Interrogating Indian Post-Nationalism
Sanatana Dharma, Citizenship, and Global Futures
The author is a
professor of English, Jawaharlal Nehru University, a
prolific author, and the editor of Evam: Forum on Indian
Representations. This paper is based on his presentation
at IFIH’s seminar
on Indian Nationalism.
Nationalism and the
Present Intellectual Crisis
What we have heard in the morning has already set
the tone for the rest of our discussions. We have clearly
seen that the present situation in India can be seen in the
nature of an intellectual crisis. Let me try to define it
as the crisis of Indian nationalism. Very simply speaking,
the question before us is whether to forget the magnificent
traditions of our national struggle, to deny the sacrifices
and efforts of all those who strove that we might be free
and self-reliant today, nay, to denounce nationalism itself
as a false ideology — and to look for some other way,
some other principle of organising our civic life? Or to go
back to these very traditions, to rejuvenate them to deal
with some of our present problems? There are various opinions
to be furnished on both sides of this debate. My own method
is not to reject Indian nationalism, but to try to understand
its relevance to our times. We can do this by defining how
Indian nationalism differed fundamentally from other formulations,
including those of the West. In addition, we could try to
identify the salient features of Indian nationalism, try,
in fact, to distil from them a message for our times and a
hope for the future.
Clearly, then, there are two views on the question of Indian
nationalism today — to put it simply, those who oppose
it and those who favour it. What is interesting is that even
those who seem to support Indian nationalism do not necessarily
understand it properly. In the name of nationalism, they may
be promoting values that are inimical to our very existence
as a nation. That is why we suffer from an intellectual crisis.
But we should remember that the word “crisis”
is linked at least in one of its senses to the treatment of
disease. In that sense, a moment of crisis is also a crucial
moment after which the patient’s health can turn for
the better. To that extent, we might regard the present crisis
also as an opportunity.
If we had heard the speakers in the morning and in the afternoon
carefully, we would also agree that the situation actually
requires a multi-dimensional response, a response that is
at many levels. In other words, a response is required which
is material and physical; a response is required which is
emotional and vital; a response is required which is intellectual
and mental; and I suppose, informing all these responses is
a higher kind of response from the psychic and spiritual.
And if we can marshal our resources, we can provide such a
comprehensive response to the crisis that we face.
The Dharma of the
Nation and the Nation of Dharma
The terms that I have just used — physical, vital, mental,
psychic, and spiritual — will immediately bring to mind
the integral yoga of Sri Aurobindo. I mention Sri Aurobindo
because in the morning, we heard in Kireetbhai’s [Shri
Kireet Joshi] presentation a very detailed reference to Sri
Aurobindo’s concept of nationalism. In fact, several
people have already spoken of Sri Aurobindo’s views
on the topic. I would have liked nothing better than to do
so myself, though my topic is different. But the only thing
I want to say, if I may, is that one important text by Sri
Aurobindo has not been referred to so far. We have mentioned
Sri Aurobindo’s essays in Indu Prakash and
Bande Mataram, we have spoken of his other writings,
but a key text of his, the Uttarpara Speech has not been discussed.
I want to spend a few minutes on this speech because it spells
out the nature of Indian nationalism far more boldly and comprehensively
than is generally acknowledged.
When we go back to its context, we realise that it is not
only a very important, but also a very moving speech. Sri
Aurobindo is released from jail on the 30th of May 1909 after
being acquitted in the infamous Alipur bomb case. After a
year in prison, he gives this speech, his very first, at Uttarpara,
on the outskirts of Calcutta. This speech is noteworthy for
its thought content, but, perhaps more so because it is an
extraordinary account, almost a spiritual autobiography of
a great soul. The speech is most often cited for the viswaroopa
darshana that was vouchsafed to Sri Aurobindo in his
I looked at the jail
that secluded me from men and it was no longer by its
high walls that I was imprisoned; no, it was Vasudeva
who surrounded me. I walked under the branches of the
tree in front of my cell but it was not the tree, I
knew it was Vasudeva, it was Sri Krishna whom I saw
standing there and holding over me his shade. I looked
at the bars of my cell, the very grating that did duty
for a door and again I saw Vasudeva. It was Narayana
who was guarding and standing sentry over me. Or I lay
on the coarse blankets that were given me for a couch
and felt the arms of Sri Krishna around me, the arms
of my Friend and Love. This was the first use of the
deeper vision He gave me. I looked at the prisoners
in the jail, the thieves, the murderers, the swindlers,
and as I looked at them I saw Vasudeva, it was Narayana
whom I found in these darkened souls and misused bodies.
