We live in difficult times. These are the times, when out of curiosity, one may ask questions about the stereotypes surrounding them, or out of naivety, put forward their views that unveils the duplicitous nature of our so called “cultured society” and be termed anti-national, anti-social or uncultured. And to be clear, this didn’t happen post-2014. This existed long before the current establishment came to power and had high social sanctions that hinder any political force to take them head on.
Some common stereotypical examples can be, ‘all slum dwellers are there to make our cities dirty’, ‘all SC/STs are stealing our seats’, ‘Muslims like it when Pakistan beats India’, ‘all Christians are progressive, English speaking, forward looking’, ‘all Biharis have a regressive mentality’, ‘all South Indians are vegetarian Brahmins and intellectuals’, and these days more common than earlier ‘all Jats adhere to the Khap Panchayats’ and so on.
Having gotten the sense of what kind of stereotypes I am talking about, we need to think about why am I mentioning them in the first place.
Well, this is to acknowledge the fact that while we all pride ourselves in being Indian, we do sometimes inherently carry biases and prejudices against or for other Indians. This is usually by way of their origin and not any substantive individual case-by-case evaluation. Despite these fractures in our interpersonal and inter-social relations, we have survived the last 70 years, not only as a nation but more so, a democratic one. No force to a great measure was required to glue the country together. Exceptions were certainly there, as the use of force to integrate Hyderabad into India. But exceptions do not make a rule.
Pre-1947, a geographic entity so diverse regarding religion, region, customs, traditions, race, language, food habits, climatic conditions, landscapes, etc. was never unified. The project of Indian nation building was something of a scale and complexity almost unmatched in the political history of the world.
Now, it is pertinent for us to ask as to how such a humongous task succeeded and was brought into reality. The origins of the idea of India or multiple ideas of India, as the case might be, lies at the heart of the Indian freedom movement. These three major ideas went into having a huge impact in the making of India.
The first was, by and large, a “centrist” idea that was propagated by the Indian National Congress (INC). Now, before the images of Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi makes their way into the minds of the readers at the mere mention of INC, let me broaden the historical context a bit. The INC, was created in 1885 with the help of A.O Hume, a retired British civil servant. He was opposed to the British rule in India, both at the intellectual discussion level and the mass movement level. Unlike today, the President of INC changed every year, and not even his/her writ ran large in the entire party.
Most of the decisions in the INC were taken after heated public debates and discussions, unlike today. Although, there were always famous leaders in the Congress, the concept of supreme leaders or idols was nonexistent. One could simultaneously be a member of INC and other ideologically different organisations. This very nature of embracing and absorbing ideas and people from all strands of ideologies (rightist, leftist, socialists, social justice, centrist, etc.) gave INC and the Indian freedom movement an inclusive character. It was not only inclusive regarding ideologies but also regarding socioeconomic classes, as people from all classes, be it peasants, workers, wealthy farmers, merchants, industrialists, lawyers, intellectuals, professionals were all subsumed under the “umbrella”.
This is where the British policy of “divide and rule” and its propaganda of India being a ‘divided society’ faltered and lost the war of colonialism versus self-government. Then, it was only a matter of time for their ouster which happened on August 15, 1947. The idea of inclusivity in India leading to the popular quote “Unity in Diversity” was finally inherited in letter and spirit by the Constitution of India.
The Congress which led us to freedom was not the Congress of today. The Congress split twice, first in 1969, when a majority of old Congress leaders separated from Indira Gandhi and again in 1980 when the non-Sanjay Gandhi faction left the party. Today’s Congress is only the inheritor of Indira’s Congress not the Congress of 1885-1964. It was not Nehru, but Indira, who started the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Nehru never chose his political successor. A Democrat that he was, Indira was a medium rung leader of the Congress when Nehru died. She was chosen to be the PM by the Syndicate which thought that they could dominate her. The rest, as we know is history. Again, two of the staunchest opponents of the Congress, one Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar and the other Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee of the Hindu Mahasabha, were both not only included in the Constituent Assembly but also included in the first Union Cabinet as Ministers. This further underscores the inclusive nature of the Constitution, which led to the evolution of the idea of India.
The leftist movement was a bit more radical than that of the Congress in India’s freedom struggle. This ideology was not confined merely to the concerns of native Indians against colonialists, but also the interests of the Indian poor against the privileged elite (Indian or foreign). They thought that the primary struggle was against capitalism, of which colonialism was only a manifestation.
The movement was global, keeping the nation’s poor’s interests in mind, but also paying adherence to the Communist International. They believed that the Indian national movement was an elitist upper-class movement, led by the bourgeoisie, backed and funded by merchants, zamindars and the feudal class. Immediately after independence, they believed the British would leave, and the reins of power and resources will be taken over by the Indian elites, leaving the poor without any freedom.
