Nationalism, as a concept, is subjective in form and substance. Never before in the history of free India has the concept of ‘Nationalism’ been of more relevance than today when factions are deeply divided both in loyalty and in the interpretation of some basic concepts like Freedom, Liberty and Secularism. The notion of nationalism that has percolated down history has been primarily in British India and deals with a sense of nationalism that had to be won over from the British to further a concept of ‘free’ India.
Till India earned her freedom, ‘Nationalists’ were divided only on their choice of ‘ways’ to achieve freedom. The goal remained one – Freedom from the British Rule yet the paths varied from one of Gandhi’s route of non-violence and the other, the way of Netaji – a violent uprising against the British. Yet, although the approaches differed, the goal remained the same. And then, India got her Independence from the British in 1947 and alongside Nationalism, as a concept, went through a transformation of sorts.
Those who accorded credit to India’s independence solely to non-violence and the role of ‘Bapu’ in the struggle reiterated the version of Western historians who credited Mahatma Gandhi solely with India’s Independence, adopted the role of nationalists who had procured freedom from the British by non-violent means. Those who had laid down their lives through violent means to pressure the British into freeing India such as Bhagat Singh, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Lala Lajpat Rai even those who had played a pivotal role in unifying India but were eclipsed by selective acknowledgement by Western historians, such as Vallabhbhai Patel, were sidelined. Their role as Nationalists was downplayed and factions were left simmering with discontent, even in free India.
The dissent among the average Bengalis in Free India stems mostly from what he perceives as a purposeful and malicious attempt by mainstream India, mostly Gujaratis, to ignore the role of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in India’s freedom struggle. Also, an acknowledgement of the role of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in unifying India even in the face of simmering dissent in Hyderabad and other quarters to form a Free, United India was long awaited by most Gujaratis who valued the Iron Man’s contribution to India’s freedom struggle highly.
The discontent wasn’t restricted to the freedom struggle. It extended to the selective depiction of wars in history, like the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War where the Pakistani Military and the Razakar – East Bangladesh Paramilitary Force collectively killed more than 30,00,000 Hindus, by Bangladesh government estimates, and raped about 4,00,000 Hindu women. Also, the selective overlooking by Western historians of the colossal exodus of nearly 6,00,000 Kashmiri Pandits in 1990 from the Kashmir Valley only compounded the ire. Why, 19 January 1990 is widely observed by native Kashmiri Hindu communities as ‘Exodus Day’ in memory of the Hindus who were either killed or forced out of Kashmir by Muslim insurgents. None of them were any less nationalist than those lauded in history books. They had paid for India’s freedom, and with their lives.
The recent abrogation of Article 35 (a) of the Indian Constitution that empowered the Jammu and Kashmir state’s legislature to define ‘permanent residents’ of the state and provide special rights and privileges to them depriving non-permanent residents of the state, even if Indian citizens, to these ‘privileges, was a giant step in the direction of building a strong, united India. The abrogation of Article 370 that gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir, a long-standing demand since Independence, only matched the move.
That it would be opposed tooth and nail by affluent political bigwig in Jammu and Kashmir – irrespective of their political leanings in favour of or against the ruling party at the Centre – was expected. After all, they were the true stake-holders and stood to lose the most with Kashmir’s complete inclusion in free India. Also in sync was the support to the rebellion by Opposition parties across India, differing at most times but united in their hate for the BJP. Nationalism holds a range of meanings for different factions. One’s brand of nationalism can directly oppose another’s and it’s fine in law. In a democracy only two things actually matter: One that is backed by a ‘majority’ of people and, two, that it isn’t unconstitutional. The present-day Narendra Modi government seems to have got the formula right, for now at least.
India’s tryst with Nationalism has been legendary. India is seen, following its freedom from the British and institution as a republic, as federal in form and unitary in spirit. Federal meaning that there’re states which are largely independent in ideology even differing to the extent of posing a pivotal opposition to the ‘Centre’ and Unitary because, for all practical purposes, all States operate directly under the Centre and India continues to operate as ‘one’ independent republic.