This luminous passage is already
well known and often cited. It shows that Sri Aurobindo was
established in a higher consciousness during his incarceration.
Sri Aurobindo arrives at this vision through a process that
is decisive, though initially painful. He not only admits
that when he was arrested, he “was shaken in faith for
a while,” but that at first “I faltered for a
moment and cried out in my heart to Him....” It is only
a few days after this initial trial that he hears the voice
of God within him. He is urged “to do the sadhana of
the Gita”. That is when he realises “what the
Hindu religion meant”. As Sri Aurobindo puts it:
We speak often of the
Hindu religion, of the Sanatana Dharma, but few of us
really know what that religion is. Other religions are
preponderatingly religions of faith and profession,
but the Sanatana Dharma is life itself; it is a thing
that has not so much to be believed as lived. This is
the Dharma that for the salvation of humanity was cherished
in the seclusion of this peninsula from of old.
It is after this that he makes his extraordinary
declaration on the nature of Indian nationalism:
It is to give this religion
that India is rising. She does not rise as other countries
do, for self or when she is strong, to trample on the
weak. She is rising to shed the eternal light entrusted
to her over the world. India has always existed for
humanity and not for herself and it is for humanity
and not for herself that she must be great.
What makes the Indian nation
special, in other words, is that it rises not for itself but
it rises for Sanatana Dharma. Furthermore, it does not wish
to trample on others or to assert its own might but aspires
to promote universal righteousness.
In order to show us his own personal journey towards such
a realisation, Sri Aurobindo freely admits how he was not
at first a person of faith or Bhakti:
When I approached God
at that time, I hardly had a living faith in Him. The
agnostic was in me, the atheist was in me, the sceptic
was in me and I was absolutely sure that there was a
God at all. I did not feel His presence. Yet something
drew me to the truth of the Vedas, the truth of the
Gita, the truth of the Hindu religion.
It is only later, after practising
Yoga, that Sri Aurobindo undergoes a complete transformation.
To him is revealed the true nature of the Sanatana Dharma
and his inner voice clearly declares:
and the sceptic in you have been answered, for I have
given you proofs within and without you, physical and
subjective, which have satisfied you.”
He is further directed to
remind his countrymen and women that the true significance
of Indian nationalism is nothing but Sanatana Dharma:
When you go forth, speak
to your nation always this word, that it is for the
Sanatana Dharma that they arise, it is for the world
and not for themselves that they arise. I am giving
them freedom for the service of the World.
There is nothing equivocal
about this Divine commandment that Sri Aurobindo receives
and records for us:
When therefore it is
said that India shall rise, it is the Sanatana Dharma
that shall rise. When it is said that India shall be
great, it is the Sanatana Dharma that shall be great.
When it is said that India shall expand and extend herself,
it is the Sanatana Dharma that shall expand and extend
itself over the world. It is for the Dharma and
by the Dharma that India exists. [My italics]
By implication, Indian nationalism,
according to Sri Aurobindo, can therefore never be imperialistic
or violent because it is not directed at self-aggrandisement
or domination. It real purpose is to uphold Dharma. This nation
and its nationalism, thus, exist only for the sake of Dharma.
But it must be understood what this Dharma is. Sanatana Dharma
does not mean the religion of any group of people, it is not
a sectarian faith, not a religion that is based on certain
prescriptions, or certain rituals, or certain dogmas. As Sri
Aurobindo precisely states:
That which we call the
Hindu religion is really the eternal religion, because
it is the universal religion that embraces all others.
If a religion is not universal, it cannot be eternal.
A narrow religion, a sectarian religion, an exclusive
religion can live only for a limited time and a limited
Sri Aurobindo then goes on
to list the distinctive features of this Sanatana Dharma:
This is the one religion
that can triumph over materialism by including and anticipating
the discoveries of science and the speculations of philosophy.
It is the one religion which impresses on mankind the
closeness of God to us and embraces in its compass all
the possible means by which man can approach God. It
is the one religion which insists every moment on the
truth which all religions acknowledge that He is in
all men and all things and that in Him we move and have
our being. It is the one religion which enables us not
only to understand and believe this truth but to realize
it with every part of our being. It is the one religion
which shows the world what the world is, that it is
the Lila of Vasudeva. It is the one religion which shows
us how we can best play our part in that Lila, its subtlest
laws and its noblest rules. It is the one religion that
does not separate life in any smallest detail from religion,
which knows what immortality is and has utterly removed
from us the reality of death.
