22 August, 2016

Cultural Not Colonial

Historians, who take pride in denying the thousands of years legacy of our nationhood, are now trying to teach nationalism to the people of this nation whom they see through colonial prism

Yet another mischaracterisation of Hindutva by (Who else?) Romila Thapar, the queen bee of highbrow intellectualism of divisive Left. This time, she has produced another stinky logic of provincialising the otherwise wide-ranging cultural nationalism or Hindutva by categorising nationalism into two types. One type is ‘secular nationalism’, what she believes as the right form (if there be any) and the other form of nationalism according to her, ‘religious nationalism’, is the inaccurate one (because she believes it to be so). The first one is anti-colonial and the other form she derides as a divisive imagination and describes it as not so anti-colonial like the one which she practised (?). This fuming of Thapar is far from surprise to those who understand the phoney communist character of her intellectual politics. Let us see how she has done this again in an ‘Exclusive’ article in July edition of Outlook, which actually meant to promote her book.

What this intellectual is arguing about Hindutva is actually applicable to her own arguments. The so-called secular nationalism or the crony intellectualism is rooted in the colonial perspective of India and its people. Rather, the historians like Thapar produce a history in an absolute conformity with the determining character of the British renderings of Indian history or Hindu identity. It is far from being factual and real. It is provincially perceptive. It is elitist and hence unrecognisable to the general population of India. The typical style of these intellectuals is reflected in this article also. With a mumbo-jumbo of some alien theoretical formulations of the New Left intellectuals like Benedict Anderson, Ernest Gellner, Eric j Hobsbawm, she tries to dazzle her readers with the rationality of her otherwise decadent political ideas. Her major arguments against Hindutva can be summed up as:

1)     The Colonial perception of Hindu India is the root of Hindutva as a cultural identity.
2)     The British rendering of Indian character as Hindus was founded on the recognition to the elite societies of the past which was Hindu, so Hindutva is elitist.
3)     The concept of nation was founded in Europe in the post-enlightenment period. Hence, India as a nation came to be established as a result of contact between India and its colonial rulers.
4)    Hindus were not the victims, they, in turn, victimised the Dalits, Vanvasis and other marginalised groups.
5) The production of literature by Hindu saints and classical music during Mughal rule shows that existence of Hindus was not jeopardised during the Mughal era. Hence, the victimisation of Hindus by Mughals is propaganda of communal hostility.
6) African nationalism expressed in Negritude is a better form of nationalism than Hindutva nationalism because it integrated the pan-African identities.
7) Inclusiveness of Hindutva is problematic since it mars equality and establishes the dominance of some and subordinates others.
8) Religious nationalism or Hindutva nationalism was not essentially anti-colonial. Secular nationalism was anti-colonial.
9) The present upsurge of Hindutva nationalism is an attempt to establish the pre-eminence of Hindutva.
10) ‘Nation is an imagined community’—Anderson. Hence, Hindutva is utopian nationalism.

This is how this ‘intellectual’ analysis builds a narrative of anti-Indian theories about India.

The opening sentence is perhaps a redemption on her part for disparaging nationalism (Remember her support to the Made in Britain Aryan Invasion Theory) in general all her life. So, we hear her say something like, “…nationalism was in the air we breathed.” (You can visualise her blinking after writing this sentence in her article). The introductory paragraph of her article is actually a failed attempt to invent varieties of nationalism. In addition to this invention, she prioritises her type of nationalism, the secular anti-colonial nationalism over what she calls as religious nationalism, actually means Hindutva nationalism. This classification is inherently erroneous and does not require a deep study of History (which is essentially a European discipline) to know that the freedom movement was a collective and inclusive enterprise of nationalism. All were anti-colonial, anti-British. Together they fought for freedom. However, the discordant historians, as if they were on the payroll of British Empire, conveniently foreground the so-called factions among the nationalists.
The derisive politics of the divisive Left-minded intellectuals compels them to trace divisions in diversity. Thus the invention of ‘my nationalism’ versus ‘your nationalism’! What is seen and projected by the intellectuals like Romila Thapar as the ‘marginalised religious nationalism’ was actually the nuanced notion of a genuine concern for cultural autonomy and indigenous character of the struggle for freedom. Some nationalists had foreseen the danger of political freedom with a culturally subjugated society. Hence their focus was alike on the indigenous character of Independence. The intellectual and academic productions during the ascendancy of Congress Party proved this sensing of the danger of Hindutva’s mischaracterisation as a legitimate one. In the post-Independence era, the historians like Thapar were nurtured by the Congress Party and were established as intellectuals only to ensure that they echo the political programme of this power mongering party through their divisive theories and intellectual activism so that the most legitimate cultural interests of the Hindu society gets nullified from general cognisance.  

