The colonial view of India was that it was not, and could hardly ever become, a “nation”. According to European ideas India did not possess any sort of unity, physical, social and religious. The first, almost knee-jerk atavistic response to this was that not only did the Indian nation exist but indeed there was a monolithic unity in it epitomized by the centrality of the Brahminical tradition.
The idea of the fundamental unity of the India caused by the commonality of the Brahminical tradition has dangerous divisible political implications and effects. In fact, it is nor even borne out by critical examination of Indian history which shows that so-called Brahminical tradition itself is not monolithic and homogeneous and was certainly not evenly spread through the Indian people even before Islam came to India.
The vast submerged gropes, the masses of India including the Daltis. The Advises and other ethnic and religious minorities had only a peripheral contact with this tradition.
Further, instead of becoming a fact of integration, the Brahminical traditions only tend to alienate segments of the Indian population. In the deep-south, it aroused suspicion as san instrument of Brahman domination of non-Brahmans and was equated with ‘Aryan’ domination over Dravidians.
Muslims, Christians another minority religious group was aware of its absorbing capacity and felt that their distinct identity may get lost in a higher diffused culture. Thus, the proponents for monolithic unity, of the ideology of ‘one culture, one language one nation’ – “Hindu, Hindi, Hindustan”- (Golwalkar 1947) in effect are the destroyers of unity among the people.
Against this blatantly revivalist and exclusivist concept of Indian nationhood, there were several variants of humanistic and even modernistic Hindu nationalism. These were pre-eminently represented by Gandhi, who while advancing his own Vaishnava interpretation of Hinduism, tried to make it open enough to accommodate all minority groups or at least not to antagonize them.
Others like Rabindranath Tagore drew from the Hindu tradition in advancing nationalism but tried to fashion Hinduism into most non-secretion, secular, “way of life”. Though this non-sectarian Hinduism they tried to promote the “underlying unity” of Indian culture.
Among secular protagonists of Indian nationalism perhaps the most important was Jawaharlal Nehru who found “unity in diversity” as the predominant aspect of the Indian historical legacy. Following Nehru, among non-Hindu as well as Hindu secular modernists, the search for Indian nationhood ahs led to emergence of the concept of ‘composite culture’. They for not dent the continuity of the Indian tradition, but they emphasize the diversity and variety in it, rejecting its centrality.
The national question in India was extremely complicated in the 1940s. The separatist Muslims led by Mohammed Ali Jinnah, staunch and exclusivist Hindus led by V.D. Savarkar and official Marxists’ directed from Moscow took mutually indistinguishable positions regarding partition and Pakistan. The votaries of Indian unity like Gandhi tried desperately to keep India united with all its religious and other minorities incorporated under a broad banner of religiously derived form the heterodox Hindu tradition. Secularists and anti-racists like Neheru invoked the long memory of the Indian ‘race’.
In that context of confusion, Ambedkar opinion “that in believing that we are nation, we are cherishing a great delusion but that only post-colonial India would become” a nation in making” does not only seem candid but, given a comprehensive analysis of social, cultural, political and also economic features of the time, remarkably accurate. And, there were three principal forces involved in this process of Indian” nation in the making “.
Constitutional the unifying spirit of the masses is struggle. It is still these three forces which are for the essence in the context of national integrating of India.
Finding the ‘spirit’ of the nation and ‘Indian national ethos’ elusive, secularists like Nehru, Ambedkar and many others who came into positions of power in post-colonial India, decided to give up this search for vague concepts and to hammer out a Constitutional cast within which they could politically mould the Indian nation into being. In this respect, their most tricky problem was the one concerning religious, linguistic, cultural, caste and ethnic –tribal minorities.
The Constitutionalisation of unity in diversity was no mean task and the framers of the Indian Constitution were aware for the many complexities they faced. Through a very tortuous and legalistic process, a system was devised which contains the ambiguity for intarsia and federalism of particularize and integration, of pluralism and the structuring of a single people.
One aspect of this exercise was that while it tried to second conflicts based on creed, caste and, to an extent even class, it institutionalized a secular tension expressed in Centre-state fiscal and other federal relations. This, the seeds for secular regionalism were sown in the very process of creation of India as union of states. It was nourished with the ad hoc and partial reorganization for states and nurtured with the arrogation of more and more powers by the central political configuration to itself.
However, the storm signals that are sounding at present are more on account of cynical reversal of the secular polity. While minorities of different sorts were given only conditional recognition at the time of framing the Constitution and that too with only benevolent protectionist intent, the actual working of the political-electoral system saw an attempt to turn them into secure vote banks.
There was an increasing communalization of public life with all kind of compromises made by all parties.; Albeit, Indian secularism became not a negation of communalism but a sum total of different communalisms. And it appears that, professions of secularism notwithstanding, the state, various political parties and other vested interests have become adept at using one communalism or the other, given the needs of the specific situation, to consolidate their position.
They are not even averse to giving encouragement to and conniving with rank Hindu chauvinism and, since there is increasing awareness for the power, political or otherwise of the Hindu majority, a cynical process of overall Hidnukaran of the polity seems to be taking place.
