Political Nationalism is in Real Danger in India

S. V. Narayanan

recent two events, the Madras High Court giving orders for singing Vande
Mataram and Uttar Pradesh government under Yogi Adithyanath giving guidelines
to Madrassas on how to celebrate Independence day and submit video evidence for
the same has once again opened up the politics of nationalism and patriotism in
our multi-national Indian state. Even though nationalism and patriotism are
used interchangeably, there exists a perceptible difference between the two.
Lord Acton in his seminal essay on nationality (1862), explained that
nationalism is more of a emotional identification and connection with our race,
which is natural or physical, whereas patriotism relates to our consciousness
and alertness of our moral duties towards our political community. Here, the
political community is clearly understood as the community within the
territorial limits of political state, which could be of different
nationalities. Thus defining patriotism in a multi-national state like India has
to be inclusive creating a secular consciousness in the fulfilment of our moral
duty.  In a complex and multi-cultural
society like India, the national identity cannot be found in the past and has
to be constructed in future through our secular endeavours. But, the exclusive
nationalist propaganda, with majoritarian national symbols and cultural values
can never invoke the patriotic feeling  among
the minorities.

have identified the nation and national consciousness at a particular period of
history as epiphenomenon of the prevalent exploitative relations within the
society and to camouflage such exploitation. Patriotism and nationalism have a
material foundation, where exploiter and the exploited cannot carry the same
kind of feeling for the nation together. By imposing a particular cultural
mono-national identity and practices, the present right-wing government is in the
process of creating or inventing the “other” in those who resist such
imposition. Further, such mono-cultural nationalist endeavours attempts to
conceal the existing exploitative social relations based on caste, religion,
language etc. Cultural nationalist always trace the genealogy of nation
exclusively in terms of unique history and culture in a exclusive manner. It
further purifies the genealogy of its contradictions and constructs an
progressive image as a solution for all existing social problems. But, in
contrast to it, the political nationalist tries to work towards a
representative inclusive state, emphasizing the citizenship rights of everyone
rather than the social identity based on varied historical reasons. The present
governments attempts in the domain of nationalism and patriotism is more of
cultural in character re-emphasizing the exclusive Hindutva politics,
demonising minorities and their cultural practices including food habits.

Vande Mataram and Cultural Nationalism
idea or an text completely deprived of its context will lose its real meaning
and will be followed like a mere ritual. Nationalism and patriotism are not
mere rituals devoid of meaning to be performed by everyone, as it carries emotional
and moral duties towards the associated political state. Vande Mataram, in
spite of its literary excellence and its significant role as protest slogan
against British, cannot be accepted wholeheartedly in a multi-cultural state
like India, ignoring its context and meaning which was not inclusive to evoke
any patriotism among all sections of the population.

the novel by Bankim Chandra  Chatterji,
which contains the song Vande Mataram (hail to the mother) has been in
controversy for quite a long time. The novel, its context and its politics were
seen as propagating exclusive Hindu nationalism. The novel originally in
Bengali was written in 1882, which was later translated into English as Abbey of Bliss in 1906 by Nares Chandra
Sen-Gupta. Later in 1941, at the peak of nationalist resistance against
British, translated again by Basanta Koomar Roy accordingly to suit the
nationalist movement. The excerpts of preface to 1941 translation by Dr.William
J. Jackson, Professor, Department of Religious Studies at Indian
University-Purdue University, USA reads as follows

The story, set in eighteenth century India, concerns a Sanyasi revolt against the Muslim rule. In the last chapter, a
mysterious physician speaks of the English presence as a necessary phase of
reform, a helpful prelude to ‘ a revival of the True Faith’ of Hindu culture.
It would seem that even if Chatterji did see the British intellect as narrow
and unable to do justice to the realities of India, he nevertheless saw a
positive potential for India under the British rule. The following translation
of Anandamath, by Basanta Koomar Roy
was first published in 1941, during a critical period in Indian history when
the independence movement had to take a decisive stance rejecting foreign rule.
Hence, the mysterious physician’s suggestion was deleted. We can only conjecture
that if Chatterji had been alive would he have approved of this omission.”(page
7 & 8)

1941 translation, published by Orient Paperbacks (1992, 2006, 2016), has been
an deliberate attempt to sanitise the novel of its minority bashing and
praising of British, and to bestow a truly nationalist image of anti-British. The
reading of this translation, never reveals the true context and meaning of the
novel and the song Vande Mataram, which exemplified Hindu nationalism.

1906 translation named ” Abbey of
” by Nares Chandra Sen-Gupta printed by T. C. Dass at the Cherry
Press, reveals the real context and politics of the author. The translator’s
prefatory note clearly explains the anti-Muslim sentiments in the novel and
Hindu nationalist and patriotic feelings in the novel. The excerpts of prefatory
note reads as follows

Two outstanding features of our author’s conception of patriotism are its
provincialism and its religious tone. …..   
evidently thought that the only nationality India was capable of was a
religious nationality ;-the sentiment probably which inspires people who talk
about a Hindu Nation and a Mussulman Nation in the same Indian soil. To say the
least, such an idea is absurd. …….

