Special Reports

Nationalism Today: Issues and Challenges

New Delhi: A symposium on "Nationalism Today: Issues and Challenges" was organised by the Institute of Objective Studies on 30 April at the Deputy Speaker's Hall, Constitution Club here. Justice Rajinder Singh Sachar, former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, who presided over the symposium, said that nationalism implied that all citizens of India irrespective of their religions, caste, creed, etc. were equal. The Preamble to the Constitution states that India is a secular and democratic society. Referring to the last Haj sermon of the Prophet of Islam (pbuh), he said that the Prophet (pbuh) emphatically stated that the white-skinned would hence have no presidence over the black-skinned and vice-versa. This was the unequivocal message of Islam. Similarly, Jesus Christ said that he would not embrace the wealthy. Holding that Hinduism was not superior to Islam, he noted that any government formed on religious basis would not last long.

Commenting on the existing law of sedition, Sacahr maintained that as president of the People's Union of Civil Liberties he had appealed to all political parties to press the government for its repeal. He wondered as to why political parties were not moving ahead to demand the withdrawal of this law. He said that due to this obnoxious law, a number of Muslims languished in jails for years together and were ultimately freed for want of evidence. This has badly affected such youth whose precious years had gone down the drain.

Social activist Harsh Mander expressed concern over the phase of aggressive nationalism India was passing through. Tracing the idea of nationhood, he said that gender, faith, etc. did not matter when such an idea emerged. Two ideas, viz., the idea of Pakistan and the Idea of India emerged. While the idea of Pakistan was driven by Muslims' lack of security, the idea of India then was based on the confidence among people, respect for each other's culture and religion. He explained that the Idea of Pakistan with one religion was challenged in several ways. This idea collapsed with the separation of East Pakistan.

It has been alleged that some three million Bangladeshis were killed by the Pakistani establishment in 1971. Similarly, Muhajirs faced persecution in Pakistan despite professing the same religion. In India, Hindutva found an echo in the writings of VD Savarkar who belonged to the Hindu Mahasabha. This idea came into conflict with the concept of liberty, equality and fraternity. He said that the Ayodhya movement was a flashpoint. Being a temple town, Ayodhya had a large number of temples, quite a few of them believe to be the birth place of Shri Ram. But the protagonists of the temple movement persisted with their view that the place where the Babri Masjid once stood was the precise birth place of Shri Ram.

They held that it was a matter of their faith and demanded that the mosque be removed in respect of the sentiments of the majority, the Hindus. They treated Muslims as the enemy within. The idea that the nation belonged to the Hindus who were in the majority was contrary to the spirit of the Indian Constitution. At a time when the RSS had completed 90 years of its existence, it had become more outspoken and virulent. Though there were various castes within the Hindu fold, it was the Hindutvadis who declared that they would determine who was a Hindu. There was a difference between Shri Ram of the Hindu nationalists and Gandhiji. On one hand it was Shri Ram of Nathu Ram Godse who killed Gandhiji, on the other it was Ram of the latter who uttered "Hay Ram" while falling to the assassins' bullet. Thus the question arose who represented the true Ram. He further said that the BJP's idea of nationalism was exclusive as it called for the homogeneity of Hindus. He stressed that nationalism should be within the four walls of the Constitution.

Senior journalist and Christian activist, John Dayal, raised the question of conversions by saying that the Constitution did not prohibit it. But, of late, Christians were being accused of organising forcible conversions. Referring to the persecution of Christians by the Ravi Shankar Shukla government in Madhya Pradesh decades ago, he said that the first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had advised him against playing with fire. He held that raids were organised against churches in MP and the Christian community was under extreme stress due to threats. Dayal maintained that the persecution of Christians was more than that of the Muslims. Due to the scattered population of Muslims, attacks on then were not as organised as on the Christians. He noted that the Christians were charged with receiving money from the West for conversions. Voicing concern over the systematic undermining of the independence of various institutions, he said that the Constitution was under threat. Holding that the rights guaranteed to Muslims and the Christians had for all practical purposes come down to 50 percent, he said that though there was no caste system in Islam, Christianity and Buddhism, yet people belonging to Scheduled Castes lost the benefits they enjoyed as a result of their conversion to these religions. He raised the issue of fishermen of the Gujarat coast who were mostly Christians. He said that their livelihood was threatened by the deployment of trawlers and dumping of nuclear waste.

Prof. Achin Vanaik of Delhi University said that nationalism was comparatively a modern phenomenon. Nationalism was not inherited from the past. He said that nationalism was more powerful than religious nationalism. Nationalism was identified with the community of citizens. He maintained that the state had to be secular while dealing with different religious groups. It had to respect the imperatives of religion.

Senior journalist and broadcaster, Urmilesh, opined that the idea of India had several shades before and after independence. This had now emerged as a problem with language and economy. That the present idea of India was full of contradictions was obvious from the fact that both Sardar Bhagat Singh and Dr BR Ambedkar were removed from public perception. He said that the emergence of BJP's nationalism was due to the failure of Gandhi-Nehru model of nationalism. He said the Hindu upper castes were behind the idea of Hindu nationalism irrespective of their party affiliations. They might be conservative or progressive, but they gave full support to the idea of Hindu nationalism. He said that it was Kanshi Ram who for the first time made Dalit assertion a focal point in Indian politics. He brought Ambedkar to life. But Mayawati frittered away all gains Kanshi Ram had made.

Prof. Rizwan Qaiser of the Jamia Millia Islamia said that the question of nationalism was 100-years old. Earlier Muslims were dubbed as Arabian progenies, but it had now changed. There was no need to prove our nationalism as 95 percent of the Muslims were Hindus 4-5 generations ago, he said.

Maulana Abdul Hameed Nomani, Secretary of the Jamat-i-Ulemae Hind, remarked that nationalism threw up several questions that needed to be answered. Hindu nationalism was being renamed as Indian nationalism. He explained that while Hindu religious texts had no mention of patriotism, the country was being sought to be divided in the name of Hindu nationalism. This concept of nationalism was based on hatred. He said that if this nationalism was positive in its nature then every Indian without regard to caste and creed was a nationalist. In order to establish its identity, RSS was trying to divide society by using hatred as a tool. Referring to Guru Golwalkar's book "A Bunch of Thoughts", he said that during a meeting Golwalkar and Nehru agreed to work towards the consolidation of Hindus.    

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 May 2016 on page no. 13

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