Sri Aurobindo concludes this
extraordinary speech with a reaffirmation of the basic tenets
that he has already outlined:
I spoke once before
with this force in me and I said then this movement
is not a political movement and that nationalism is
not politics but a religion, a creed, a faith. I say
it again today, but I put it in another way. I say no
longer that nationalism is a creed, a religion, a faith;
I say that it is the Sanatana Dharma which for us is
nationalism. This Hindu nation was born with the Sanatana
Dharma, with it it moves and with it it grows. When
the Sanatana Dharma declines, then the nation declines,
and if the Sanatana Dharma were capable of perishing,
with the Sanatana Dharma it would perish. The Sanatana
Dharma, that is nationalism. This is the message that
I have to speak to you.
What Sri Aurobindo says in
this Uttarpara Speech is in consonance with the words and
thoughts of other great heroes and builders of India like
Swami Vivekananda before him and Mahatma Gandhi after him.
They all agreed that it was spirituality that was the keynote
in Indian nationalism and that without the former, the latter
would be meaningless. But nowhere is this message spelt out
as boldly and unequivocally as in this speech of Sri Aurobindo.
That is why I think that the Uttarpara speech is central to
the corpus of Sri Aurobindo and on the literature on Indian
The atheists, communists, materialists, macaulayites, mercenaries,
secularists, modernists, post-modernists, and anti-Sanatanis
of various hues will, no doubt, be alarmed by this speech
and its contents. They will denounce and condemn it for their
own reasons. They will see Sri Aurobindo as a proponent of
the Hindu Rashtra. They may even call him a Fascist who all
his life opposed Nazism and Fascism. To a certain kind of
Indian intellectual, this speech of Sri Aurobindo will utterly
unsettling and dangerous. Postmodernists will accuse it of
advocating a totalizing agenda, of trying to impose homogenous
order on what is a diverse and differing populace. People
of other faiths may see it as an attempt to declare that Sanatana
Dharma is the best or better than their religions.
But when read carefully, it is clear that the contents of
the Uttarpara speech are not directed against anyone or anything,
but present a powerfully positive and inspiring message on
what the Indian nation should be like. This should be a strong
nation, based on Dharma, an eternal and ever self-renewing
moral order. It should devote itself to the service of humanity
and its spiritual upliftment. This is not a nation that will
follow a narrow or exclusive creed, or attack others in order
to dominate them. The Sanatana Dharma itself is not in conflict
with any of the religions or creeds of the world, but includes
the best that is in them. To that extent, it resembles the
universalistic “perennial philosophy” that informs
all the religions of the world as their core. It would be
erroneous to call it a grand narrative because it allows for
infinite plurality and differentiation. It is, when defined
in a certain way, moreover without the negative and oppressive
features of other grand narratives.
In the remaining portion of my paper, I will try not so much
to defend Sri Aurobindo’s views on Indian nationalism
and its integral relationship with Sanatana Dharma. I have
placed these before the house with the view to offering a
benchmark, a yardstick, a way of trying to understand Indian
nationalism that is quite different from the usual discourses
in social sciences and humanities. What I attempt to do now
is to critique what I see as some of the flaws in the thinking
of those who have made it their avowed and self-imposed profession
to attack Indian nationalism. These naysayers are full of
venom for the ideas and ideals of this land, for its revered
figures and symbols. At every step they seek to attack some
aspect or the other of the Indian nation. Sometimes, they
attack the Indian state, at other times the call Indian democracy
a farce. Being irreligious themselves, they mock at the practices
of those who follow their traditional or ancestral practices.
Their terminology and standards of reference are usually imported
from the West, which ideologically seems to be their true
home. Sometimes in the name of modernity and progress, at
other times in the name of minorities and missionaries, they
never cease to berate, denounce, and denigrate things Indian.
In their zealous Hindutva-bashing, they also, will-nilly,
rubbish Hindus and Hinduism itself. Sometimes, to change tactics,
they try to appropriate for their own purposes some of the
key protagonists of Indian nationalism such as Swami Vivekananda
or Mahatma Gandhi. They cite such authorities out of context
and selectively. They distort data and information. They misuse
words like “genocide,” “state terrorism,”
“fascism,” and “fundamentalism” —
which does not mean that I condone or excuse the loss of a
single innocent life, but only that the loss of these lives
is turned into political propaganda. They make strange and
unsubstantiated causal connections between US imperialism,
globalisation, and domestic violence. In sum, their object
is to preach hatred and division. Because they are themselves
in positions of power and privilege, they are usually rewarded
for their rhetoric of violence and vituperation. If Indian
nationalism is in crisis it is because intolerance of the
critics of the state and of the nation, not just because of
the flaws and errors of the latter.
