, then religion is politicised into an "ideology" and
vice versa and nationalism is sacralised into a "religion" --
in other words, a nationalised religion and a sacred
nationalism. This entanglement of religion and politics
inevitably becomes explosive, as religion becomes
fundamentalist and exclusive; and politics becomes extremist
and violent. No religious tradition has been an exception to
such political manipulation, even those purported to be
tolerant and non-violent. Only the expression of the violence

When there are many imagined communities in a single polity,
we have the multi-nation state, very different and far more
problematic than the original European nation state.
Moreover, a pluri-religious, multicultural society demands a
correspondingly adequate ideological construct -- a pluralism
for a multicultural, pluri-religious multi-nation federal
state, not the nationalism of the unitary nation state. But
first, it must be a civil state before becoming political

Unhealed, wounded histories: In the states of the
Indian republic, everyone belongs to some minority,
depending on which way the cake is cut. Religious
differences are foregrounded to proxy for the far
more corrosive inequities of status, between castes
and classes, and the hegemony of elites over the
masses. At present there is a deliberate
polarisation that pitches religious communities
against each other only to the advantage of their
instigating leaders. This is what the freedom
struggle tirelessly strove to contain and resolve,
and it seemed to have succeeded for a while in the
aftermath of the trauma of partition and the murder
of Mahatma Gandhi by Hindutvavadi fanatics.
Fanaticism readily overtakes religious nationalism
and precipitates a world of terror and
counterterror by state and non-state actors.

Ashis Nandy (1994) distinguishes all such nationalism from a
patriotism founded on humanism and universalism. Negative
emotions and intellectual prejudice can be powerful mass
mobilisers against powerless scapegoats but they are always
very bad counsellors. It can eventually only bring strife and
struggle not just between nations but within a national
community as well. The human price for such a dangerous folly
is incalculable, and the Indian subcontinent is a shocking
witness to this.

Unity in diversity: The challenge of unity in diversity is to
recognise and guarantee both equal dignity, founded on human
rights and committed to enforcing equitable rights for all
individuals and unique identity for every individual person
and each human community, premised on collective rights and
responsibility for ensuring the cultural identity of each
group (Heredia 2007). Indeed,

"The national movement fully recognized the multifaceted
diversity of the Indian people. That India was not yet a
developed or structured nation, but a nation-in-the-making,
was accepted and made the basis of political and ideological
work and agitation." (Chandra et al 1988: 555)

Negating the identity and dignity of a subordinate group sets
off a backlash and in return provokes a response from the
dominant group, trapping both in a rising spiral of violence.
This is an alarming reality in this subcontinent.

The Freedom Movement

Perspectives on Indian nationalism: There was an
inherent ideological tension in the freedom
struggle: between a vision of an idealised ancient
past prioritising religious and cultural
revivalism, and a dream of a new future centred on
social transformation and concern. Gandhi's swaraj
privileged even the most marginalised Indian but is
now an ideal served more in the breach than in
fact. The dominant Nehruvian consensus of the early
independence era was premised on the dream of a new
future, but it never could quite contain or defuse
the lure of the first. Already, then, in the
freedom struggle Indian nationalism had been
contested by opposing constituencies with their
antagonistic ideologies, seeking to co-opt it for
their own partisan purposes.

Hindu nationalism has had a subterranean existence
even when it has been marginalised in national
politics. The rejection of the Hindu Code Bill in
1954 in spite of Nehru's support by a Congress
dominated Parliament (which precipitated the
resignation of Ambedkar) is evidence of this. A
modified form of the bill was accepted later in

Rabindranath Tagore rejected a narrow aggressive nationalism,
for a broad inclusive patriotism. Under Gandhi's leadership,
the Indian freedom movement struggled to convert divisive
debates into integrating dialogues, to transform exclusive
identities into inclusive ones, to change hostile controversy
into empathetic consensus. Both Muslim and Hindu nationalism
on the subcontinent betrayed this ideal in 1947, and after
the murder of Gandhi by a member of a Hindu nationalist
organisation, Hindu nationalism was convincingly rejected, at
least for a while. In the years after independence, Congress
itself in effect abandoned Gandhi's ideals, and compromised
the democratic institutions that Nehru had nurtured, thus
opening the door for a Hindu nationalist authoritarian
revival which now occupies a majoritarian space.

