Interrogating Indian Post-Nationalism
Sanatana Dharma, Citizenship, and Global Futures

Makarand Paranjape


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.

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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 solitary confinement:


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:


“The agnostic 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 purpose.


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 nationalism.

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.

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Post-nationalism in India

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 Nationalism.

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 Indian context.

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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 would seem.

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 or another.

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 has.

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 these.

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 a scenario?

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, 2003.

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Works cited

Aurobindo, 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: Navjivan, 1998.

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, 1976.

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