The rest of my paper has three components.
The first is a critique post-nationalism in India, which will
be followed by a discussion of citizenship, and global futures.
Let me start off by saying very clearly that what passes for
post-nationalism posturing in Indian intellectual circles
is really a disguised form of anti-Nationalism. It also shares
a broader genealogy with what we might call anti-Hindu discourses
stretching back at least to two hundred years. In the name
of modernity, in the name of Marxism, in the name of secularism,
or in the name of conversation, these discourses served to
undermine and weaken the native cultural traditions of this
land. It is these traditions, among other things, that the
present Indian state, which we have already been told is a
civilization state, embodies. How can the state be strong
if the civilization is weak? That is why I say that those
who wish to destroy this civilization are also anti-national.
Now, there is certain room for them in the plurality that
is India, but they must not be a ruling or dominant class.
That is my position.
But having started with the plain statement that what much
of what passes for post-nationalism in India is actually anti-national,
I must still try to understand the genesis of post-nationalism
as a discourse. Because it is a discourse, in the sense that
it is made up of a number of texts which are linked to each
other, in terms of their premises, conclusions, methods, and
also intensions. At least as it emanates out of the West,
post-nationalism is a part of a larger spectrum of thought
which goes under the sign of the ‘post’. Now what
are these ‘postal’ discourses? Whether you call
them post-structuralism, post-modernism, post-Marxism, post-feminism,
post-capitalism, post- whatever. What are the characteristics
of these discourses that go under the name of the ‘post’?
How do you post the post, in that sense? And if I want to
simplify, I would simply say that there are actually, at least
in the context of Western intellectual traditions, a number
of liberating features of the postal discourses. And one of
theirs most liberating and refreshing features is that they
promise, in a manner of speaking, an escape from the prison
house of master discourses. The idea is that modernity was
dominated by regimes of master discourses such as colonialism,
capitalism, Marxism, nationalism, and later, feminism. These
discourses took on a monolithic structure. They became extremely
oppressive because they homogenised themselves into a form
of thinking, which really blocked out the space for any plurality.
In reaction, an attempt was made in France and elsewhere from
1968 onwards to overthrow the power of the dominant. There
was the failed attempt at revolution by the students and workers
of France, but also the entire counter-culture movement in
the US. These anti-authoritarian, anti-establishment movements
spawned a whole range of counter-discourses, many of which
became institutionalised under the sign of the “post.”
To distinguish these smaller narratives from the master narratives,
Jean-Francois Lyotard, one of the theorists of postmodernism,
calls them petit récits. Lyotard uses this
term in his book The Postmodern Condition to suggest
local, fragmentary narratives which do not share the grand,
totalizing, and therefore oppressive vision of the master
narratives. These decentred, provisional, minor theories supposedly
do not carry in them the capacity to oppress as do the huge,
monolithic, hegemonizing master narratives. So the death of
the master narrative is, in a way, liberating, at least in
the context of how the West operates.
But the point that I am trying to make today is that when
ideas travel from the West to the East, they get metamorphosed
and their character changes. Filtered through and promoted
by the dominant, they cease to be local narratives, but instead
become our master narratives. So, in a peculiar way, what
is liberating in a Western context actually becomes enslaving
in an Indian context. Post-nationalism which might augur promises
of greater plurality and greater freedom instead becomes the
latest device of self-flagellation. In the West, post-nationalism
offers spaces to all kinds of marginalized people, blacks,
women, homosexuals, immigrants, and so on. It supposedly enables
these people to move from the margin into the forefront —
this, at any rate, is the idea of what happens in the West.
But, my contention is that when this idea comes to India,
it gets morphed, for certain reasons which I want to talk
about a bit, and instead of being liberating it actually becomes
enslaving. So Indian post-nationalism, rather than strengthening
us, in the end weakens us, that is my point.
How and why does this happen? First of all, it happens because
its champions are those who are schooled in the West and derive
their power and authority from it, though they work and live
in India. To that extent, they may seem to be promoting minorities
and disadvantaged people, but they are usually promoting only
themselves and their own privileged positions in the name
of those who are the victims of inequality or oppression.
In other words, Indian post-nationalism doesn’t work
because its champions are often self-serving and insincere.