Caste and class hegemonies: Antonio Gramsci (1996)
has shown how nationalism can also become a
hegemony of the dominant classes over subordinate
ones. Dominant religious groups too use nationalism
to suppress or assimilate other groups. Such
religious nationalisms are inevitably resisted by
secular and other minority religious groups, and
the confrontation often spins out of control.
Pankaj Mishra correctly traces the rise of Hindutva
(Savarkar 1989) to Giuseppe Mazzini's nationalism,
premised on a selective historical memory, for a
restoration of the glory that had been destroyed by
barbarian invasions.

"an acute consciousness of the defeat and humiliation of
ancestors, an awakening to historical pain, and a resolve to
rectify the wrongs of the past with superhuman efforts at
power and glory in the present and future. The latter include
self-sacrifice for the greater cause of the nation, as Modi
has repeatedly exhorted after unleashing demonetisation. An
intellectual genealogy of Hindu nationalism, however, reveals
that there is nothing uniquely 'Hindu' about it." (Mishra

This is the Hindutva that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has
adopted as its commanding ideology, but without the militant
rationalism of Savarkar.

It is important to distinguish Hindutva as a
political ideology from Hinduism as a religious
faith tradition. However, this distinction has more
validity for a liberal reformist Hinduism, which
identifies itself as a religious faith, embodied in
a religio-cultural tradition, not extremist
Hindutva that politicises it for partisan purposes.

Once we begin to deconstruct and situate these traditions in
their social context, we find a substantial continuity in the
hegemonic project of the modern Hindutva agenda and the
traditional savarna sensitivities -- the former becomes very
much a radicalised and politicised extension of the latter.

Ascendant Hindu nationalism: We need an effective and real
equity that allows for diversity without inequity, whether
sociocultural or politico-economic. This demands a negation
of the idea of a unilinear social evolution within a single
national tradition in which all communities are co-opted and
merged. However, subaltern and minority quests for equality
and justice must not sacrifice social identity and human
dignity, least it be co-opted and subverted. This is
precisely the dominant group's agenda to retain their
hegemony: divide and rule.

But for this we need first to break out of the prison of our
present consciousness and transcend the categories that
constrain us there. We need to imagine another kind of
community and invent a newer set of traditions. It is not as
if subaltern alternatives have all the answers for such an
enterprise, but they do represent a challenging horizon of
revolt and revolution, which can fuse with others to
construct the identities and the ideologies for this brave
new world.

Someday, people may be able collectively to remake our
founding myth into one more adequate to our new world view.
For liberation seekers, history can be made to follow myth
(Nandy 1983: 63).

Idea of India

Common consciousness: In the Indian subcontinent there was no
real consciousness of a common national identity or a quest
for nationhood, until the nationalist movement created such
an awareness. It was a nationhood premised on an overarching
civilisational commonality in pursuit of their shared tryst
with destiny. The dominant inspiration of our freedom
struggle was against the colonial Raj. However, independence
as a nation was to celebrate an inclusive political unity in
our rich cultural diversity and our religious pluralism. The
freedom movement had constructed a new idea of India for both
governance and civil society.

Tagore's concerns: Tagore's (1935) idea of India was
distinctly syncretic. He imagined a civilisation "embedded in
the tolerance encoded in various traditional ways of life in
a highly diverse plural society" (Nandy 1994: x–xi),
welcoming all peoples and cultures.

Tagore was keenly aware of dangers of nationalist
chauvinism and sharply critical of how European
nationalism had turned 20th century Europe into a
"civilisation of power" (Tagore 1996: 425). After
encountering it in Japan, he was apprehensive of
the militant nationalism in India and the freedom
movement. However, he remained a critical
participant yet always a much valued and respected
one. The genius of India he elaborated in terms of
a spirit of cooperation: "Let our civilisation take
its firm stand upon its basis of social cooperation
and not upon that of economic exploitation and
conflict" (Tagore 1996: 465).