Hence, they espoused the case of “freedom by revolution” inspired by the “Russian Revolution” and not gradualism which they believed to be an elitist hoax to the masses. They espoused a redistribution of assets and transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor, to create an egalitarian society. However, there were many other left-of-centre intellectuals and politicians (mostly, socialists) who were not as radical, and believed to be within the mainstream to take a leftward turn. The most prominent among them being Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose. Under them, the Congress took a leftward turn. Interests of the poor superseded that of the zamindars and capitalists within the Congress. Provisions of “social justice” and “welfare state” getting enumerated explicitly in various provisions of the Constitution is a consequence of this leftist current within the mainstream.
It is solemn at this moment to mention that the CPI did try to overthrow the Indian State by “armed rebellion” immediately after independence, starting from the Telangana region of the then Madras Presidency. However, soon after, the communists were reconciled to the mainstream, and they surrendered the path of armed struggle and got assimilated into the constitutional democracy. It is particularly the inclusiveness of the Indian Constitution and the mainstream idea of India of the freedom struggle that led to this peaceful and easy reconciliation. The Communist Party of India is perhaps the first ever communist political organisation in the world to follow constitutional democracy. This was a substantive victory of the “idea of India” of the freedom struggle espoused in the Constitution.
Now, there was the third major idea of India, one which concerned the religious, political leanings of the two major religions of the subcontinent; Hinduism and Islam. Many people from the former believed in the idea of a “Hindu Rashtra”, and many individuals in the latter believed in the two-nation theory and the creation of Pakistan. However, at the outset, let me make it clear that religion had nothing to do with this. It is the unfortunate invocation of religion into politics that led to this tragic turn of events, perhaps the biggest blot in the freedom struggle.
The political interests of people, like freedom, poverty removal, human rights, secure livelihoods, etc. are secular; i.e., religion has no role to play in attaining them. Strong economic policies, efficient governance mechanisms and administrative measures are required to address them. However, the lack of those skill-sets and the vested interest to remain in authority, the rulers or leaders (as the case may be), invoke religion in secular political issues. What started as a policy of communal representation by the British, eventually led to the estrangement of relations between Hindus and Muslims. It was furthered by M.A Jinnah of the Muslim League and V.D Savarkar and M.S Golwalkar of the Hindu right-wing, which eventually led to the tragic partition of India and Pakistan and the inhuman communal carnage. To respond to the argument that invoking religion was only to invoke fear in the minds of the respective communities, let me put it bluntly that both Jinnah and Savarkar (who coined the term ‘Hindutva’) were self-proclaimed atheists. So all their activities and thesis were purely political and in the quest for power and not for safeguarding religion.
Jinnah purported the fear that the interests of the Muslims in India will not be secured as the Congress was mostly led by upper caste Hindus. Hence, he gave birth to the two-nation theory. However, he least considered the fact that Muslims and Hindus of Madras, or Assam, or Kerela, etc. are more similar to each other than the Muslims of West Punjab or East Bengal (to be Pakistan). When there remained more Muslims in India than those who migrated to Pakistan after partition, the two-nation theory fell flat on its face, and Pakistan being a flawed idea was further strengthened after the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971.
As for the Hindu right’s idea of making India into a Hindu Rashtra, it was a matter of self-aggrandizement and correcting presumed past defeats. They felt that after 800 years of Muslim rule and 150 years of British rule, finally, the time has come to assert itself. However, their idea was flawed at its very foundation, as they didn’t consider the fact that before the coming of the Muslims, Hindu rulers fought each other. Those leaders were mostly autocratic towards their Hindu subjects. It was only the rule of the Brahmin-Kshatriya combine and not Hindu rule.
After the arrival of the Muslim rulers, they looted both Hindu and Muslim subjects. There are numerous examples of Hindu rulers aligning with Muslim rulers to fight other Hindu and Muslim rulers. The ancient and medieval power structure had very little to do with religion. It was one monarch versus the other. The common man suffered at the hands of both Hindu and Muslim rulers. So, the idea of Hindu Rashtra was not only exclusivist but also foundationally flawed.
Having said this, let me mention the important fact that the members of the Muslim League after partition, who remained in India were assimilated into the Constituent Assembly. Also, as stated earlier, Dr S.P Mukherjee of the Hindu Mahasabha was a member of the Constituent Assembly and also a minister in the first Union Cabinet. This further strengthens the inclusive character of the Indian Constitution.
After having delved into all the three major ideas of India, let us go back to the question of what glues India together? Well, after the above analysis it is crystal clear that it is the Constitution of India.
Yes, there can be multiple ideas of India, but, they shall remain within the ambit of the Constitution, which offers enough flexibility for assimilation of multitudes of ideas. It is a sacred and sovereign document. It is our responsibility as citizens of India to bring the system back to Constitutional regime whenever it breaches this red line. And as we know, the political system always has the temptation to violate it. It is pertinent then for us to say #NotInMyName.