Misdefined State by Girilal Jain

Mr. L K Advani’s interview to The Pioneer (January 14) is obviously a very partial exposition of his ideological position and that too in an extremely difficult situation when his party is under fierce attack by the dominant intelligentsia and academia. As such, it shall be unfair to interpret it as if it is a comprehensive and carefully crafted statement. Even so, it deserves attention because it il­lustrates the thinking of much of the RSS-BJP leadership.

Responding to the question whether India under the BJP dispensation would become a de facto Hindu rashtra, Mr Advani is quoted as having said: “This is not our conception. The coun­try was a Hindu rashtra when Mahatma Gandhi was there, when Jawaharlal Nehru was there, when Indira Gandhi was there” because the basis of the country’s culture is Hindu. “Whether you call the country an Indian State, or a Bharatiya State, there are mere words which are, by and large, synony­mous.”

The sentiment is noble and it takes care of the charges the BJP faces, especially after the demolition of the Babri structure in Ayodhya on December 6. But it blurs the distinction between civilization, people and State. Though interrelated, the three are not identical. A civilization can, for instance, cover more than one people, as in the case of Islam. Similarly, a State can be in conflict with the civilisational requirements of a people, as has been the case to an extent in our country. Indeed, if it were not so, the BJP, the RSS and allied organisations would not have much reason to exist.

In the existing climate of opin­ion, shaped by the liberal Marxist idiom and a wholly parochial and lopsided view of history, it is difficult to bring out the distinctions between civilization, people and State. To be able to do so, we have to undertake a drastic revision of history, even if it involves modification of widely and deeply held views.

To begin with, we have to face up to the reality, however un­settling and even humiliating, that while Hindu civilization had managed to survive centuries of Muslim conquest and rule, it was too weak to be able to come into its own without external stimulus and assistance; and that the contact with the British pro­vided the necessary stimulus, with the British acting not as representatives of Christianity but of Western civilization rooted in the Graeco-Roman heritage, and the Raj’s valuable assistance by way of rule of law which eliminated the sword as the final arbiter in our affairs.

The British, of course, had no desire to help reemergence of Hindus. Indeed, as educated Hindus began to assert claims to equality, demand a share in government and resent racist slurs, the British took steps to contain them. But all that is besides the point. The relevant fact is that the Raj made possible the rise of a self-confident Hindu elite on an all-India basis the like of which had not existed since the beginning of Muslim rule.

Similarly, we have to recognise that Partition was a logical co­rollary to the rise of Hindus; that the British assistance to the Muslim League during World War II, however important, only accelerated the pace of events; that the alternative to Partition in the shape of continued separate electorates, weightage and special reservations would have been disastrous; and though Partition did not settle the civilisational contest that began with Muslim rule first in Sind and then in much of North India, it facilitated the task for Hindus since they had now a well-organised and powerful pan-Indian modern state of their own.

These observations will almost certainly be quoted to show that I endorse Mr Jinnah’s two-nation theory. There is nothing I can do to avoid this risk. For my readers, however, I would emphasize not only that I think in civilisational as distinct from national terms, but also that, by that my reckoning, Muslims in undivided India could represent only a fragment of Islamic civilization and were, therefore, incapable of becoming a people.

Mr Jinnah could call Indian nationalism, as espoused by the Indian National Congress, Hindu nationalism on the ground that the Congress was a Hindu body which it was by virtue of its ethos if not by that of its ideology and composition, and pit Muslim ‘nationalism’ against it. But he could not possibly overcome the obstinate fact that Islam, on the one hand, does not admit of nationalism and, on the other, does not help overcome local and even tribal loyalties.

Thus, while he could bring the Muslims together on an anti-Hindu platform and force the country’s Partition, he could not lay the foundations of a Pakistani nation. It is not surprising that Pakistan continues to ‘define’ itself in anti-India and anti- Hindu terms.

To return to the subject under discussion, Independence, accom­panied by Partition, removed the two constraints – British control and Muslim intransigence – blocking our march forward and, in objective terms, therefore paved the way for the re-emergence of Hindu India in civilisational and not just in physical terms. In physical terms, independent India has been Hindu India. In that regard, Mr Advani is right in saying that India was a Hindu rashtra under Pandit Nehru and Mrs Indira Gandhi. But a Hindu civilisational India has yet to emerge.

As I see it, several obstacles have blocked this process. First, as a rule, without any exception for decades, to the best of my knowledge, we Hindus have seen our civilization in parochial terms; even those of us who have related it to other pre-Judaic faiths have not realized that the West has achieved what we are struggling to achieve; that Europeans in plain terms have successfully resurrected and renewed an ancient civilization by way of a series of movements beginning with the Italian re­naissance in the 15th century. Instead of seeing it as a sister civilization in view of its empha­sis on reason, rule of law and spirit of inquiry, we have condemned the West on the ground that it is materialistic as if material well-being was not one of the principal concerns of our forefathers.

Secondly, we have taken a territorial and, therefore, a mech­anical view and not a civilisational view of ourselves as a people. Thus, by reckoning, we were Indians by virtue of living in a country called India and we were equally justified in calling every inhabitant of this territory Hindu since Muslims named it Hindustan. This theory is reflected in writings and utterances of not only the secularists but also BJP leaders.

But for this mechanical con­cept, we could never have ac­cepted the proposition that the Indian State is an impartial arbi­ter between two communities. The contrast between the secularist-national position and the Hindu position on this question is sharp.

The secularist position is that the Indian State embodies an ideal and is there to serve it; that while it is a creature of the constitution, it is above the people; that in our multi-religious society there is no other choice. In the Hindu view, the State has to be an expression of the Hindu ethos and personality. Such a State cannot either discriminate against any religious group or seek to impose a uniform pattern on the inhabitants. Indeed, it would feel obliged to look after their well-being and the preser­vation of their ways of life. The performance of the BJP state governments during their brief existence should help illustrate this proposition. But the State would see itself as an instrument for the promotion of Hindu civilization.

The final point that space permits me to make is that we opted for the policy of non-alignment with a visible anti-Western bias because we took a parochial view of our civilization and wrongly defined the nature of the State in independent India. Pandit Nehru saw himself as an arbiter between rival camps in the cold war in disregard of the horror that was communism, just as he saw himself as an arbiter between Hindus and Muslims within the country. Obviously, the cost on both counts has been pretty heavy. Pakistan and China could not have posed the kind of threat they have to our security if we had made common cause with the West and the Muslim problem would not have remained wholly unresolved if we had not misdefined the nature of the Indian State.

The Observer of Business and Politics, 19 January 1993

Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.