Gandhi's swaraj: "Civilisation is that mode of conduct which
points out to man the path of duty" (Gandhi 1909). The basis
of his swaraj then could not be just rights, it had to be
duties as well. It had to be a person's rule over one's self
in this path of duty, before it could be the collective rule
over one's country. His idea of India is bold and
challenging, a utopia as a reference point to serve as a
critique of contemporary society. He incisively rejects
Western civilisation built on colonial imperialism,
industrial capitalism, and rationalist materialism and then
presents his alternative for India:

swaraj: beginning with the individual ruling oneself in
responsible freedom, as the foundation for a people governing
themselves as a society;

swadesh: the local neighbourhood community, as the node in a
network of oceanic circles that over-lapped and spread out in
its ever widening embrace;

satya: as the many-sided (anekantavad) experiential (not
speculative) truth pursued with ahimsa and operationalised in

Gandhi was a patriot who wanted "Indian nationalism
to be non-violent, anti-militaristic and therefore
a variant of universalism" (Nandy 1995:14). He
wrote: "By patriotism I mean the welfare of the
whole people." (Gandhi 1909) Later he would affirm:
"my patriotism is for me a stage on my journey to
the land of freedom and peace," which was always
inclusive (Gandhi 1924: 112). Indeed, Gandhi was an
internationalist and patriot, not a narrow
nationalist and chauvinist.

He feared India might succeed in getting independence
(swatantrata) from the British for the political and other
elites and fail in achieving freedom (swaraj) or rather
integral self-rule (purna swaraj). In Gandhian terms,
nationalism meant going the distance from swatantra to
swaraj: to fulfil one's duties not merely affirm one's
rights. This was true freedom that finally led to moksha via
ahimsa and the seva-marg. This was not just an
economic–political agenda, but a sociocultural one for a
civilisational revolution. Today we find his fears have
proven all too prescient.

Nehru's discovery: Nehru saw India not in exclusive
terms, but rather as a multicultural and
pluri-religious civilisation that was to be the
defining basis for its national identity (Nehru 1946).

Nehru traces this right back to the meeting between the
Aryans and the Dravidians, and later between the settlers and
the Iranians, Greeks, Parthians, Bactrians, Scythians, Huns,
Turks (before Islam), early Christians, Jews (and)
Zoroastrians. (Bhattacharjee 2015: 21)

The basis of such a synthesis was the "astonishing inclusive
capacity of Hinduism" (Nehru 1946: 74). This "discovery of
India" that Nehru, the enlighted rationalist, made was not
bound by religious roots or defined by specific practices
(Nehru 1946).

Ambedkar's republic: For Ambedkar, Buddhism
originally defined India, but through the ages,
Buddhism was displaced by a Hinduism that was
corrupted beyond redemption by Brahminism. He hoped
that his neo-Buddhist Navayana would restore the
original Buddhist ideal and be the foundation of
the newly constituted Republic of India.

The constituent assembly debates, over which Ambedkar
presided, hammered out the compact expressed in the
Constitution of India. This represented the broad consensus
of the movement led by the Indian National Congress. Despite
differences and disagreements, this was not a pragmatic
political compromise lacking conviction and commitment, but a
compact based on mutual trust to allow for various underlying
approaches and perspectives that were to be sorted out with
sensitivity and understanding.

The constituent assembly left a fertile ground for conflict
between the political compulsions of the government and the
constitutional propriety of the courts. This area of
constitutional propriety and political demands for rights has
increasingly become a tug-of-war between the legislature and
the judiciary.

Contesting the idea of India: The idea of India in
our Constitution cannot be forced into a sectarian,
communal interpretation without inflicting violence
upon its basic structure. The earlier governments
failed to do what they were elected to do --
protect and promote the constitutional rights of
citizens and implement the constitutional agenda on
the integral development of society and progress
for all its citizens. Inevitably, this has
precipitated the present crisis.

