Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

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Nation defined by "political community" would have to be integrative.

Nation as a Cultural Community is Divisive by Definition, as a Political Community it Becomes Integrative

The “Battle of Plassey” that led to the English ascendancy in Bengal proved to be the basis for the expansion of English rule in India. The battle was fought between the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-Daulah and Robert Clive, the commander of the British troops on 23 June 1757. The English led by Robert Clive emerged victorious by defeating the Nawab’s army. It is informed that the Siraj-ud-Daulah’s army outnumbered Clive’s forces of 3000 by as much as 20 times. The easy English victory was reportedly due to the treachery of Mir Jafar, the commander of Nawab’s army.

Majority of the Robert Clive soldiers were said to be Indians only. There were limited British officers and soldiers and the rest of them were all Indians. But they never thought of themselves as Indians and were fighting against their fellow Indians i.e., Siraj-ud-Daulah. And Siraj-ud-Daulah’s army consisted of 60,000 army (provisional) . Mir Jafar, who was Siraj-ud-Daulah, commander in chief, betrayed and tricked his Nawab leading to his defeat.

Most importantly, after Siraj-Ud -Daulah was defeated, Robert Clive army was reported to have gone on a victory march on Murshidabad in Bengal. And it is said that lakhs of people had assembled to watch this spectacle and they all shouted “company bahadur jindabad”. The Indians never thought that foreigners had colonized and defeated them. There was no clear notion of Indians and Indians being defeated by foreigners. It is argued that if the people thought of themselves as Indian then they might have supported Siraj-ud-Daulah. And if they only picked up stones and pelted Clive’s army, they would have been defeated as there were lakhs of Indians. But rather they were all ready to help the Englishman to defeat the fellow Indian and even celebrate the event. Hence there were no national sentiments.

In the early 20th century, a group of people involved with the founding of RSS developed the concept of Hindutva and considered it was essential to the identity of Indian nationalism. MS Golwalker in his book “Bunch of thoughts” writes,

“The origin of our people, the date from which we have been living here as a civilised entity, is unknown to the scholars of history. In a way, we are ‘anadi’, without a beginning. To define such a people is impossible, just as we cannot express or define reality because words came into existence after the Reality. Similar is the case with the Hindu People”.

The discovery of Harappan civilization and the Aryan invasion theory is probably the most uncomfortable truth for the Hindutva ideologue as it will go discordant to the ideology that they imagined for themselves. And to serve their interest they imputed a false teleology based on myth which cannot be empirically verifiable.

Clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson argues that “when radical ideas possess an individual then it corresponds to people who are addicted. As addicted personality comes complete with rationalization of its own nature”. The person may not be aware of its influence but other people may observe its effect.

It is a serious psycho-pathological state if people are aware of the fact and still go on denying the fact to serve their vested agenda. The fact or truth that is revealed may not necessarily correspond with the “agenda” that we carry in our minds. And when the radical “ideas” that we feed do not correspond to the facts that are revealed then perhaps it may cause PTSD or become even a psychotic.

Religious fanatics usually have an incommunicable state of mind. Similarly, it seems ideas can do the same if we become the “puppets” of those ideas. As Jung pointed out, “people don’t have ideas. Ideas have people”. It is hard to develop our own ideas. And when a man loses his freedom infatuated with something or someone, then chances are he will become a machine in the hands of that something or someone.

The RSS brand of nationalism has to club certain sections of the population as alien. And the Aryan invasion theory reveals that they too are the invaders. Therefore in order to suit their agenda, proponents of the Hindutva nationalist claim that the term Arya found in the Vedic literature signifies a person who hails from a noble family.

Romila Thapar writes, “as Hinduness in the past did not have a specific definition, the essential of the Hindu identity has to be formulated. The argument ran that the original Hindus were the Aryans, a distinctive people indigenous to India…..There was no Aryan invasion since Aryans were indigenous to India and therefore no confrontation among people of India”. (The theory of Aryan race and India: History and politics, Thapar, Romila).

According to them, Hindus were persecuted for thousands of years by the foreign invaders and confrontation came with the arrival of foreigners, particularly Muslims and Christians. These groups are alien because India is neither their pitrubhumi – the land of their birth and nor punyabhumi – their holy land. They linked nationalism and patriotism with religion. And believe that Hindus are more patriotic than non Hindus.

In Manipur, the Sanamahi cult revived the traditional faith that go along with a hostile defiance towards the adherence of the Vaishnavite faith. This brand of revivalist seems to have cause schism within the Meitei’s population by casting the “Vaishnavite” tradition as “other” while the “Sanamahi” faith as “our”. The same spirit of linking nationalism with religion is invoked by despising those following the Vaishnavite tradition as if it were a betrayer. I have come across a labelling of derogatory term such as “Ee shengdaba” or “Mayang laining” to those following the Vaishnavite faith mostly visible in social media.