As a master of contradictions, Thapar maintains her legacy in this article too. While she appreciates the nationalist union of diverse identities, for sheer political paybacks she chooses to ignore the fact that those whom she identifies as ‘anti-colonial nationalists’ and differentiates them from her perceptive ‘religious nationalism’, were actually the members of the general Hindu population. They might not have been on the membership lists of the Hindu Mahasabha but they were in the cultural sense, Hindus. It is their bringing up as Hindus which inculcated a liberal approach (in non-European, non-Western sense) in them. There is no logical basis for Thapar’s projection that the so-called anti-colonial nationalists were also anti-Hindus or that they were indifferent as Hindus. It was certainly so then and is certain now that the members of the general population of Bharat, whether or not they are members of an organisation working for the Hindutva cause are essentially, inherently tolerant and open-minded toward diverse cultures and various ethnic identities. This innate form of liberalism, uninterrupted by the Western determinism, is what the general population identifies as Hindutva.   

Her jibe at the slogan, Bharat Mata ki jai and her observation that ‘nationalism had and has much to do with understanding one’s society and finding one’s identity as a member of that society’, is a classic specimen of unresolvable contradiction. The slogan which unites all distinctive identities, the slogan of Bharat Mata ki jai which became a powerful unifying and culturally integrating expression of millions of people, right from the commonest of common to the most distinguished leaders who fought for freedom is not a slogan alone; this is an expression of a unified Bharat, adored as a mother Goddess, hailed to be victorious. The criminal omission of recent ‘JNU sloganeering’ which had the infamous Bharat tere tukade honge…. etc. from her critique of sloganeering is a guarantee of a partial and biased determinism against those who think otherwise. Perhaps Thapar has a greater appetite for  Bharat tere tukade honge… than for Bharat Mata ki jay.

It is the inherent, indigenous identity of Hindutva, the DNA of Hindus which makes us congenitally tolerant and inclusive toward ‘other citizens of the same nation’. The social and cultural implications of Hindutva are so broad and non-institutionalised unlike the Abrahamic religions that they are instinctively present into behavioural and socially communicative traits of a Hindu person. Thankfully certain experiences of life are better lived than defined or informed.   Hindutva is one such experience. It is a whole way of life as you live it out as a Hindu. There is no hard and fast documentary or institutional, evangelical guidelines on an individual’s association with it.  

The writer of the article, ‘Colonial Roots of Hindutva Nationalism’ seems to have forgotten one very basic fact that the British rule was not an anthropological research enterprise in India. Their primary agenda was imperialist not academic or social research. Even an ordinary person understands it well that political and commercial emissaries would undertake social research only to secure commercial or political gains. Their analysis was ‘empirical’ and goals were ‘pragmatic’. How logical it would be, then, to take for granted their account of Hindu society as a general population ruled by the Muslim rulers though a religious minority?    

A civilisation progresses and evolves with a passage of time. You do not define these mores and modes of life before you live them out. Thus the culture and civilisation which lived as the Sindhu river civilisation and evolved through centuries developed a common character. Of course, the local touches to the expression of this culture were diverse and marvellously unique. Yet the spiritually cohesive aspects of cultural practices formed a pan-Indian cultural harmony in the entire subcontinent called ‘Sankritik Bharat’. This nuanced cultural character, this milieu; the civilisational identity came to be recognised as Hindu by the people of all castes and creeds. It was neither imposed nor was it determined. The very fact that there is no scriptural evidence of the word Hindu in ancient literature shows that it did not come into practice through the writing of an individual or through the historical writing of intellectual activist. The word Hindu followed the identity which has always been the ever existent cultural realisation of all the people of this subcontinent known traditionally as Bharat-varsh. The rich and the poor, the Dalits and so-called elites, the priestly castes, the warrior, the merchants and wage earners all experienced and exerted Hindutva in their own terms.  

The argument of Thapar in her article that Hindutva has its roots in the colonial rule is an imposition of her alienating rationality. It does not require a sound knowledge of world history to realise this. It requires an uninterrupted knowledge in one’s being. The self-denigrating scholarship of such intellectuals could not have helped but capitalise on the fault lines in Indian society, mostly Hindu identity. 