However, today, this idea of India is being contested and
contradicted as never before, to the point of threatening a
reversal, by saffron-clad politicians, brown sahibs,
neo-liberals, and free-marketeers. The 2014 general election
was an alarming warning of the real and present danger of our
republic being hijacked by an aggressive Hindu
majoritarianism and populism. The 2019 general election may
well be our last chance to reverse this.

Constitutional Propriety

Constitutional democracy: A critical and alert citizenry can
best protect constitutional democracy from lapsing into
populist democracy (Béteille 1999). This is an enormous
challenge. Formal statutory rights are made justiciable, not
the Directive Principles of State Policy, which mandate the
pursuit of social and economic democracy. This means
countering the entrenched institutions of caste and
community, of patriarchy and landlordism, and to do this
within the democratic framework of the Constitution.

Such divisions undermine a fraternal community, which
"without fraternity, equality, and liberty will be no deeper
than coats of paint" (Beteille 1999: 339) and society becomes
divided into "beasts of burden" and "beasts of prey."
(Beteille 1999: 340) The backlash from the liberal
democracies of the West is a witness to this, with the
ethnocentric politics of exclusion overtaking a precarious
liberalism. This is surely happening in India as well.

Populist democracy: In contrast to a constitutional
democracy, a populist one has little patience with
constitutional restraints of checks and balances or due
process. For "populist politics is often constructed from a
blend of nativism, bigotry, grandiosity, and coarse speech"
(Coll 2017). It depends on a charismatic leader mobilising a
mass movement for populist interests. Electoral democracies,
if not committed to constitutional propriety and morality, do
produce such "democratic dictatorships."

The majority is privileged, while minorities are
marginalised. Dissenters become non-people, and the
poor and underprivileged are deprived of voice and
choice; they become invisible. This is a
prescription for disaster and eventually, after
much drift and obfuscation, leads to the strong
leader syndrome. Such leaders undermine democratic
institutions and eventually exit leaving a trail of
broken promises and belied hopes.

In stark contrast, a constitutional democracy pursues
constitutionally defined political goals and ideals within a
regime of rights, with due process and constitutional
propriety. This is the real challenge for our democracy -- to
follow through and complete the social revolution begun with
the freedom struggle, promulgated in the Constitution, and
contextualised in the Directive Principles.

Nation without Nationalisms

Neoliberalism and saffronisation: The crisis of
neo-liberalism is world wide, thanks to economic,
political, neo-liberal globalisation. Thomas
Piketty challenges the conventional wisdom of
neo-liberal economists to demonstrate how the
system reproduces and increases inequalities
(Piketty 2014). Class strata are thus increasingly
inherited and ascribed rather than merited, as with
caste. In India, this is reinforced by the
traditional caste hierarchy to produce an upper
class/caste hegemony. There is clearly a connection
between "saffronisation and liberalisation" (Ahmad
1996: 1329) and the predatory capitalism that the
latter has spawned (Lele 1995: 38) The conservative
free-market rightists and "saffron neo-liberalism"
(Teltumbde 2014) make willing bedfellows.

Today caste, gender, ethnicity, and region have become fault
lines. But most acutely, it is the religious divide of the
majority–minority that is being aggressively exploited to
consolidate vote banks for electoral gains, while communal
polarisation consolidates extremist leadership. Despite all
the pious talk to the contrary from all sides, collective
violence still periodically rips apart the fabric of our
society, leaving wounded people in broken communities, crying
out for relief and justice that is mostly, if not often,

Shockingly, while the government projects India as a rising
global power, the World Economic Forum (2017) says that
"India with a score of only 3.38, ranks 60th among the 79
developing economies on the Inclusive Development Index,
despite the fact that its growth in GDP per capita is among
the top 10 and labour productivity growth has been strong."
Further, in the list of the least trusted institutions in 28
countries, the media in India ranks second after Rupert
Murdoch's Australia![1] Nationalism has become the battle cry
to neuter all opposition and all dissenters. Many see this as
an undeclared Emergency.

Without a media watchdog, there can be no
government accountability. Without a right to free
speech and public dissent, there can be no
substantive democracy. Without a shared solidarity,
there can be no nation. We are now experiencing the
debilitating contradiction in terms of a
"nationalism without a nation in India" (Aloysius
1997) from which only scoundrels benefit! Hindu
Rashtra is patently the subtext in the present
context. This is surely a betrayal of the national
freedom movement.