But it also doesn’t work because it constantly looks
at India through Western spectacles thereby misunderstanding
its present problems and therefore advocating incorrect solutions.
How can we have borrowed notions of freedom or emancipation?
It is a contradiction in terms; freedom, swaraj,
has to be our own. Its paradigms must be indigenous and self-defined.
It is futile therefore to try to define our futures in terms
of other peoples’ pasts.
I must clarify that I am not trying to say that ideas do not
travel across borders or that everything coming from the West
is bad for us. What I am saying is that it takes a lot of
thought and hard work to adapt and adopt ideas from other
cultures. When this process is done in a routine, thoughtless,
and self-destructive manner or under various forms of coercion
or corruption, the results are not pleasant. Indian post-nationalism,
being a derivative discourse, is therefore incapable of delivering
us from our predicaments; it will only add to them.
But let us try to understand Indian post-nationalism and its
various guises. We must not forget that post-nationalism itself
is often a form of anti-nationalism. One of its arguments
is that the ideology of the nation is outdated; it has outlived
its utility. What is more, it was wrong in the first place.
A nation is, for example, intrinsically violent, exclusionary
— it gives rise to partition. Therefore, nationalism
of any kind, especially, cultural nationalism is extremely
dangerous; it is murderous. This is the argument,
but we have already heard the counter-argument. We have enough
evidence in to suggest that Indian Nationalism is structurally,
ideologically, and thematically, different from Western nationalism.
Thus, critiques that are applied to Western Nationalism cannot
be applied in a wholesale and unthinking manner to Indian
To be more specific, Indian nationalism, which is based on
the lofty idea of Sanatana Dharma, cannot be equated either
with the idea of the nation based on social contract, that
arose out of the French Revolution. Neither is the Indian
nation based on the more romantic post-enlightenment idea
of the nation which comes from Germany, from German idealism.
Here the basis of the nation is seen as the Volk,
that is a people of a certain race, ethnicity, and language.
These characteristics are considered irreducible, immutable
and essential, the distinctive characteristics of
a people, if you will. But our nationalism does not follow
this principle either. While it takes certain features from
both these streams of European nationalism, it creates a totally
different kind of nation from its own ideas and aspirations.
That is why I don’t think that Western critiques of
nationalism are applicable in that knee-jerk fashion to the
Let me now look at some
other postures of Indian post-nationalism.
One of these is secularism. This word was not a part of the
original preamble of our constitution. It was inserted along
with another dubious word, “secularism,” in a
constitutional amendment by Indira Gandhi. I think it is impossible
for India to be a dharma-nirapeksh society, that
is a society that has no dharmic expectations or
inclinations. It is, by most counts, a dharma-sāpeksh
society, a society which is inclined and respectful of dharma.
Of course, we may be neutral to specific religious faiths
or ideologies, favouring none over the other. So we may have
sāmpradāyik-nishpekshata, but not dharma-nishpekshata.
We do not want to favour Saivites over Vaisnavites or
Shias over Sunnis, but this does not mean that we are an irreligious
people. Instead, dharma, not religion, is a constituent element
of the Indian civilization, it is one of the purushārthās.
So, there is no question of neutrality to dharma. We are here
to practise dharma and that is why we are born. To call Indians
a non-dharmic people would be to do a complete injustice to
them. Kapoor Sahib was telling us, ideas such as dharma are
common to many faiths and religions in India. For example,
a Muslim will say, “Kya mein apna imaan bech doon?”
So, the word imaan in the Indian Muslim psyche functions
in a way which is parallel to the idea of dharma. There is
a certain kind of secularism which cannot understand this;
it takes the guise of post-nationalism. What is noteworthy
is that we are now at a stage when post-secular ideas need
to flourish. In a sense, Hindutva itself is a post-secular
idea, not necessarily a pre-secular one as its opponents are
trying to define it.
Again, we have a post-nationalism which disguises itself in
the discourse of human rights. Again, this is something which
emerges out of the whole discourse of rights that came up
after the French Revolution. Human rights are of course very
laudable, but from an Indian point of view they don’t
actually go far enough. What about animal rights? Plant rights?
Man does not have unlimited sovereignty over nature, but must
live in a state of mutuality and support in nature. But in
the Indian context, the discourse of human rights is often
applied in a very selective and negative fashion so as to
imply only the rights of certain people. For example, a soldier
who is ambushed and killed on the border has no human rights.
