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Ramachandra Guha says jingoism ascendant due to hypocrisy of Left, intellectual, moral, and financial corruption by Gandhis

Historian Ramachandra Guha delivered the 23rd Justice Sunanda Bhandare Memorial Lecture in New Delhi’s India International Centre on 1 November, which happens to be Karnataka Rajyotsava Day and the 61st anniversary of the founding of Karnataka. Here are the key points he made, where he elaborates on the model of constitutional patriotism and then explains the difference between jingoism and patriotism:

Gandhi defined swaraj beautifully in 1921. He said, when swaraj comes, it will be like a bed or a table with four sturdy posts: these are non-violence, Hindu-Muslim harmony, the abolition of untouchability and economic self-reliance.

Thirty years after Gandhi defined swaraj, the Indian Constitution came into being and then in a more detailed, elaborate way, those four pillars were encoded, established and given legislative and political sanction. So the four pillars of the constitution were democracy, the abolition of caste and gender distinctions, religious and linguistic pluralism and economic self-reliance.

Ramchandra Guha at the 23rd Justice Sunanda Bhandare Memorial lecture . Image courtesy: Pallavi Rebbapragada

Ramchandra Guha at the 23rd Justice Sunanda Bhandare Memorial lecture . Image courtesy: Pallavi Rebbapragada

These were four of the central features of our Constitution and these are elaborations of the Indian model of the nationalism. This kind of nationalism based on a certain set of values. And the nation was sought to be united and given shape on the basis of these values. I call this model of nationalism constitutional patriotism.

I’m going to outline five fundamental features of what I define as constitutional patriotism.

The first feature is the acknowledgement and appreciation of our inherited and shared diversity. I’m going to give you a quote from a person in Tagore’s league, the great Kannada polymath Kota Shivaram, whose bust I have on my table. He wrote, when asked about whether we were an Aryan nation: ‘It is impossible to talk of Indian culture as if it is a monolithic object. Those who speak of Aryan culture do not realise what transformations this Aryan culture has undergone after reaching India. Indian culture today is so varied as to be called cultures. The roots date back to ancient times and have developed through contact with many races and many peoples. Hence, among its many ingredients, it’s impossible to say surely what is native and what is alien, what is borrowed out of love and what has been imposed by force. If we view Indian culture, thus, we realize there is no place for chauvinism.’ No type of Indian is superior or special by language or fate. Indianness is defined by the allegiance to the values of the Constitution.

The second founding feature is the recognition on the multiple levels on which patriotism can and must be practiced. Patriotism, like charity, begins at home, by how you treat your children, how you treat those who may work for you; it goes out into the street, the locality, city, the district, the province and the country. It operates at different levels and these levels are complimentary and they do not clash. I am a proud resident of Bengaluru, though I am not Kannada-speaking. My great grandfather, my grandfather and father lived, worked and died in Bengaluru and so will I. So I’m a patriot of Bengaluru and I’m also a patriot of my state. Today is the first of November. It is Karnataka Rajyotsava Day, the 61st anniversary of my state’s founding and on this day, you’ll find auto-rickshaw drivers flying the state’s flag. It’s a yellow and red flag. It’s not the elites who fly it, its ordinary Kannadigas. You can take pride in your street, locality, city, state and your country. These are perfectly complimentary.

 Although allegiance to a locality, a district and a province absolutely does not conflict with allegiance to a country, the notion of a world citizen is spurious and false. I’ve got to give you a lovely quote on why I think you cannot be a world citizen—this quote comes from a very great Indian John Burdon Sanderson Haldane—who was born Scottish and spent the first 60 years of his life as a citizen of England.

He migrated to India in 1956 for a variety of reasons. He was a professor at the Indian Statistical Institute and was one of the greatest biologists after Darwin. In 1960, there was a profile of Haldane in an American magazine where he was described as a citizen of the world.

He took great offence to that and said ‘No doubt I’m in some sense a citizen of the world but I believe that Thomas Jefferson that one of the chief duties of a citizen is to be a nuisance to the government of a state. As there is no world state, I cannot do this. On the other hand, I can be a nuisance to the Government of India, which has the merit of permitting a good deal of criticism, although it reacts to it rather slowly. I also happen to be proud to be a citizen of India, which is a lot more diverse than Europe, USA, USSR and China and thus a better model for a possible world organisation. It may of course break up but it is a wonderful experiment so I want to be labelled as a citizen of India.’

 Founding feature number three of the Indian model of constitutional patriotism is the recognition that no state, no nation, no religion is perfect or flawless. Hinduism is not flawless, Islam is not flawless, India is not flawless and our prime minister is not flawless, nor are our chief ministers who can sometimes be more authoritarian than our prime ministers can be. No state, no religion and no leader is flawless. Your country, your state and you yourself are not flawless and are in a continuous process of engagement and improvement, eliminating weaknesses.