It is paradoxical that both the processes of the Indian nation-in-the making through political, social, economic, and cultural integration and of nation-in-the-unmaking through accentuation of atavistic sectarianism should be the product of the type of democracy that exists in India. However, while democracy, like the capitalist market, unites peoples into a collective entity, it also in certain respects homogenizes society. It is this that has paradoxical results in and essentially pluralistic configuration of peoples.
To take one example, the practice of electoral democracy does not only create the phenomena of vote banks butut also reinforces majoritarianism tendencies which have their impact on general social and cultural affairs in addition, of curse, on politics. An example of this is the Ram cult being propagated among Hindus as a direct outcome of the type of electoral politics that has evolved in India. The Ram cult has many significant characteristics. It is anti-Muslim in as overt a manner as is possible but, more than that it is also against the many ‘Little traditions ‘that have existed within Hinduism itself. But that is of little concern to such militant Hindus because their efforts have little to do with religion and nothing to do with spiritually. Theirs is clearly a political coming aimed at first consolidating and then encasing on the Hindu majoritarianism vote bank.
The problem is that such an exercise goes against the very essence of democracy while determination of majority and minority is the crux of democratic practice; the reason why democracy survives in a pluralistic context like India is because, as in a kaleidoscope, the majority-minority pattern keeps shifting constantly. The same person who can belong to a religious majority can be part of linguistic minority; he can be a constituent of a caste majority but of a class minority.
However, if the social psychology of majoritarianism is consolidated and refined through politics, the majority-minority is frozen and, in such a situation, democracy is inevitably displaced by fascism. Indeed, it is this which is the major political argument against communalism.
In the process of communalism of politics, the justifiable anger among the Indian people at their continuing poverty, deprivation and exploitation, is turned inwards; instead of attempting to change antiquated social institutions, exploitative economic mechanism and cynical political manipulations, the people discover enemy’s amongst themselves.
Hindus versus Muslims, Backward Castes vs. ‘Forward’ (upper) casts, Assamese vs. Bengalis, Hindus vs. Sikhs, Marathas vs. ‘South Indians’ and almost everybody against Daltis and Advises represent not a pluralistic bit a fragmented and self-destructive society. Given the communal patterns in society and consciousness, political and economic tensions express themselves in pseudo-religious and pseudo-religious and pseudo-ethnic ideologies and even ideas of bourgeois secularism based on the unity of the market are put at a discount.
The Indian bourgeoisie as a whole does have an interest in national integration. With all its diversities and pictures of combined and uneven economic situations, one commonality that can be easily discerned is the growth of capitalism. Its plans were obviously based on assumptions of a stable and large protected domestic market as it was neither strong enough to compete with foreign capital in India and outside nor way its degree of specialization such that its different units could have operated within a very limited universe.
Further, a specific feature for the Indian market was that although the available average purchasing power was small, this weakness was made up by the largeness of numbers. The geographic dispersion of industries and raw material sources moreover was such that political unity of what remained of India after partition was essential not only to future growth but even for minimal conditions of its survival. Political Unity of India, combined with degrees of economic development and social modernisation, was therefore very dear to the Indian bourgeoisie.
However, three are regional and sectarian interests in the bourgeoisie and, depending on various factors, one segment or the other tends to mainly determine policy. The regional bourgeoisies, particularly the agrarian capitalists, have their own axes to grind and, in their case, local interests are often more important than the broad goals of national unity, though, on the whole, even for them, the logic is that the larger the market, the more their profits and prosperity.
However, the people provide the counter-point in any argument concerning India’s unity and it is their vital contribution that has been most neglected in analyzing the issue. Social scientists, in the interest of their specific fields of inquiry, have been so busy in segmenting a categorizing the Indian people that they have tended to miss out the vibrant and organic interconnections between different groups and their role in Indian cultural, social, economic and even political unity.
Most social scientists, in this process of academic specialization, have ignored the fact which’s tarred any observer of India in the face, i.e., of the immense intermingling, interaction, interdependence in every field which makes the identification of ‘pure categories’ almost impossible. It is both empirically impossible, for instance, to clearly separate many aspects for tribe and caste; to sharply distinguish between ‘organised’ ad ‘informal’ sectors; and to draw a demarcating line between peasants and laborers.
A tribal in an inaccessible area, for instance, can quite easily be a Christian who also worships various ‘Hindu’ deities; he or she can be practicing rudimentary hoe cultivation and receiving remittance from a relative who may be a migrant worker in the advanced sector of capital intensive commercial agriculture or even high technology industry. A worker in the oldest ‘organised’ industry, e.g., textiles, may revert to ‘informal sector’ occupations in exigency, as happened in the case of the 1981-83 Mumbai textile strike, arid may find equal spiritual solace from both Hindu gods and Muslim pirs.
The kaleidoscopic patterns are endless. And they are real. At the level of organic linkages, in the business of day-to-day living, it is the interconnections, social, cultural, economic and political, which sustain the majority of the Indian people for whom survival itself is a struggle. And, the threads of Indian unity lie in this struggle.