The essence of nationalism is hugely relative in nature and, in that, lies the conflict. Nationalism, in the absolute oneness of the definition is driven probably by a singular ’cause’ like, for example, the struggle of freedom fighters striving for a singular ’cause’ or goal like Freedom.
The differing paths to the same singular ’cause’ could be the reason for conflicts in the many roads towards freedom in India. The Gandhian way vs the Netaji way were but different modes towards achieving the same goal…freedom of India. And now, when freedom has been achieved, the modes of maintaining the same freedom are again different.
While on the face of things, consensus would be the baseline for all contests in a democracy but, as human nature has it, strife is an inevitable occurrence in the processes even of a democracy. In the very formation of India’s states, the formation of Andhra Pradesh in 1953 from being part of the state of Madras to Kerala from State of Travancore and Cochin to Maharashtra and Gujarat in 1960 from the state of Bombay, lies the federal nature of the Indian Republic.
The creation of Maharashtra and Gujarat were peppered with instances of hate and strife over the distributions of regions including Mumbai between the two states. The two states continue to strife over myriad issues and the anger has percolated down over the years and crystallised in collective memory. So much so, that when it comes to State pride, even Nationalism takes a back seat.
Now, the more recent COVID situation that has persisted over the last two years only exposed the underbelly of India’s federal structures and their inconsistency with the Centre. A little while earlier, when Demonetisation occurred in 2016, several state leaderships expressed their displeasure, if not directly in passing, throughout the process. Compromising national security, posing a risk to law and order as well as risking thwarting the judicial process didn’t matter to those who were not in sync with the Centre’s policy. That demonetisation was a process that almost every country in the world had attempted only to fail and lauded amidst envy India’s herculean attempt, was lost on opposing State governments within India. Nationalism was put on the backburner and conveniently too.
Why, even the Swachh Bharat movement that simply could not have been opposed by any self-respecting individual was mocked by one and all. While, the movement, by itself, made waves among people who saw logic in the move, political parties refused to align with the Centre. The inertia that was displayed by the States even in the face of overwhelming support to the Centre led to delays and threatened to derail the process of change.
Maharashtra, Kerala and West Bengal have been opposing the Centre’s policy or stand as a rule. Whether it was about COVID treatment or an issue with protecting migrants or that of tackling pollution, these three states have belligerently opposed all directions saying above any law laid down by the Centre.
Look at the Farm Laws for instance; Maharashtra now tables three bills ‘only’ to counter the Centre’s Farm Laws. This, in keeping with ‘promises’ made to the farmers of the state. That farmers in Punjab’s regulated agriculture markets got 30 per cent more price for their produce than their counterparts in unregulated and partially-regulated mandis in Bihar and Odisha in 2018-19, according to a study conducted by ‘University of Pennysylvania Institute for the Advanced Study of India’ will be conveniently glossed over. The study maintained that minimum support price (MSP) was the only risk-management instrument for cultivators.
As for Nationalism, from a simple single one-entity enemy in the form of the British in pre-Independent India, the concept has now transformed into a multifarious organic self-combusting demon busy with infighting within India itself. Driven by diverse languages, attires, topography, laws and cultures, each State has now embarked on a tit-for-tat squabble of sorts with neighbours and the Union if its ideology doesn’t match that of the Centre or the Government in power.
The creations of gathbandhan, as alliances are called, aren’t made to govern people with differing agendas peacefully, any longer. They are formed primarily to keep a party in majority out of power…never mind if there’s merit in it or not. Nationalism is not in question at all here. Which is why, governance and its efficacy varies from State to State and depends almost always on the said State’s relations with the Centre.
Even the concept of Atmanirbhar Bharat has been tossed about loosely across Social Media and between regional leaders and their coterie only to spite the Prime Minister, little realising that the harm being inflicted is on the nation itself. And that Atmanirbharta is but a modern-day extension of the Khadi movement initiated by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi himself. But hate can blind, they say and the present stands testimony to it. Yet, most Indians, well the rest, are as ‘Nationalist’ as they come.