 Feature number four is the ability to feel shame at the failures of our nation and state and the desire and will to correct them. Every true patriot feels shame at the failures of our society and the crimes committed by our State. This applies at multiple levels, from human rights violations by our police and occasionally by our army, corruption by public institutions and in everyday life, above all, by the persistence of caste and gender distinctions.

French scholar Louis Dumont, many years ago, called us Indians ‘Homo Hierarchicus’. And certainly, both in scripture and social practice, we have historically discriminated against low castes and women. And that must bring shame to any honest, sensitive Indian patriot and must bring in him and her, the desire the will to correct and eliminate forms of exploitation and discrimination. That’s what animated the life and works of Justice Sunanda Bhandare. Don’t be in denial that we are perfect.

 Feature number five of true patriotism, in my view, should have the ability to root yourself in your culture and country while being willing to learn from other cultures and countries. I’m going to give you a Tagore quote from 1908 to illustrate this. Tagore was reacting to certain people in Bengal and India who glorified the past and believed that Hindus had invented everything in the world. To these romantic nostalgics for a great and glorious past that Hindus were enjoying, which meant of course that they had nothing to learn from anyone else, Tagore answered, ‘If India had been deprived of touch with the West, she would have lacked an element essential for her attainment of perfection. Europe now has her lamp ablaze. We must light our torches at its wick and make a fresh start on the highway of time. That our forefathers 3,000 years ago had finished extracting all that of value from the universe is not a worthy thought. We are not so unfortunate, nor is the universe so poor’.

 These remarks apply to other countries in the world. Americans think they are the chosen people, I’m glad they’ve adopted yoga. The British once thought they were chosen people. When they ruled us, they showed utter contempt for our food and our music. You can get decent food and music in London now. In another of his quotes, Tagore also says something like: We must glory in the illumination of a lamp lit anywhere in the world.

This old model of constitutional patriotism is on the defensive, some would say it’s in tatters. There’s a new model of nationalism that is emerging, that is resurgent, that is ascendant and dominant. First, the privileging of a single religion: Hinduism. Second, the privileging of a single language: Hindi, the privileging of a common enemy: Pakistan.

This completely mimics 19th century European nationalism that was reborn in Pakistan in the mid-20th Century and is being re-reborn in India in the early 21st Century. But, it also has a fourth feature, which is perhaps as and even more disturbing, which is the branding of all critics as anti-nationals.

MS Golwalkar, the most influential leader of the RSS, wrote a book called Bunch of Thoughts, which is a kind of bible of the RSS. Some months ago, at the invitation of some senior RSS members in Karnataka (I am happy to meet anyone), they presented me the book the way a Christian missionary would present the Bible.

It so happens that I’ve read that book many times and I’ve written about it. In that book, which was published 51 years ago and progressively handed out to people to convert them to a point of view, there are three chapters: Internal Threat 1: Muslims, Internal threat 2: Christians, Internal threat 3: Communists. Three forms of enemies of the nation.

I’m none of these but in the eyes of many people I’m an enemy of the nation regardless. This is a paranoid and punitive form of nationalism. There’s a recent film called Newton and in that film is a lovely line that goes: Yeh desh danda aur jhanda se chalta hai. Not only is it parochial to identify nationalism as a single religion and a single language, it is paranoid about foreigners and punitive about those who seek to restore and rehabilitate older forms of patriotism. Should we call this patriotism or should we call this jingoism?

The dictionary definition of a patriot is a person who loves his or her own country, one who is ready to support its freedoms and rights and defend it against its enemies or detractors.

Consider the dictionary definition of jingoism. A jingoist is one who brags of his country’s preparedness to fight and advocates or favours a bellicose policy, a blustering or blatant chauvinism.

In the words of the Irish philosopher George Berkeley, writing in the 18th Century, a patriot is one who wishes for public prosperity and studies and endeavours to promote it.

What is a jingoist? The Gentleman’s Magazine 1881 defines jingoism as the aggregation of the bully. An individual may be a bully but in order to create jingoism, there must be a crowd. An individual may be a bully, that one neta addressing a crowd, or that one TV anchor is a bully.

But those who appreciate him and clap with him, the aggregation of that crowd constitutes jingoism. Another definition of jingoism from the Pall Mall Gazette of 1885 is that the essential infamy of jingoism is its assertion that the first law in its being is that might is right.

Patriotism is suffused with love and understanding and jingoism is motivated by hate and revenge. The features of jingoism are: The belief that one’s nation, culture and leader are infallible, secondly, the demonising of all critics as anti-nationals, the violence and lumpenisation of the streets where these are sought to be enacted and imposed.

 I’ve given you a perspective which will tell you which side I’m on. I must try and understand why jingoism is ascending and why is patriotism on the retreat.

Here are four reasons as what I defined as jingoism and why it is so influential, articulate and vocal today: The first is the hypocrisy of the Left.