The Aryan Invasion Theory, the Aryan-Dravidian conflict, the Vedic period as a period of conflict, the Mughal rule as age of synthesis are the widely recognised infamous distortions of History of Ancient and Medieval India. The present researches have proved that all these divisive theories were actually produced either by the British agents of history with a purpose normalising British rule in India or by shady intellectuals bred on Eurocentric scholarship to seek favours and recognition from the western communities. One such false theory propounded by such intellectuals is that of elitism of Hindutva. According to Thapar, the British gave recognition to elite Hindus who resisted colonisation and neglected the marginalised identities at rural and less prominent locations. Thus, Thapar concludes, those not represented in British history of India are non-Hindus. This is another example of hired intellectualism of ridiculous intellectual politics. As stated earlier the hundreds of thousands of Indians not recognised as Hindus by the British were not waiting for recognition by the ruler. Their identity as Hindus had long been present always already without resting on the determining renderings of their identity by the British. Hence, it is a misnomer to attach the adjective ‘elitist’ to Hindutva. If somebody can qualify this adjective then it is the intellectualism of such historians and scholars who echo the divisive theories of the new Left thinkers to defend the narrow-mindedness of these theories and to prepare a ground for Left’s politics which is fast losing its ideological and political space. 

Every single argument she makes in her article proclaims her own conformity to New Left academics of Western Universities and eccentric scholarship which provide her ‘theoretical fluency’. Could there be no method of acquiring self-knowledge independent of the discordant theories of western scholars? They interrupt the indigenous processes of reformation aiming to cause a rupture in society.
 It is easy to understand why the Western intellectuals or fraudulent intellectuals produce such spite against the unifying discourses in India. The British rule successfully did it with all their might but they failed miserably. In fact, Indians resisted the political and cultural dominion of the British to a great extent in spite of the latter’s strong efforts to replicate the strategy which they carried out in other colonies. It is the indomitable culture of India; it is Hindutva which succeeded in fighting back this subjugation. Hence, we find that in the countries in Indian subcontinent where Hindu identity was prevalent the British could only exploit situations politically and commercially but the perennial flow of indigenous culture remained far from being annihilated. There is no centrality to this flow like the one in Christianity, Islam or Communism. This is a clear evidence for the pre-colonial presence of Hindutva. The colonial rule did not define it or locate it, they tried to defeat it and they got defeated in turn. 

It is this divisive strategy which prompts these intellectuals to obfuscate the harmonious Hindu society. The theories of Romila Thapar whether ‘Aryan Invasion’ or ‘Age of Synthesis’ represent the same mindset. The truth now revealed by recent research from the discovery of the Vedic Sarasvati River to the reading of the Indus script is that there was no Aryan invasion and no Aryan-Dravidian conflicts either. In Sanskrit, Aryan simply means cultured and not any race or language. The secularist ‘renarrativising’ of History is a clear example. The facts of atrocities of Mughal emperors were abridged from the History textbooks, the culturally constructive facts of Hindu kings were obscured, the British empire was portrayed as a ‘civilising force’, and worst of all, any reverence to the spiritual traditions of the indigenous Hindu whole way of life in curriculum was tabooed and criticised as ‘communal’. A ‘whole way of life’ of around ninety million people remained unrepresented or misinformed and mischaracterised into the activity of academics. The subjectivity of colonial, secular and Leftist doctrines is a welcome character of academics but Hindu identity and Hindu discourse is mischaracterised, misrepresented or not represented at all.

There is no civilisation which did not go through its phase of bringing regressive practices to an end. Europe and America have their own history of inequalities and discrimination. However, India has not been allowed to seek such indigenous solutions for their home-grown problems. There seems to be a sort of an attitude developed by the Western world that its brand of liberalism is something of a panacea for the entire world’s cultural problems. This knowledge was made so imperative that the rest of the world acknowledged the western liberalism as an obvious prerequisite for getting at par with the Western world in terms of development and culture.

This apish attitude of Indian intellectuals is a major obstruction in the processes of reaching indigenous solutions of certain social problems. The Anglomaniac scholarship of such intellectuals prevents them from engaging themselves into a pro-people intellectualism. So, the historically disseminated knowledge of inequalities and hostilities practised against the socially and economically deprived sections of society needs to be interpreted in the Indian context and solutions to these problems are to be sought by Indian people by fighting back inequality with inclusiveness. The social value of inclusiveness in the Indian context and in Hindu sense means an inherent form of open-mindedness toward diverse identities. This has been the character of people of this subcontinent since antiquity. This pluralism is the spinal structure of India and this has been the culture of the people. It is the myopic attitude of the communist intellectuals that obscures the social implications of inclusiveness. They problematise it by terming it as homogenisation. However, these intellectuals are preposterously oblivious of the homogenisation as Americanisation or Anglicisation of India. The purpose of mischaracterisation of inclusiveness as the indigenous way of removing the social practice of inequality is to create space for establishing the supremacy of utopian socialism as an indispensable aspiration for the people of India.

Prasanna A Deshpande
(The writer teaches English at Furgusson College, Pune) 

Courtesy: Organiser

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