sentiments are ill dignified by being named in the lofty vocabulary of
patriotism. Two very sinister consequences are seen to flow from this
conception of a religious basis of nationality in the present work. The first
is the attempt to rehabilitate the Hindu Pantheon with new-fangled patriotic
gods and goddesses, and the second is the morbid dislike of Mussulmans that
seems to be indicated in this work. ….. As for the first, it sets a premium
upon superstition ……. If it is sought by this means to instil patriotism
into the superstitious mind through superstitions, it fails sadly; for patriotism
thus distorted can never develop into genuine patriotism and must remain a superstition
forever. …… Thus patriotism gains nothing by this distortion and it only
helps to hinder the growth of true Indian Nationality by preventing the
participation of Hindus and Mussulmans and other religious communities in a
common patriotic work. ……

other is a more serious matter still. Now one thing that would be patent to
every reader of this novel is that its heroes are frankly hostile to Mussulmans.
This has led me to think thrice before placing the work before a larger public
by translation. Our Mussulman friends have no doubt a good right to get
offended at the way in which the anti-Mussulman sentiment has been developed in
this novel. …..

with all
one cannot but regret the anti-Mussulman sentiments
that our author has so freely introduced in the present work.” ( Pages
vii, viii, ix & x)
novel is not only about anti-Muslim sentiments in the name of opposing the
Muslim rule, but also glorifying the Hindu religion and its caste based
discrimination, which is practised till now. The Muslim has been deliberately
identified as “other” and the survival of Hinduism is clearly linked
with driving away of Muslims. The Vande Mataram song was sung by the Sanyasins
in the novel in such context only.
every country the bond that binds a sovereign to his subjects is the protection
that he gives; but our Mussalman king- how does he protect us? Our religion is
gone ; so is our caste, our honour and the sacredness of our family even ! Our
lives even are now to be sacrificed. Unless we drive these tipsy long beards
away, a Hindu can no longer hope to save his religion.,,( page 35)
hatred towards the ordinary Muslims were spread over in various parts of the
novel in the name of opposing Muslim rulers. The rebellion of the Sanyasins in
the novel was not with the intention of overthrowing the British rule, but with
the aim of making the British the real sovereign of India. The British were
considered the friendly power who can instil knowledge to Hinduism. Some of the
below lines expose the real intention of 
the author and the song Vande Mataram in his novel.
villagers would chase any Mussulman that they would meet-some would combine and
go to the Mussalman quarters to set fire to their houses and pillage them. Many
Moslems shaved off their beards, smeared their bodies with earth and sung
Harinam. ……. ( page 167)
new-comer said : Your mission has been fulfilled, the Mussulman rule has come
to an end. You have nothing more to do now. It’s no use killing people in

There is no hope of a revival of the True Faith if the English be not our
rulers.  The True Faith does not consist
in the worship of 330 million deities ; that is only a base religion of the
masses. Under its influence the True Faith, which Mlecchas call Hinduism, has
disappeared. The true Hinduism is based on knowledge and not on action. To
revive it therefore you have first to disseminate objective knowledge. The
English are great in objective sciences and they are apt teachers. Therefore,
the English shall be made our sovereign.
Imbued with a knowledge of objective sciences by English education our people
will be able to comprehend subjective truths. Till that is so, till the Hindus
are great again in knowledge virtue and power till then the English rule will
remain undisturbed. The people will be happy under them and follow their own
religion without hindrance. You are wise ; consider all these, desist from fight
with the English and follow me.

The English”, said the great man,
”are now
traders and are unwilling to take charge of the administration. They will have
to do it however, as the result of this rebellion of the Children ; for
without doing so, they will see, they cannot raise money. The rebellion was raised,
only that the English
might be initiated into sovereignty

Where is the enemy now ? There is none. The English are a friendly power, and no one, in truth, has the power
to come off victorious in a fight with the English.”
197 – 201)
above excerpts from the novel shows the real communal nature of the text and
its meaning in the novel. The song hailing mother India was also in this
context of re-incarnating the Hindu goddesses to fight against the Muslims. The
patriotism and nationalist feeling invoked in the novel clearly is the Hindu
nationalism, which the minorities and secularist have every right to critically
evaluate from a political nationalism perspective. In 1937, the Congress
constituted a sub-committee to look at the suitability of Vande Mataram being
considered as National Anthem. The Committee identified that only the first two
stanzas of the song can be sung by all , as other stanzas are communal in
glorifying Hinduism and its goddesses. Just by approving the first two stanzas
of Vande Mataram, how it became a secular song to be sung compulsorily by all
sections of the population.
makers of Indian Constitution never thought of including the word secularism[1],
as the essence of it is embedded throughout the Constitution keeping intact the
complex composition of our nation. Secularism, being the founding principle of
our Multi-Nation Indian state was given a short shrift by the present
right-wing government,  by directly and
indirectly threatening to modify the communal fabric of India. The right-wing
BJP government, and its associated organisations were never part of the
independence struggle to understand and develop a true political nationalism. Glorifying
and imposing exclusive mono-cultural ( read Hindutva) nationalism over the
citizens of multi-nation political state and expecting a devout patriotism  by docile acceptance, reeks of fascist ardour
of the present regime. Allowing of killing people in the name of cow
protection, silencing critics (Kulburgi, Pansare, Dabolkar, Gauri etc.),
without strictly following the rule of law and further demonising minorities (Taj
Mahal issue) reveals the bigotry attitude of the people’s representatives of
ruling government.  
by strengthening the inclusive political nationalist sentiment, by encompassing
the variations and  counter perspectives
in a dialectical manner, a true patriotic feeing could be engraved in our
national fabric. The failure of present dispensation to act in such a manner
increases manifold the responsibility of civil society and vigilant citizenry
to uphold the multi-nation fabric of India by protecting the basic values of
secularism and political nationalism. Any form of violence against minorities
and other dissenters, in the form of cow vigilantism, demonization of their
symbols, and murder should be confronted politically and legally to restore the
confidence of common people in the idea of India and further to strengthen
political nationalism and its allied patriotic duty towards our multi-nation
Indian state.

[1] Later included in 1976
through 42nd amendment.

The Author is an Independent Policy Analyst