What we in BJP/RSS mean when we talk of nationalism
Culture is integral to the concept of the nation.
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What we call public discourse in India, unfortunately, is largely dominated by banner headlines of newspapers. And tragically, newspaper headlines can be influenced to an extent. Earlier, news reportage used to be pure and unadulterated. But now, more often than not, it is served to the readers with some additives to make it spicier and more saleable in a competitive environment. In the process, the ability of newspapers and news channels to shape public discourse is getting weakened from within.
Add to this the politics of vocabulary. Mobs with saffron flags are "masses" to one newspaper while the same are "hordes" to another. This has not only vitiated the public discourse but, in the process, made it bereft of any element of public education through debates and dialogues.
But some 25 years before, when newspapers were known for conducting a real debate through their columns like Readers' Mail, I remember a war of arguments through letters to the editor in one of Mumbai's leading daily. Those were the days of the Ayodhya movement when the slogan "Garv se kaho, hum Hindu hai" had become very popular.
A typically progressive reader argued through his letter that the "Garv se" slogan was completely illogical. His argument was that there was hardly any logic in taking pride in a particular situation which in no way was of your own making.
One could have been born a Muslim, Jew, Parsi or Christian. It is the almighty who decided that you would take birth in a Hindu family and certainly not you. Why should one take pride in a situation which can't be credited to oneself?
Hence, the reader suggested, one should only say "Garv se kaho hum manav hai". Period.
Another reader, objected to the logic of the earlier reader and said that even to take pride in the fact that he/she had taken birth as a human being was equally fraught with an absolute lack of logic. What was so great about the fact that we were all humans as even that was not our own making, the reader averred.
It's the almighty who decided this. One could have taken birth in other species, and become, say a buffalo, bullock, hen, parrot or even cockroach or ant. "If we really have to take a pride, the slogan should merely be 'Garv se kaho, hum hai'!".When a tradition continues for centuries, it outlives a particular way of worship.
Not convinced with the logic advanced by two previous letter writers, the third one argued that not to feel naturally proud of your present identity itself was unnatural and hence illogical too. "As human beings, we grow with the people around us, society as well as surroundings. All these factors, place, locality, people around and their culture, weave the ethos in which we spend our formative years.
All this, including our own first name and family name, gives us our identity. Beyond our livelihood needs there are other psychological needs as well and identity takes care of them. It is very natural and normal to feel proud about our identity as no one takes birth and grows in a vacuum."
This explains the fact that of late, social scientists have stopped considering identity as something primordial. It is not without reason, therefore, that the Melting Pot theory was replaced by the Salad Bowl theory a few decades back.
One can't deny that all individuals live under multiple identities at any given time and maturity hinges on how skilfully one manages these identities and more importantly, gradually learns to give more emphasis on larger identity without denying the primacy of the primary or smaller identity.
This identity helps one continuing with a situation where one feels insecure, threatened, lost, or defeated. Identity is a socio-psychological phenomenon. It is because of this symbolism that imagery, vocabulary and terminologies acquire importance. They connote something and when one is able to decode these, communication happens. Culture enables one to unravel this messaging. And this obviously has several ingredients: language, geography, monuments, persons, music, art, fashions et al.
When we in the BJP/RSS talk about cultural nationalism, we mean only this and nothing more. This should explain to the diehard secularists why even a person no less than the country's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru did not see anything wrong to have iconographic pictures on the pages of the official copy of the Indian Constitution. Or, for that matter, similar paintings below the canopy of structures of government buildings as important as the South Block.
The Ashok Chakra on our national flag, Sanskrit verses used as a part of the logo of various government institutions, right from the Indian Navy to the LIC, lighting of traditional lamps or breaking coconut at government functions and so on have their origins in the Hindu culture. But when a tradition continues for centuries, it outlives a particular way of worship. It encompasses the entire society regardless of the deity one worships.
We believe that nations haven't just sprouted on the world map. States can be carved out, boundaries can be drawn and redrawn, but nations cannot be made out of the blue. Nations are not artificial but organic entities. They do not come into existence out of thin air or in a vacuum.
Culture, therefore, is integral to the concept of the nation. And when nations are given birth artificially, like Pakistan, they have to artificially create an ethos. In her Marathi book on the basis of her stay in Pakistan for a research assignment, political science teacher Dr Manisha Tikekar, has given several examples of how Pakistan had to struggle to find her roots.
She writes on how textbooks in Pakistan tell that India was carved out of an undivided Pakistan. Also, Pakistan has been struggling to put an effective ban on coaching of dances, especially those of Indian origin like Bharatanatyam or Kuchipudi.
Not just that, when the ban fails, authorities insist that references to Lord Krishna need to be replaced by a common name like "Makhanchor". When a nation is divided and artificial boundaries are drawn, this is what happens. This explains why cultural nationalism is more eternally relevant than material or geographical nationalism.