May 16, 2016
In the presentation I will examine the idea of India, how it came up, how it acquired complexity and of course, from which quarters is it under threat?
The first thing to be pointed out is that it is an idea which is not only in the texts; it is a lived tradition of pluralism, tolerance, humanity. The second striking feature of the idea of India is that it is of relatively recent vintage, contrary to the claims of the Hindu communalists. There is no reference to such a territory in the Rig Veda. Interestingly the appellation India evolves from the word Hindu, which was used by the Iranians for the Sindhu or Indus River. Again it was a Persian word Hindustan which was used to describe India. Even then there was no reference to love for the land before Amir Khusro, a Turk, extolled the beauty, climate and language of the land in his poem of 1316, Nuh Sipihir, written in Hindavi. The idea of India as a tolerant state, where all religions co-exist comes up with Emperor Akbar and interestingly, Aurangzeb, who has been recently vilified as the epitome of intolerance.
There is yet no talk of a nation till the early nationalists in the late nineteenth century expose colonial exploitation and provide legitimacy to the demand for an India governed by Indians. Dadabhai Naoroji’s 1901 book, Poverty and the UnBritish Rule in India demonstrated this. With Gandhiji the Indian people truly came into their own. They flocked to the movement in multitudes, filling the prisons, swarming the beaches to make salt, picketing foreign shops, drawing the attention of the world to the coming together of the people of India. More than anything, Gandhiji helped them overcome their awe, indeed fear, of the Britisher. His disciple and associate, Jawaharlal Nehru, evocatively wrote about this in Discovery of India. With Nehru the idea of India assumed a shape which it did not have earlier –poorna azadi, complete independence, a socialist vision for free India, land for peasants, workers’ rights to be secured, women to get equality and adult franchise at a time when it was not achieved in the West. This idea of India was not only an ideal; it was a living reality. In 1947, Gandhiji, standing up for secular free India, went on fast unto death to ensure Muslims are not treated as second class citizens. The pledges from Hindu leaders of Delhi came in, but by the end of the month he was felled by those who had a different idea of India--- a Hindu Rashtra to whose creation they saw him as a stumbling block.
Needless to say the idea of a Hindu state was rejected outright as absurd, by the Congress. It was this issue of the direction of the Indian polity which divided the secular and communal forces.
The origin of the two nation theory is usually attributed to Jinnah and the Muslim League. However, it was V.D. Savarkar, who, in answer to this question, in 1937 in his presidential address to the Hindu Mahasabha was the following: ‘India cannot be assumed today to be a unitarian and homogenous nation, but on the contrary there are two nations in the main, Hindus and Muslims, in India.’
The RSS continues to have a problem with the cultural underpinnings of the nation state that emerged from the anti-colonial struggle. Its “idea of India” is different and this explains its profound interest in education, particularly curriculum, to reorient the political arena.
The new trend, after the BJP came to power at the Centre, was the attempt to use government institutions and state power to attack scientific and secular history and promote an obscurantist, communal historiography through state sponsored institutions at the national level.
There is a serious threat today to the values of democracy, civil liberties, secularism, equality of all citizens irrespective of religion, caste, region or gender, which the Indian people had fought for during their anti-colonial struggle, and had nurtured for over half a century after independence. The civilizational values of the freedom struggle, enshrined in our Constitution, are today threatened by communal forces, which did not participate in the struggle against colonialism and in fact had supported it.