Future challenges: There is an urgent need for people of
goodwill to come together; not just on minority rights of
one's own community, but on the common ground of our human
rights, statutorily affirmed as fundamental rights in the
Constitution. However, to be credible we must, at the same
time, emphasise our fundamental duties as affirmed in the
same Constitution. Here, the role of family and fiduciary
institutions is crucial.

Today, this is being challenged by the neo-liberalism
unleashed by a global free market that promises liberty and
equality but results in upper-class dominance and lower-class
subordination. Further, with saffronisation, caste hierarchy
and class stratification become mutually reinforcing of such
subordinations and inequalities. Majoritarianism pretends to
pursue democratic ideals, but marginalises the minorities and
oppresses the underprivileged across the board. Nationalism
is the ideology used to legitimise this hegemony, and to
co-opt diverse and unequal communities and classes into a
majoritarian cultural–political uniformity.

India's Democratic Saga

Projecting possibilities: There has been a continuing advance
of an aggressive, majoritarian, religious right, as also of a
defensive, minority, religious fundamentalism among both the
majority and the minorities in this land. These are but
mirror images of each other. They feed on each other and
spill over into violence.

We need to recapture the open spaces that we have lost to
communal polarisation and partisanship. This is the common
ground we must recover so we can move together to a higher
ground together. For this, civic activism must transcend
identity politics, whether of caste or religion and reach
beyond to all other disadvantaged groups, whatever the
grounds of their discrimination may be. It must be a process
that begins at the grass roots, and but is scaled up. But it
must also be accompanied with a top-down facilitation as much
as it needs a bottom-up activation.

The culture of terror: Minority rights for a community
must be compatible with fundamental rights in the
Constitution. This requires a negotiation between
national representatives and community ones. The
grass roots and neighbourhood committees are a
viable place to start. But when the representatives
themselves become stridently extremist, they
silence the very voices within their respective
communities that might make for a sustainable
social compact. A viable context for this requires
an understanding of "human rights in popular
consciousness" (Anderson and Guha 1998: 5), as also
a sensitivity to minority cultures and their

Our constitutional vision is now under strain. We must draw
on our tradition of public reasoning to rescue our democracy.
The only remedy for a failing democracy is a more effective

We must build a civil society supportive of our
constitutional vision -- one that is decent and just, fair
and egalitarian, participative and inclusive -- beginning
with our personal lives first, and building local communities
that spread their ripple effect like Gandhi's oceanic
circles. We need a patriotism that will make Indians a happy
people, not a nationalism that pretends to great power
status. In other words, an India for all Indians, especially
the last and the least, the marginalised and the outcaste.

Neo-liberal globalisation sits comfortably with religious
nationalisms except when their violence disrupts free
markets. It sharpens inequalities in a diverse but imploding
world and then attempts to contain the violent spill over
with counter-violence, where leaders profit and people lose.
We need a new social ethic, an inclusive religious vision,
and an open spirituality.

There are many avatars of nationalism premised on very
different understandings of "the idea of India." But not all
can comprehend and embrace the tryst with destiny we made
years ago in our struggle for freedom. This demands a
patriotism premised on an open-ended, inclusive love of all
our peoples, a commitment to their integral welfare, and
faith in an idea of India with its multicultural,
pluri-religious society. The jury is still out on whether
this will be a failed endeavour or a prophetic experiment for
the future for a world still struggling to cope with
diversity, not quite able to accept the different "other" and
the legitimacy of the difference.

If this idea of India falters, it may well prejudice the
viability of a multicultural, pluri-religious society in a
nation-state for the rest of the world's community of

Rudolf C Heredia
Rudolf C Heredia (***@gmail.com) is at the Indian
Social Institute, New Delhi.
Vol. 53, Issue No. 29, 21 Jul 2018
20 July 2018
This is an abridged version of the keynote address given at
St Andrew's College, Mumbai on 11 February 2017.