Or the victims of a terrorist attack have no human rights
— they are only unfortunate victims. But the terrorist
has human rights. The human bomb, who has been consciously
programmed to kill hundreds of people, has human rights. If
you created a human bomb by a very conscious and dangerous
process of indoctrination and brain-washing, you have human
rights. Enemies of the state have human rights, but what about
the common people? Don’t they have the right to be safe
and secure? So, human rights is again applied in a very selective
and negative fashion, once again, within the larger ambit
of a post-nationalist discursive field and usually applied
in such a manner as to weaken the Indian character, the Indian
nation or the Indian way of life. At least, this is what it
Minoritarianism is another such garb of post-nationalism.
Minoritarian constantly pleads for special rights and privileges
for minorities. How are minorities to be defined? Who constitutes
the majority? These questions are not satisfactorily answered.
The majorities get one label, “Hindus,” and are
all clubbed together. Everyone else wishes for some special
privilege or protection. This dichotomy between majorities
and minorities is very pernicious. It should be done away
with. We should consider all of us as a part of the majority.
This is because, from a certain point of view, we are all
minorities. Prof. Kapoor already gave his own example and
I can give you mine. I am supposed to belong to a community
called the Chitpāwans. These people, legend has it, came
from Iran, but settled down in Maharashtra. But I was not
even born in Maharashtra, let alone living there. I grew up
somewhere else; I now teach in a third place. How can I be
part of any majority? So, who is a majority and who is a minority,
this becomes a charged question. But, a selective use of minoritarianism
is not only illogical but also extremely negative. Because
if you are going to garner votes and create collectives on
the basis of caste or creed or community or some other identity
marker, then a consolidation on the basis of a larger umbrella
term such as Hindu or Hindutva becomes inevitable. It is a
part of the same process of consolidation. How can you promote
one and oppose the other? I mean promote and oppose intellectually,
not ideologically. That is why I tell all my left and secular
friends that the Hindu genie is out of the bottle; it cannot
be put back in. Learn to dialogue with it. Let us not practise
a new form of untouchability in which the so-called most liberal
and progressive people brand others for their real or imagined
political affiliations and boycott them. In a way, not just
boycott them but mount a form of a modern version of a witch
hunt or intellectual terrorism, all under the garb of minoritarianism.
Another guise of post-nationalism is the promotion of conversion
in the name of social welfare. Hindu society is equated with
caste oppression. Under the banner of uplifting the downtrodden,
communities and families are divided. I would like to here
to speak of the right not to be subjected to proselytization
as opposed to the right to proselytise. The right not to be
subjected to conversion should also be respected. In Islamic
countries, where conversion is banned, no one seems to protest.
But in India which has a great deal of freedom in matters
of religion, any attempt to safeguard people from wrongful
or forcible conversion is considered an act of fascism. To
sum up this section, I would suggest that a genuine post-nationalism
in India would also be post-secular and post-proselytising
— otherwise, it would be self-contradictory. How can
it support both secularism and conversion at the same time?
Before I move on, I must mention raise what I consider to
be a very crucial question. Who are the proponents of this
form of post-nationalism, which, as I said, is in reality
a type of anti-nationalism? Who are its champions? Who are
its sponsors and who are its perpetrators? Who are its beneficiaries?
Which is the class that is involved in this ideology? Also,
who are its opponents? I think this is something that we must
unmask if we have to counter it. The overt forms of patronage
and sponsorship are all too evident for such activities, whether
it is this foundation or that, this fellowship or that, this
foreign mission or that. Until very recently, the kinds of
grants that were given from the ICSSR, the ICHR, the ICCR
and such national bodies also supported this kind of scholarship.
All this is well-known. But what is the class that is actually
behind it? I think this is the class that has been the beneficiary,
of what one might call a Nehruvian intellectual and political
establishment. It has served its purpose, let us give it its
due. The best of its kind has been an upright, well-meaning,
liberal type of administrator or intellectual who has indeed
served this country and its culture. So, I would not like
to rubbish and demonise all of them. As Gandhiji said in Hind
Swaraj, “We who seek justice must learn to do justice.”
But the fact of the matter is that any process of decolonisation
- there are many theories about how decolonisation works -
will require the displacement of this class, sooner or later.
This is because it seems to me that any process of decolonisation
has at least two steps. In the first step, the colonisers
are ejected. For this a huge effort has to be mounted, which
I think thankfully we have already accomplished in this country.
