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Present Politics in Perspective: Nationalism in India

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In many of our previous articles, we have expounded on the theme of nationalism. In this article, we want to reflect deeply on how the spirit of nationalism implicates the larger changes in the country, especially in the aftermath of the recent Uttar Pradesh assembly elections.

The UP election outcome is just one among the many events that have heralded the beginning of a new spirit of political and social unification, which will eventually spread across the country. This impulse towards political and social unification has India’s inherent spirit of Sanatana Dharma at its base, and from its inchoate beginnings – as at present – it will soon transform the entire social fabric of the country.

Therefore, the key question before us is, what are the springs of nationalism – the Sanatana dharma.

It is to understand the springs of immediate unification in the country, that the UP elections become an important precursor. They revealed the unprecedented start of a conscious unity in Hindu society, cutting across all caste, class and identity divisions. With this new wave the grand imaginations of an umbrella ideological coalition of backward castes, classes and minority religions tumbled down like a house of cards. These had been the mainstay of corrupt concentration of power in UP for too many years. It is the same in other states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu, where the existence of key political parties depends upon the continuation of caste divisions in the society which they have been exploiting.

Why the UP Mandate was Necessary

UP has always been riddled with corruption, crime, poverty and all the major ills that could befall a region. Politically, everyone was suffering in the clutches of their narrow identity. Within the religion of the vaunted Muslim minority, the women were being oppressed, and, in the name of Mandal-era assertion of the backward castes, the OBCs and mainly the Yadavs were perpetrating heinous crimes against all other castes, especially against the Dalits. So obsessed were we with this pseudo secularism that we refused to see the collective stagnation springing from rampant minority appeasement which benefitted no one in general and certainly not the minorities.

But now, in the aftermath of the elections, we are seeing an entirely new kind of political behavior in UP. For the first time, all political and governmental forces have come together to pointedly target and root out nepotism, corruption and lawlessness from UP, and to empower Muslim women and Shia Muslims.

These and many other day-to-day changes are, for the first time, inculcating civic awareness and unity and recharging the citizens of UP. With the perception that the government is firmly behind them and that the Chief Minister gives access to people easily, the people as a whole are feeling empowered, instead of just a particular caste getting all the privileges. In fact, the concept of privilege and entitlement is getting abolished rapidly.

These developments will set a very important precedent for the rest of the country, since UP is critical and has been one of the most difficult states to navigate. Already, the changes are visible in other states like Tamil Nadu, Odisha, West Bengal and Jharkhand, where regional parties are smartening under the burden of a resurgent BJP and their own past sins.

The Hostility of India’s Past Politics

Regional parties, based on extremely selfish, narrow and misplaced interests, gained ascendency after 1980s, and, truly, in retrospect, if we look at the track record of these parties, it would seem that they – except for their role in precipitating the down-ward march of the polity and thus leading to a speedy coming out of it – they have been the real anti-nationals in the country since they have soiled Indian politics, making it utilitarian, corrupt and placed the collective national interest at the very bottom.

These regional, selfish and identity-based parties were temporary formations which had come for the limited but important work of broadening the Hindu society, and facilitating the start of awareness among the lower castes and classes. However, their folly and intention was in thinking that this democratization will destroy the Hindu society. They failed to realize that all along they were instruments of the Time Spirit, preparing India for her future role in the world.

But now, regional parties are being forced to realize that they have outlived their utility. Whether it be the DMK and AIADMK in Tamil Nadu or the SP and BSP in Uttar Pradesh, their ideology is no longer relevant. They have done more harm than good and been responsible for the degradation of our national character.

Not that before these changes, the Congress rule under Nehru achieved anything constructive. Most of the work done by the ‘secular’ parties – led by Congress – in Independent India’s history was in the air. However, at least till Nehru’s time, it had relevance, since most of the newly decolonized countries had lapsed into dictatorships or dictatorial theologies and the secular character of Nehru’s Congress provided stability and open-mindedness to the political system, especially in the wake of the communal hostilities unleashed by the Partition, and prevented India from going down the same road as Pakistan.

However, this was about the only positive contribution of the Congress. The Congress and the other country-wide parties thereafter must be judged on the basis of their contribution to the revival of the nation. And in this they have unequivocally failed. In fact, to promote their hostile and selfish interests, they have even sought to stifle any attempt at national revival.

This kind of a stifling, falsely secular politics went against the basic cultural ethos of the nation, where, despite all alienation and divisions, a deep sense of cultural unity has always persisted in the society despite the caste-based inequalities. The progressive elements in all the castes, especially among the backward castes (including the Dalits), have been fighting against the injurious elements such as caste-pride and discriminations and oppressions of certain castes and female gender in the name of religion. The fight was never against the religion itself, but against the priests and powerful elements of conservatism which exercised control over its outer body.

Though there was no dearth of famous social reformers who attacked the very body of thought and philosophy and literature of Hinduism, none of these intellectual and political attempts succeeded in the long run. For, the common lower caste person, however bitter he may have been, always preserved in his heart an image of Shiva and remained true to his God, though the outer struggles for recognition, dignity and equality were long and protracted.

