No scope for religious primacy

Understanding Nationalism

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

Nationalist feelings are crucial for every country. Mahatma Gandhi talked of nationalism to win the independence struggle in a non-violent way against the British. Keeping national interest in mind is the primary need of any government so as to ensure that every citizen lived with dignity. This obviously requires both economic growth and social justice as fundamental to the establishment and progress of a nation.
According to eminent historian Romila Thapar, “Nationalism as it evolved historically was inclusive and drew on the idea of the unification of diverse groups to form a new community of citizens. Concepts of nations based on a single exclusive identity – religious, linguistic, ethnic and similar single identities are actually pseudo nationalisms”. Hindutva ideologue, V. D. Savarkar politicised religion and propagated Hindu nationalism as Indian nationalism, dwelling on cultural, racial and religious unity than the unity of citizens. He presented a tainted view that the community of Hindus forms nationalism while other minorities will either have to submerge their identities or live at the mercy of majority.
Recently, economist Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia after the launch of his book Backstage pointed out the need for restoring calm and social harmony, adding that “not only is social harmony desirable in itself, it is also necessary for investment to flourish and generate growth”. According to him, dissent in a democratic society cannot be suppressed in the name of nationalism and advised the government to talk to people and resolve their real problems. Ahluwalia observed that a stable society was critical for development and growth of a robust economy.
It has to be understood that the very foundation of constitutional democracy rests on liberty, equality and fraternity. Obviously, there is no scope for religious supremacy in understanding nationalism. Unfortunately, the ruling party has been using the nationalism card to demonise a community and trying to project that Indian nationalism and Hindu nationalism are the same.
The ruling party’s adoption of such a strategy to garner more votes is obviously dangerous to social justice and hampers social harmony. A political system that is wedded to democratic ideals and talks of good governance and inclusion should not project religion as the cornerstone of its political philosophy. Moreover, even if the party does believe in some ideals, this should find resemblance in government functioning.
Questions have been raised whether such a strategy will be effective among educated Hindus and those living in cities. Moreover, a significant section of the population living in West Bengal, Odisha and the South Indian States are followers of Swami Vivekananda who strongly advocated unity of all religions. Keeping in view these trends, the strong development and welfare pitch that the AAP leaders harped on, brought the right dividends in Delhi and was more effective than false notions of nationalism, as being flogged by the BJP.
It may be mentioned here that the ‘bijli maaf, paani maaf’ (electricity and water free) model coupled with revitalising government schools and hospitals, benefitting the poor and the economically weaker sections and even the lower income groups obviously translated into votes and ensured a massive victory for the AAP. If mohalla (neighbourhood) clinics help the cause of the poor and ensure them affordable treatment, if government schools have the required student-teachers engagement, as in Delhi, what else is needed for a country like India, where the bottom segments of the population are deprived of basic necessities?
Political analysts believe that though the BJP would continue with its nationalism agenda, it would be very difficult for it to make inroads in States such as West Bengal in the elections later this year. However, in Bihar the secular face of Chief Minister and JD(U) President Nitish Kumar may help salvage the situation to an extent.
The majority of the political class of the country sadly are seen to be merely interested in self-gain but seek to woo voters through cheap publicity and gimmicks. Many a leader is also seen to resort to violence and aggressive behaviour and would be found to be involved, directly or indirectly in ‘corrupt’ deals. They have no vision and programme for a socio-economic transformation that would benefit the poor and economically weaker sections of society who even after more than seven decades of independence struggle for a dignified existence.
The other crucial part of a government is to ensure economic justice to around 60 per cent of the population who live in villages. At present the situation is not encouraging as policies are largely seen to be geared towards the rich and middle income sections of society. With budgetary allocations for programmes that could alleviate sufferings of the impoverished sections being reduced and basic necessities heading towards privatisation, will not the disparity widen further?
Obviously, one-sided airing of philosophical doctrines without heed to the needs to the lowest segments of society cannot keep a community or a nation happy. There has to be all-round, effective developmental plans, specially in education and health care, to win the support of the masses through increased livelihood incomes.
Alienation of one community against another and creating social chaos cannot be the basis for acceptability of a political party. As there is lack of proper education in the country, the unemployed youth, who lack means to livelihood, are unfortunately swayed by misleading slogans of nationalism. If India would have been a truly educated society, the ruling party would not have been able to win votes as it does by airing perverted notions of nationalism.
The whole idea of governance is not to project nationalism through theoretical and prejudiced propositions but to implement policies that lead to effective and inclusive developmental policies. Experts point out that a harmonious society can bring prosperity to the people at the grass-root and this is essential for a country like India. Moreover, it needs to be reiterated that economic development percolating to the lowest tiers – and not talks of nationalism –is the need of the hour.
The whole community has to be integrated in the social frame to implement development goals. Theories of nationalism, if understood a little deeply, focus on love, compassion and fellow-feeling amongst the community who should work together as an integrated whole, irrespective of caste, class and religion, following the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi. Can the present government be a vehicle to undertake the much-desired social and economic transformation that would in effect inject a feeling of true nationalism? Introspection and a holistic view would go a long way.—INFA