Gangumei kamei, in his book, “Lectures on history of Manipur” writes, the Sanamahi cult revived the Meitei’s script, old literature and contributed greatly to the reassertion of the distinct Meitei identity. This movement turned out to be at a later stage anti-Hindu and to some extent anti outsider. (Kamei Gangumei Lecture on history of Manipur, p106)

According to them, the Meitei is derived from the creation of man by God in his image or modelled after God images, a similar idea found in Christian theology for which they identify themselves as “Meetei”. Corollary idea is found in Hinduism too. Orthodox Hindu claim that they are the descendants of the mythical man by the name of “Manu”, the progenitor of humans for which they refer to themselves as “Manushya” in Sanskrit. If we go by this logic then it is based on the assumption that the Meitei existed since the beginning of creation and was divinely pre-ordained.

Gangumei Kamei in his book “History of Manipur” writes, “it is well known that historically, the word Meitei was used during the period of the establishment of the Ningthouja dynasty by Pakhangba, to mean this clan or dynasty and ethnic and social groups who were politically and socially integrated within the suzerainty of the Ningthouja”. (History of Manipur- pre-colonial period, Kamei, Gangumei).

Culturally nations consist of a group of people who share a common language, religion, history and tradition. Politically a nation refers to a group of people who regard themselves as a political community and try to organize a state on the basis of the national community. Psychologically, nations are characterized by patriotic loyalty to the communities or an identification or a sense of belongingness.

Nation as a community is conceived broadly in two ways. One criterion happens to be cultural where nations are perceived as a natural and organic growth in which people share similar historical experience and on the basis of that people have come to share a common language, religion and history.

Looking at nations in pure cultural terms provides “mystical qualities” to the national entity and those who adhere to this cultural view of nationalism regard nations as having common history going back to antiquity and these communities had evolved gradually by sharing a common history and culture.

German philosopher Johann Herder pointed out that such a view of nations possesses a “Volksgeist” or the people’s spirits which is revealed in the songs, myth, legends and provides the nation with the sense of identity, solidarity and creativity. And such a view of nations tends to be exclusive and intolerant of diversity.

Undoubtedly nations have some shared culture but in reality all nations today are becoming multicultural and therefore cultural nationalism becomes oppressive for minorities and it is divisive. However these views of nationalism are contested by various scholars.

They point out that nation and nationalism is a modern phenomenon. And to claim that a member of a nation shares a common language and that they have shared a common culture throughout history goes against facts.

Until the 19th century, the majority of the people in the world were incapable of using a written language. It is only after mass education which developed in the wake of industrialization that common languages crystallized. Otherwise, most people only spoke local dialects which vary locally and even the idea that there has been a historical continuity from ancient time to present in the life of nations is also a myth.

British historian Erics Hobsbawm refers to the nations as “invented tradition”. It is to construct the national identity that the elite has had to invent myths about common history and tradition. Therefore, the belief in historical continuity and cultural purity was a myth created by nationalism itself.

Similarly, Irish political scientist Benedict Anderson portrays nations as “modern artifacts” and nations are seen as an “imagined community” fostered by mass education. By “imagined community”, Anderson means people who constitute a nation do not necessarily interact face to face with each other or share a common culture but they carry in their mind an idea of a nation which is created through mass education and mass media. Hence nations are imagined communities and not real communities.

The alternative view of nations is what is called civic nationalism or nations as political communities. As long as members of the political community maintain civic loyalty, share common laws in spite of their diversity then they constitute a nation.

In the contemporary world, if we look at the empirical reality we find that today’s nations resemble more the model of political community rather than the model of nation as a cultural community.

In reality, nations as a cultural community tend to be intolerant and undemocratic. And it tends to be oppressive of ethnic minorities and particularly in the case of developing societies we find that the idea of nation as “cultural communities” is not tenable because developing societies have not evolve as a nation historically rather it is a colonial rule which prepared the ground for rise of nationalism in the national sentiments.

It is also argued that nations or national communities emerged with the rise of Capitalism. As trade and commerce developed along with the means of transport and communication, so capitalism developed and localized subsistence economy of the feudal era slowly decimated and destroyed and new identities as a nation emerged.

Colonial rule in the developing countries of Asia and Africa also played a similar role. On one hand they introduced capitalism in the colonies and on the other hand with the spread of modern education they disseminated the ideology of nationalism among the educated elite. And this in turn led to the emergence of national identities. It is said that even national boundaries are a result of historical accidents depending upon the territory conquered by a colonial ruler. The extent of these conquests became the boundaries of the new nation.

India and particularly Manipur is the example of a plural state (nation) with lots of ethnic and religious diversities. Hence cultural nationalism which emphasizes on mono-culturalism is simply incompatible with reality and weakens social solidarity leading to social conflict. So nations should be viewed as political communities. All those people who have a sense of loyalty to the state/nation should be included as members of the state or nation.

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