Our Ancient Springs of National Unity

The reason for this fidelity and implicit sense of oneness lies in the basic springs of unity provided by Sanatana Dharma and our Vedic bedrock that has nourished the Indian culture and civilization for ages. Its universal nature and synthetic spirit has, historically, enabled it to successfully interweave within its own basic fabric all foreign or even apparently anti-Vedic elements that have come in – so much so that even what seemed clearly hostile or anti-Vedic also flowed from the Vedic spirit itself, which “admits all beliefs, allowing even a kind of high-reaching atheism and agnosticism and permits all possible spiritual experiences, all kinds of religious adventures.”1

A case in point is the outward denial of the Vedic thought, at one point, by Buddhism. Despite its clear denunciation and opposition to the Vedic religion, its ideal of Nirvana was simply a sharply negative and exclusive statement of the Vedic idea of the Impersonal. Thus, India took what it could of Buddhism, but rejected the religion in main, as its mental, logical and divisive approach rebelled against the intuitive mentality of the Indian people.

This is just one example of the synthetic spirit of Indian culture. It was with all external influences – Western culture, Islam and Christianity – that our nation has followed this synthetic process of absorption of the elements that could be moulded into our national fabric and rejection of only those that could not be so subjected. Even monistic religions like Islam and Christianity – after existing in India for some time – began to mirror the Indian society and the spirit of the caste system, instead of the other way around.

This was despite the fact that in the increasingly modernized, utilitarian and West-influenced period following the years after our Independence, there was no dearth of challenges. The solid groundwork for modern secularization of both caste and religion – laid by Nehru and later transformed into Muslim appeasement after Indira Gandhi – which sought to completely negate the religious spirit of the Indian culture could not be successful. Neither could the huge corpus of poor and hostile intellectual education which was geared towards indoctrinating the minds of our younger generations.

All these challenges – even the biggest ones, which we tend to regard as determinants of future – were nothing but mere historical incidents. They constituted such gross distortions and misrepresentations of the true Indian spirit that they did not really have a chance in front of the mightiness of the Indian religion, the secret of whose longevity lies in the fact that it has always sought after the Infinite and the Eternal in all pursuits of Life. Be it politics, religion, art, culture, intellectual pursuits or any other, India has always sought to express everything from the source of highest possible consciousness and realization. And when you perceive Oneness everywhere, then there is no “other” or a real enemy in such a unity with the larger cosmic Spirit which will never allow you to perish.

And this immortality of our religious spirit and culture, which nothing has been able to erode, is at the heart of the springs of nationalism in this country. It is the impulse that is seeking to realize itself through the present wave and will determine the future course of politics in the country. All that have appeared as divisions and conflicts of history have also, despite all appearances, ultimately flowed from the original Indian spirit which shall, once again, consciously turn our collective existence towards the Infinite and the Eternal.

Having herself always turned towards the Infinite in all the pursuits, India’s mighty spirit saw nothing as a fundamental obstruction to the basic Universal Oneness. As Sri Aurobindo writes of the Sanatan Dharma, “Observing the one Truth from all its many sides, it shut out none. It gave itself no specific name and bound itself by no limiting distinction. Allowing separative designations for its constituting cults and divisions, it remained itself nameless, formless, universal, infinite, like the Brahman of its agelong seeking.2

This basic unity in Indian culture – and the synonymy of Indian religion and culture –  is necessary for understanding the present wave of nationalism across the country. Compared to the mightiness of India’s spirit and culture, this wave is still at a very nascent stage. However, it is beginning to be brought about through the collective conscious awakening of the people which will translate itself, among other things, into drastic changes into the outer machinery of government and society.

The Sense of the Larger Aim

Despite the rapid psychological changes unleashed by the UP election mandate, we are still at a nascent stage as far as the real work of the country is concerned. In the light of what Sri Aurobindo has said about India’s role in the future of humanity, we are still nowhere close to even starting the real work. Let us not lose sight of the fact that the current wave is just a very preliminary backgrounder and foundation and that, as of now, we are still busy dealing with our own conflicts and rooting out our own poison. We are the descendants of the mighty rishis and the Aryans and the current and long-entrenched state of selfishness and cowardliness is contrary to this country’s swabhava.

The point of the present endeavour is not to go back to our past system – which is neither possible nor desirable – but to recover and live in the spirit of the original Aryan heritage and make it pervade our modern forms of life. India’s “golden past” was constituted not merely by the riches of wealth and culture that we had before the British era – which were just the outer manifestation and consequence of our deeper spirit – but by the power of the soul. Once we lost hold of that power, we lost hold of everything else in our outer life too and the degeneration was the inevitable consequence. For, India’s ancient destiny is linked to the power of her soul as expressed through Sanatan Dharma, and the fortunes of our soul which, though subject to the appearances of rises and falls, have been ever increasing.

“I say that it is the Sanatan Dharma which for us is nationalism. This Hindu nation was born with the Sanatan Dharma, with it it moves and with it it grows. When the Sanatan Dharma declines, then the nation declines, and if the Sanatan Dharma were capable of perishing, with the Sanatan Dharma it would perish. The Sanatan Dharma, that is nationalism.” 3

References:

  1. Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, Vol.20, p.180, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry
  2. Ibid, p.193
  3. Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, Vol.8, p.12, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry
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