Sunday, April 1, 2012

India in the Classroom: What are our Students saying about Indian Nationalism?

Are our students able to engage material on India in a thought-provoking, intelligent, and sensitive manner? I present the thoughts of two students in POSC 364: Politics of India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan who ponder about the trials of the “nationalist project” in India in the midst of decolonization and take varied positions. How does Partition fit in within the context of independence from British rule, they muse.

Dana Coco Vonnegut writes:
While scholars like John Plamenatz have argued that there are two types of nationalism, one western and one eastern, I would disagree. (Chatterjee, pg. 1) Nationalism is both cultural and political. It is not an east-west dichotomy that separates different types of nationalism. Rather Nationalism takes on a new, slightly different shape in every country. It is a phenomenon that is in nature too complicated and complex to classify on the basis of geography. It is important to remember that India’s nationalism was not only about being self aware, but also a rally against oppression.

Each political thinker of India had a clear idea of what the new India might be, and India today is an amalgamation of all those ideas. In this way the thinkers served to undo one another’s nationalist identities. Had the discourse on national identity and fostering nationalism been constructed in a different way, perhaps the bloodshed of Partition could have been avoided.

However, nationalism was a crucial player in building Indian history as it stands. The nationalism project was doomed to fail because it was multileveled, and conflicted in nature, but nationalism was necessary. Without nationalism, India might never be independent, so nationalism is a vital component in making national change. As India moves forward in time, and continues to shape the national identity, perhaps it will become more cohesive. Time will play a large role in contributing to the shared history between Indians, some of whom still identify with their regional and religious identities more than their national identity.

The poet Tagore once wrote,
“All the convergent influences of the world run through this society: Hindu, Moslem, Christian, secular; Stalinist, liberal, Maoist, democratic socialist, Gandhian. There is not a thought that is being thought in the West or East that is not active in the mind of some Indian.” (See Amartva Sen, pg. 12) 
I think it is possible for the “nationalism project” to disaffiliate from any one ideology, and champion this diversity of thought in India as history continues onward. Perhaps then the “nationalism project” will succeed in full.

Takreem Siddiqui writes:
Bankim Chandra explicitly calls India a ‘subject nation’[i]. Bankim saw India’s problems lying in India’s cultural roots, as Chatterjee paraphrases: ‘Indians lack a natural desire for liberty. Some Indians probably nurse a vague feeling that independence is better than subjection, but never has this feeling become a compelling desire; never have the majority of Indians fought for their liberty.’[ii] To this end, Bankim sees a solution in a Hindu revival. He feels that acting along these lines will restore India to a great nation: ‘Soon you will see the spread of the doctrine of pure bhakti, the Hindus will gain new life and become powerful like the English at the time of Cromwell or the Arabs under Muhammad.’[iii] The purpose of the nationalist revival is implicitly a desire for a Hindu nation in India. It is implicit that this powerful nation will be independent and become a global power ‘It will if you Indians are prepared to act. It is in your hands. If you will it, you can become master and leader of the whole world.’[iv]

Similar sentiments are echoed in Gandhi’s philosophy. Gandhi explicitly rejects Western civilization and by extension, the rule of the British Raj. Chatterjee characterizes this as: ‘Gandhi’s critique of British rule in India is grounded at a much more fundamental level than Bankim or indeed any other nationalist thinker at the time.’[v] He yearns for a new political life in India, one that is independent but run along decentralized rural models. We see how he rejects the rule of the Raj: ‘ We can.. free ourselves of the unjust rule of the Government b defying the unjust rule and accepting the punishments that go with it.’ [vi] His views on liberation are further expounded: ‘Independence must begin at the bottom. Thus every village will be a republic or panchayat having full powers.’ [vii] The desire for independence is evident in the thought of Nehru as well: ‘ But her [India’s] normal development was arrested by British power. Industrial growth was checked, and as a consequence social growth was also arrested. The normal power relationships of society could not adjust themselves and find an equilibrium as all power was concentrated in an alien authority… so long as foreign authoritarian rule continued, no such development could take place.’[viii]

Nationalist leaders roundly tried to prevent communal strife as well as the Partition. Yet, we see how they could not offer a coherent vision of India. Their contradictory stances on local politics and Indian identity caused religious tensions to flare up. These were the forces that drove Partition and the communal violence that ensued. However, at a more subtle level, the victims of communal displacement show a further failure of the nationalist project.

Raychaudhry shows how after the communal violence caused widespread displacement, there came about a divorce in the concept of nation and desh. She quotes Benedict Anderson’s idea of nationalism: ‘the nation is an “imagined political community.. members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members.. yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.”[ix]’ She shows us that for the refugees who were displaced after the communal strife, this ‘political community’ did not exist for many of them in their new nation state homeland. Rather, it lived in the memories of a desh that they had left behind: ‘To the displaced person, the desh is their ancestral place, their sacred land of memories.’ [x]

[i] Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse, p55
[ii] Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse, p55
[iii] Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse, p66
[iv] Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse, p66
[v] Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse, p87
[vi] Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse, p103
[vii] Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse, p121
[viii] Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse, p137
[ix] Raychaudhury, Nostalgia of ‘Desh’:Memories of Partition
[x] Raychaudhury, Nostalgia of ‘Desh’:Memories of Partition

1 comment:

  1. Political system in India and neighboring countries are same.. But India is largest democracy in world no matter what politicians are doing with public...