But the second is to eject the coloniser within, the coloniser
jisne aapke man or atma mein ghar kar liya hain,
the coloniser who has already occupied you from within. That
ejection is much more difficult. The process of decolonisation
in India will not be complete until this class has also been,
I would say, disempowered, not disenfranchised, but disempowered,
put in their place. Once they are put in their place, once
you take away from them all the instruments of power, they
can be very welcome parts and partners of the Indian plurality.
But as long as they hold the power, they will continue to
serve their real masters, the West.
This second step of de-colonisation is actually taking place.
I admit it is a bit painful. Some people are losing their
privileges. That is why they complain so loudly and cry foul
of all change. But this does not mean that they are right,
just that they are bad losers. They have not learned the art
of sportsmanship, which is a part of any democratic polity.
When they find themselves losing, they would rather bring
the edifice down than allow others to occupy it. This is because
at heart many of them are not democratic. They accept democracy
if it favours them, not if it goes against their interests.
If the latter happens, they cry for protectionism of one sort
For the change of the kind that I’ve described, political
power is important. It is not just a matter of being ideologically
correct, but having the will, the might to carry out the required
correctives and corrections. When these changes and corrections
do take place, the whole country will be a beneficiary, not
just one community or the other. We are a democratic country,
I can vote for X today and Y tomorrow. I have no permanent
affiliations. But the fact is that this change is necessary
and it is taking place. This is something which we should
note and support. It seems to me that once the institutions
and the power centres of Indian intellectual life are restored
to their cultural centres, to their native custodians, then
we will actually be in a position of discharging our debt
to the rishis, the rishirin. But were we to ignore
this debt, culturally we will be doomed to a fate worse than
death. It will be a fate of perpetual subordination, subjection
and a state of a second-rate intellectual life. So, instead
of that, by remembering the debts to our rishis, to our elders,
to those who fought for our freedom, and to all those who
imagined this nation into being, we shall be giving ourselves
a second chance.
One more point, which is a psychological point. It is a point
about mass psychology, the psychology of a class. Why is it
that this class persists on a course of action which will
be ultimately self-destructive? It is not only self-demeaning,
it not only induces a hatred for oneself, a self-rejection
of a gigantic proportion, but it will bring down the very
culture that sustains and nourishes it. Why is it doing that?
I think this is a very crucial question.
There are two forms of answers. One answer is very clear -
that this class right from the time of Macaulay has been trained
to be subordinate. It has been trained to be a good servant
and trained to be a part of some one else’s story. And
therefore, it cannot even aspire for greatness, it cannot
conceive of an India which is independent, prosperous, autonomous,
and fulfilled in all the various levels of its being. It can
only envisage for itself a subordinate and, you might say,
a rewarding position as a servitor of the more prosperous
West. It can only retain its position as a loyal and obedient
agent, a good servant. But the more independence, the more
selfhood this country attains, the more marginal this class
is going to be. So, it is afraid of what is emerging here
- if India becomes a great power then the second-rate mind
that controls this country intellectually is going to be thrown
into the dustbin of history. This is the fear that this class
And the final point about this class and the worst of this
class is that it has no value of acknowledging that which
it opposes. Purvapaksh kya hota hai unko to pata hi nahin
hein, shuruvad se hi vaar karne lagte hain. They do not
know what they criticise; they are ignorant and arrogant.
But, of course, this betrays a great fear. Ultimately, they
may suffer from a disease which is even worse, a disease which
Freud rightly called Thanatos. Thanatos is the love of death.
Not finding anything of value in their own past, this class
may be in love of a cultural suicide. That is why we should
have a great compassion for them. There is no need to be violent
or inconsiderate; we should, on the contrary, be kind and
compassionate. We should very respectfully disagree, very
respectfully expose their motives, but also, very respectfully
and responsibly, exercise power.
Citizenship and Global Futures
Now to two points about citizenship - I think that one of
the things that is happening in India is a redefinition of
the manner in which the different people who belong to this
country will relate to each other. And to that extent, this
re-definition is very important. But, once it is achieved,
please let us not compromise the notion of citizenship in
which all of us are equal, let nobody in this country feel
that that person because he or she belongs to a particular
religion, or a particular community is being treated as a
second-class citizen. That should not be what India stands
for. So, please let us be very clear not be anti-any-community,
whatever be the reorganisation of the polity that has to take
place. Indeed, the principles of Sanatana Dharma, which are
our highest principles, enjoin upon us to eschew violence
and hatred. Change such as we seek cannot be brought about
through principles of negativity. These would not befit who
we are; they would not behove our heritage. Let the notion
of citizenship, which is the basis of democracy and of a modern
state be sacrosanct. I would in fact argue that the secular
face of Sanatana Dharma is precisely this idea of equal citizenship
and freedom, which are the basis of Indian democracy. Sanatana
Dharma can best be promoted by a Constitution that safeguards
Now, the last point, which is about global futures. One of
the great arguments of the post-nationalists is that nation-states
are withering away. This is nothing but a disguised attempt
to sell, or to mortgage national sovereignty to global protocols.
