Democratic India was founded on freedom, but the two nation theory is diametrically opposed
Even a child knows that there are no national boundaries in nature. Nations and nationalism are purely man-made constructs. Nations have to be imagined, then made real by erecting and defending boundaries. The raison d’etre that we conjure for our nation can have huge impacts on our life. It can either support human flourishing or humiliate and crush its people.
The defence of liberty is the best rationale for a nation. The American Declaration of Independence focusses on protecting citizens’ rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This simple objective has been enough to make the US the world’s greatest nation on most indicators of human flourishing and has boosted its population from 2.5 million in 1776 to 325 million today.
If we are not careful, we could end up creating a nation like China or Saudi Arabia where citizens are disposable meat: Allowed to live if they obey, killed if they ask questions (and their bodies harvested, or chopped up and dumped). Is it any surprise that millions of people flee nations like China and Saudi Arabia every year?
Modern India was fortunate to have the strong defence of liberty as its basis. Our Constitution traces its ancestry to the ideas of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Gokhale, Tagore, Gandhi, Ambedkar, Nehru and Rajaji. While each of the nationalisms that these stalwarts advocated was slightly different from that of the other, they all had a commitment to democracy and to the separation of the state and religion. Tagore described liberal nationalism in his poem, The Heaven of Freedom.
But the two-nation theory which caused the Partition took a great toll on us. Up to two million of us were killed during the Partition and many millions uprooted (this includes my family from both my mother’s and father’s sides). The newly created nations of India and Pakistan built huge armed forces and fought bitter wars. The problems in Kashmir are an ongoing outcome of the two-nation theory.
After 72 years we can be sure of this – that there was never a more ridiculous idea in India’s history than the two-nation theory. Within two decades this “theory” had failed on a colossal scale. The two nations became three. Pakistan split. This point is so important that we must etch it on the doorstep of each house, that religion can never form the basis of a nation. And Pakistan has ended up becoming the den of global terrorism, badly harming itself in the bargain.
The proponents of the two-nation theory were either fanatic Muslims or fascist Hindus. For more than a thousand years Islam had insisted on combining the state with religion. It wanted nations in which the Sharia prevails, dar al-Islam. Further, many Muslim rulers in India forced the Hindus to pay higher taxes (the jizya) till the 18th century, treating them as second-class citizens.
This rankled the Hindus and when the opportunity came, they formed the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS. These movements initially focussed on self-respect and self-reliance but were soon captured by aggressive elements and the scene was set for a new – and very dangerous – concept of “Hindu” nationalism.
Tilak’s Marathi newspaper, Kesari, played a pivotal role in studying and promoting the European fascist ideology from 1924 to 1935. Fascism resonated with high-caste Hindu leaders who saw in it a justification for their ideas of racial purity (Aryan superiority) and the rejection of democracy. Some of them went all the way to Europe to personally engage with the fascists.
Savarkar’s 1923 book, Hindutva, was not yet full-blown fascist. It took Hitler’s Mein Kampf (published in 1925) for Hindutva leaders to fully imbibe the poison of the fascist ideology.
By the time Golwalkar wrote his 1939 book, We, or our Nationhood Defined, the RSS’s self-help movement had lost its way. Golwalkar’s book has not a single positive idea about human flourishing, only endless carping about the wrongs done to the Hindus and about the real or imagined enmity between Hindus, Muslims and Christians. The fascist concept of Hindu nationalism now morphed into a mirror image of the aggressive form of Islamic nationalism that they themselves condemned. Instead of appealing to the highest elements of our nature, as Gandhi was trying, Hindutva degenerated into a primitive “eye for an eye” ideology, with innocents to be punished for the real or imagined crimes of Muslims a thousand years ago.
India avoided becoming a Hindu rashtra in 1947 because of men like Gandhi, Ambedkar, Nehru and Patel who insisted on adopting constitutional liberalism. This didn’t go well with the Hindutva people who shot Gandhi dead.
The stalwarts of our independence movement have long gone. We must re-assemble as a nation and re-define ourselves. We can choose an India in which our freedoms are fully defended and everyone is provided with an equal opportunity to achieve his best. Or we can build walls between our mohallas and our religions and ultimately be forced to fight an endless war with every unhappy Indian.
There is not much of a choice about this any longer. The insistent calls for Hindu rashtra by the RSS cannot be ignored. This poisonous ideology must be called out for what it is – the biggest anti-national project in independent India. The demand for Hindu rashtra is nothing less than the demand for the end of free India.
The people of India must rise and bring this project to a halt.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.