Nation formation and nation building are two distinct processes. Both are difficult and complex, nation- building specially so. Nation formation generally is a period of struggle against external challenge while nation building is a struggle against internal one. India was, under the British rule, an administrative unit rather than a nation. British rulers treated India as a colony rather than a nation. It was precisely for this reason that the highly diverse elements came together under the charismatic leadership of Tilak, Gandhi, Nehru, Maulana Azad, Sardar Patel and others and vowed to form a nation and challenge the British rule. We did so successfully.
However, the process of nation formation was not without challenges. Communal fissures did appear and in this struggle two nation theory also surfaced and we were divided along the communal lines. However, many of us thought that if this was the price to be paid for our nation formation so be it and we paid the price. Our main objective at the time was independence from the British rule, which we achieved. Some people think that we could have avoided partition if we had shown patience and perseverance but it is best a debating point and rest is history.
After independence though Pakistan opted for a religious state we did not swerve from our secular course and opted, with wisdom and determination, for a secular polity. Partition, it must be noted, had not reduced degree of our diversity. Hardly fifty percent of our Muslim population went over to Pakistan. Rest remained in India as they had great faith in secular democracy of India. And today there are, according to some estimates, more Muslims in India than in Pakistan thus invalidating the validity of theory of two nations, if it was ever valid. Formation of Bangla Desh had already dealt a death -blow earlier to that theory.
Our diversity, as pointed out above, remained intact despite the formation of Pakistan and secular democracy was the best creative response to our bewildering diversity. However, secular democracy remained more of a conceptual anchor for our diversity rather than a philosophy in action. Many of our internal challenges stem from this. Diverse interests emerged in the process of nation building, which posed a grave challenge to our secular democracy.
The first grave challenge was the tendency to majoritarianism. Nehru had this fear all along. Nehru, who was leading the process of nation building in the post-independence India, stood by fair share for all in power including minorities. This was the only fitting answer to two- nation theory. After all it was fear of denial of this share that this theory came into existence. Nehru was well aware of it and therefore his concept of secular democracy meant justice to minorities in the process of nation building.
However, Hindu communalism, like Muslim communalism, was not at all happy with the concept of secular democracy and began putting spokes in its way. Like Islamic Pakistan they wanted to create Hindu Rashtra consigning minorities to a secondary position. The RSS ideologues rejected the concept of plurality and opted for polarity, polarity, which was sought to be created by two- nation theory. Thus there are clearly two contradictory political processes in operation during our process of nation building: those trying to weld together diverse elements in the country to meet the internal challenges of development and formation of civil society.
It is also important to note that communalism is not only negation of pluralism but also opposed to modernity and the concept of civil society and its political freedoms. If for one Islam is the core of political discourse for the other it is dharma which is central to its polity. For them there is no space for modern political discourse at all. The supremacy of dharma is the essence of their politics. And if religion or dharma is the essence of politics non-believers can hardly have any place.
Thus in the course of our process of nation building all these internal challenges have emerged and with the passage of time these challenges are becoming graver and graver. The emergence of Ramjanmabhoomi politics was not accidental or even an exception. It was result of continuous and systematic challenge to secular democratic polity as enshrined in our Constitution. The secular forces must take this grave challenge to the concept of modern secular polity very seriously. It is the most serious challenge modern democratic India is facing today. It negates the very fundamentals of our political philosophy.
Nothing can be more valued than our diversity. Our diversity is the core of our democracy. Freedom becomes meaningless without respect for this diversity. Fundamentalism and fanaticism are becoming stronger in all the countries of Indian subcontinent or South Asia, particularly in India and Pakistan. Forces of fanaticism are gaining upper hand. In my opinion this is as grave a challenge as the challenge of freeing our country from the British rule. It requires mass mobilisation once again on the scale our leaders of freedom struggle did during the British rule.
It was easier however, to mobilise the masses against British rule; it is much more difficult to do so against our own internal enemy. There were clearly defined sentiments against the British rule; there are no such sentiments against fundamentalism and religious fanaticism, which is eating into the vitals of our politics of secular democracy and democratic freedoms. I, therefore, consider this internal challenge as much more serious than the struggle against colonial rule.
No political party in India is prepared to face this challenge and defend secular democracy with full vigour and untarnished commitment with honourable exception of parties on the left. But the parties on the left do not have all India presence to take up this challenge. There is violence in the air everywhere. Our plurality and diversity are being threatened. The RSS chief has even given a call to Hindus to acquire arms. Thus an attempt is being made to make majority feel insecure.
Thus secular forces have to meet this challenge by strengthening our plurality and diversity. Polarity is the enemy of our unity. Even in medieval ages such a polarity never existed as is sought to be created today. Our culture is a pluralist culture and we have deeply influenced each other in practically every field. We have several communities, which can neither be characterised as Muslim or Hindu. They profess mixed religions. In the People of India published by Anthropological Survey of India we find that there are 87 communities which profess Hinduism and Sikkhism, 116 communities which adhere to Hinduism and Christianity, 35 communities which follow Hinduism and Islam and 94 communities which practise Christianity and Tribal religions.
The caste scenario is no less interesting. There are twelve communities among Muslims who profess to be Brahmins, 24 communities who declare themselves as Kshatriyas, 6 as Vaishyas and 11 Muslim communities as Sudras. Among Christians too we have such caste groups, 8 professing to be Brahmins and 48 as Sudras.
This plurality of caste and communities makes India as the most interesting as well as challenging country as far as the process of nation building is concerned. The purists among Hindus, Christians and Muslims try to purify their respective communities but it has hardly ever succeeded. There is constant attempt going on to re-write our history to polarise communities. Such re-writing of history is clearly aimed at polarisation through creating false consciousness.
The process of polarisation before independence resulted in partition. Now there is no question of partition but it creates tension, which often burst into communal violence. Each bout of violence results in greater polarisation between communities and this polarisation helps secure votes of polarised communities. This internal challenge can be met only if sense of unity born of our composite culture and sharing common historical bonds is strengthened. This shared historical bonds will create plural rather than polarised identity.
Without shared historical bonds and sense of composite culture a sense of nationhood cannot be induced among the people. In fact religion can never be a basis of nationhood. Cultural and historical bonds are far more viable for secular politics than common religious bonds. Common religious bonds are valuable on a different plane. A religious community is different from a political community. A nation is a multi-layered community. It has several layers political, social, historical and cultural. Thus many people feel today that partition of Indian sub-continent was not a sound political decision. Despite religious differences our common cultural and historical bonds are far stronger. It was for this reason that great Islamic scholars like Maulana Husain Ahmed Madani and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad cautioned Indian Muslims against religious nationalism.
Secular nationalism can be an effective antidote to religious fanaticism if our political processes are guided and controlled by political philosophy of secularism. It is only when communal forces seize control of political processes that fanaticism raises its head. It is unfortunate that this seems to be happening today in our country. Or is it weakness of secular forces that has become strength of communalism?
* Centre for Study of Society and Secularism Mumbai:- 400 055.
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Posted 5 November 2001
Last revised 5 November 2001
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