These are protocols of trade, of politics, of defence, but
and even of culture and language. But the real question is
this: do the nation and nationalism become irrelevant in such
In order to address this question, I would like to bring in
Sri Aurobindo’s ideas. It is only fit that since I started
with Sri Aurobindo, I should invoke him again towards the
end of my talk. If we read Sri Aurobindo’s writings,
it would seem true that the human race is at a very important
juncture in its own evolutionary history. From this point
of view, it may not be unlikely that we are actually moving
towards a new global civilization, a new global order. This
is something we should encourage. To that extent, we should
not be narrow nationalists. On the contrary, we should also
like to take part in the larger comity of nations and move
towards the global culture where the barriers and boundaries
between nations and peoples collapse.
But how do we move towards this new global order? Or, to put
it differently, what is the model for the world society of
the future? How are we to move towards a global civilization
from the deeply entrenched notions of nationality? How is
the transition to take place? Not, it seems to me, by reneging
and denying our own individuality, our own distinctness. I
think the celebration of ourselves and the flowering of ourselves
as Indians, as a distinctive civilisation will lead us to
this global community in which different members of this garden
of civilizations and nations, like different flowers, can
co-exist without dominating one another. It is not by the
denial of your identity but in the fruition of your identity
you can actually move towards the new global order. I think
Tagore’s idea of true internationalism was also predicated
upon an authentic localism.
One kind of post-nationalist makes a very clever intervention
here. They say that they are not Indians at all, because no
such identity really exists. But that they are, say, Bengalis
who are also citizens of the world. Or that they are Iyer
Brahmins who are citizens of the world. Why bother with the
nation India? In any case, it seems to offer few conveniences.
Even the passport is not respected in many parts of the world!
To counter this I can only say that one reason that our expatriates
and diasporic populations do so well in their host countries
is precisely because they are from India and not some banana
republic. India has a global presence as a brand today because
it is a large, diverse, democratic country, which is trying
to find its own path to greatness. Our independence, autonomy,
and unique experience of nation-building make is distinct
in the world market. Being a Bengali or a Brahmin or a Dalit
would have no meaning if we were also not Indians. Hence,
this final argument of the post-nationalists is also suspect,
that global culture means the denial of native culture or
that global culture means a neti-neti culture.
It seems to me at a possible model for a global culture will
neither be merely an accumulative nor a subtractive one. That
is, it will either be merely an addition of French plus Italian
plus Chinese plus Kenyan plus Brazilian plus Indian and so
on, nor the opposite, which, neither Italian nor Chinese nor
Kenyan nor Indian and so on. Perhaps, world culture will have
many layers or components. On the one hand, it will be accumulative,
that is, respectful of all the diverse identities in our world.
On the other hand, it will be transcendental, that is above
and beyond all these specific identities. We can think of
a planetary person, with a planetary identity. At the same
time, it will be a different sort of identity altogether,
a global citizenship, which is far more advanced than any
current idea of nationhood and nationality. Sri Aurobindo’s
notion of Sanatana Dharma does not contradict or militate
against the emergence of such a self.
But in the intervening period, I think the European Union
gives us a fairly good interim idea of how we can proceed.
Its members have not compromised either their linguistic or
ethnic or other distinctive identities. In fact, these identities
are as vibrant as they were before and yet they are participating
in a larger collectivity as Europeans. Without visas and other
restrictions, they can live in each other’s countries
and actually take part in this larger sense of a citizenship.
© Makarand Paranjape,
Sri, Social and Political Thought, Pondicherry:
Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1985.
Aurobindo, Sri, Sanatana Dharma: Uttarpara Speech,
Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1983.
Gandhi, M. K, Hind Swaraj, 1909, Ahmedabad:
Lyotard, Jean-Francois, La Condition postmoderne,
Paris: Minuit, 1979; The Postmodern Condition,
Trans. Geoffrey Bennington and Brian Massumi, Minneapolis:
Minnesota UP, 1984.
Vivekananda, Swami, On India and Her Problems,
Compl. Swami Nirvedananda, Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama,