Indian Nationalism

by S Irfan Habib

Read time: about 7 minutes

We live in time of hyper-nationalism, amidst the shrieks of cultural homogenisation. The frenzy of self-proclaimed nationalists and mono-culturalists is threatening to tear apart our social fabric. A binary has trapped us- you are a nationalist or an anti-nationalist, depending upon your attitude towards the state and its politics.’ This hyper-nationalism is what prompted the author to compile a collection of essays giving us a history of emergence of the frenzy, its effects and side-effects. By compiling these collection of essays the author narrates a flow in the evolution of nationalism since before the independence of India and after the roar of demand for independence.

This is a valuable collection for anyone who may want to know what exactly is nationalism and how it needs to evolve from the rightist ideology to a more liberal one.

Cover: Indian Nationalism

Cover page

I like this cover page even though it is filled with lettering in different typology. There are quotes below and above the main title of the book. These quotes make a great composition. The cover screams elegance and business. The back cover states the names of all the personalities who have found a place inside the book. One after the other the names are listed, giving a peek into what you may find inside the book.

Aleph publishing company is doing a great work with their non-fiction cover (see: A Time Of Madness).

Content

There is religion and there is nationalism. While many talk about keeping religion separate from nation business, the very fact of introducing the two words in a sentence means entirely opposite from what is intended.

In this collection of essays and speeches the author has brought to us the earliest understanding of nationalism and how it has evolved. The second- the most important, common ground is that all these concepts revolve around religion. Even the liberalists and secularist thinking is a reaction to religion in politics.

The book begins with the early liberal view of nation and culture. ‘Revival or Reform: Imagining a New Nation’ is a direct response from Mahadev Govind Ranade to those who call for a revival rather than reform. In this piece, Ranade talks about the large expanse of the new found country called India. It inhabits different cultures and religions. So which culture do the revivalists want to reform? ‘Our usages have been changed from time to time by a slow process of growth, and you cannot stop at any particular period without breaking the continuity of the whole.’ Ranade exaplins that any revival will only focus on a particular culture or religion. The only way forward is through reform and not revival. In the same section Surendranath Banerjea in ‘We are all brothers in arms’ appeals to all Hindus and Muslims to unite as form closest ties of good-will and amity.

In ‘Religion-Centric Nationalism’ there are some eminent speakers such as Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Lala Lajpat Rai who try to tackle the nationalism without giving up on the Hindu identity. They identify themselves of belonging to one faith and calling for their brothers to join in defeating the national enemy- the British. Bipin Chandra Pal who is often quoted for his pro Hindu nationalism views explains what Hindu nationalism means to him which is completely different from the sword wielding mobs. ‘Hindu Nationalism means, therefore, neither selfish conflict with, nor proud isolation from, the other nations of the world.’ Hence, he does talk about India as a nation which also inhabits different religions.

Sri Aurobindo, on the other hand, calls for only one religion in the nation. He insists that there should be no religion other than nationalism. This again contradicts the nationalism of Rabindranath Tagore who implores the concept of internationalism. According to Tagore, each nation should work together to make the entire world a better place, thus not acting in self interest but in interest of the entire world. Maulana Husain Ahmad calls for all the Islamists brothers to join in the freedom struggle and free Indian from its oppressors. He convinces them that in joining the struggle they will not threaten their own religion in any way. ‘Knowingly or unknowingly, the philosophy is being taught to Indian Muslims that nationalism is to be abhorred. The establishment of any unity based on composite nationalism with non-Muslims is religiously impermissible as well as harmful for the Islamic cause. The Muslim community was a minuscule minoriy but did not get absorbed in the mainstream for centuries. Today, when their population has crossed 80 million, it is argued that they would become a morsel for Hindus….

This speech was a direct reaction to Allama Iqbal’s belief that Islam does not comply with the idea of nationalism.

As we go further into the book, more liberal approach to the idea of nationalism is adopted. We see Sarojini Naidu asking all Hindus and Muslims to join together and act like brothers appealing in the name of Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb. Mahatma Gandhi in his famous question- Is hatred essential for Nationalism? Takes away the attention from religions and talks about the hatred towards anyone including those of other nation. One can hate the actions of the oppressors without hating them personally. Not to forget Gandhi was famously addressing prayer meets with Ishwar Allah Tero Naam to bring together the two religions in his struggle for independence. Here, Nationalism is again revolving around two religions working together.

Two of the prominent personalities in Indian freedom struggle hold similar views on nationalism. Patel comes out to be a more hard liner than Nehru when he says - We understand that they are going to stay here and it is our obligation and our responsibility to make them feel that this is their country. It is, of course, their responsibility, on the other hand, to discharge their dirties as citizens of this country. This is when he talks about the Muslims in India who choose to stay here after partition. Nehru on the other hand talks about secularism where all religions are treated as equals in this country. While, it means the same as Patel’s intent but the approach taken by both personalities are different that is reflected in their speeches. ‘No tradition which makes one a prisoner Of one’s mind or body is ever good.’

There are several impressionable figures that find a place in the book but my two favourite pieces come from revolutionist Bhagat Singh and B. R. Ambedkar.

Bhagat Singh who was a atheist himself condones the use of religion in nationalism. All social evil such as unequal distribution of wealth, untouchability, caste system etc are pulling the country backwards. Independence devoid of equal rights for everyone is no independence at all. Ambedkar on the other hand talks about the difference between nationalism and nationality. One is based on the psychological connection- the will to live as a nation, the other is territorial existence. Both are essential for a nation.

There are several other leads and speakers who have rightfully given a space in the pages of this book and Muslim liberalist such as Maulana Azad and Khan Ghaffar Khan are a delight to read.

Language

Since the book is a collection of essays, one finds he language quite varied. However, all of the pieces features are very comprehensive, easy to understand.

Good points

I absolutely loved the cover. The collection is great. You have everyone you need to know about nationalism in India.

Bad points

Cannot think of one.

Overall

This book has been a delight to read. It certainly helps you understand nationalism better.

Whom do I recommend this to

This is for those who want to understand the concepts of nationalism. Those who like political reads are going to like this too.

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Veena Choudhary

An avid reader and history fanatic.

Mumbai, MH merakipost.com