The Indian Left is in power in Tripura and Kerala. It has been in power in West Bengal in the past. It also has a great deal of influence in our intellectual life, in our cultural life, many of our finest writers, script writers, poets and social activists are Marxists.

But the Indian Left has always loved another country more than ours. This goes back to the 20s, 30s and 40s. For a long time it was the Soviet Union. It used to be Russia, and then it became China. Later on it became Vietnam, and then it became Cuba.

When I was a student at Delhi University, there was a professor who followed the Albanian model of Communism. Just had I had the collected works of Gandhi, he then had the collected works of Enver Hoxha. Still later it became Hugo Chavez, who was worshipped in parts of JNU.

As I explained to you, you must love, appreciate and admire those features of other countries that can enable you to appreciate the best values of your own country. I would love Canadian public health, American universities, at the same time I would like to improve my own country.

The problem with the American West was not just the worship of another country, the worship of the most brutal forms of dictatorship. For those of you who think Modi is authoritarian, and I’m with you, Hugo Chavez was Narendra Modi on steroids and Stalin and Mao were two of the greatest mass murderers of the century.

I have friends from the RSS and the CPM. I meet both of at Koshy’s parade café at different times, several months apart. But shortly after I met my friend from the RSS, I had coffee with a Marxist historian who is a member of the CPM and I asked him why in the conferences of the CPM, you have four portraits and none of them are Indian? There are two dead German philosophers–Marx and Engels, and two dead Russian tyrants–Lenin and Stalin. At least have Bhagat Singh? Hypocrisies of the Left are giving ammunition to the jingoists.

The second reason for the ascendancy of jingoism is the corruptions of the Congress party. Yesterday was Patel’s birthday and as my colleague Gopal Gandhi says, the BJP has been able to disown Patel because the Gandhis' disowned Patel.

It is shocking how the Congress of Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi name everything after their own family. Why couldn’t the Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link in Worli been named after a great Maharashtrian Congressmen or Congresswomen? There were choices like Tilak, Gokhale and Chavan.

 How is it that they’ve ceded even Lal Bahadur Shastri to the jingoists? In this city, 42 years ago, when Pakistan invaded India, Lal Bahadur Shastri gave a speech at the Ramlila Maidan as prime minister.

He said, ‘On my right is Neel Mushtaq Ahmad, president of the Delhi Congress. On my right is Frank Anthony, who was a Member of Parliament and a member of the constitutional Assembly and this is what makes us different from Pakistan.'

When Rahul Gandhi campaigned for the last Uttar Pradesh elections, was Shastri mentioned? Shastri was an extraordinary figure, he laid the foundations of the Green Revolution. A person of total and conspicuous integrity and he was a constitutional patriot. So, Intellectual and moral and not just financial corruptions of the Congress and particularly the reduction of a great party of our freedom struggle to the history and biography and personal interest of a single family gave ammunition to the jingoist.

 The third and fourth issues to seek to provisionally explain the rise of jingoism are not Indian but global. The third is because of what’s happening in our neighbourhood, the rise of Islamist fundamentalism in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Pakistan started as a Muslim homeland and became an Islamic republic and became more and more fundamentalist. It started by persecuting Hindus and Christians, now they persecute Shias and AhmadiyyasIt’s a truly nasty place.

Bangladesh is not there but it might get there. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan and Bangladesh again gave ammunition to the rise of fundamentalism in India. Jingoism and fundamentalism feed off one another. 

 The fourth factor is the global rise of paranoid and punitive nationalism: Brexit, Donald Trump, and right-wing movements in Austria, Hungary and Poland. The failures of the Left and the Congress party have opened up the space for jingoism.

I would end with remarks about Hindutva, which, as I understand, is the philosophy of the ruling party and the kind of jingoism that it has enabled. It claims to be authentically Indian. Those of us who speak in the English language, I am a Macaulay-putra and many of you in this room are Macaulay-putris. Hindutva talks about being rooted in this country indigenously, and as a historian, I’m going to tell you that’s an utterly spurious claim. Hindutva is partly-European and partly Middle-Eastern, partly-Christian and partly Muslim. I’m going to give to facts to document this.

 The model of nationalism it practices is totally 19th Century European in its imagination, that of one language, one religion and one enemy.

The political and social system it wishes to impose comes from the medieval West Asia. In Medina, Muslim Spain, in Ottoman Turkey, Iraq, the political system was based on three kinds of citizens: First class citizens were certified Muslims, who went to mosques every Friday and who believed that the Quran was the word of the God.

The second class of citizens were Jews and Christians, who were also people of the book, whose prophets the Muslims also revered: Except that they had their own and greater prophet. Jews and Christians were called dhimmis, which literally means protected persons, effectively a second class citizen who has been given certain rights but denied other rights and opportunities.

A Jew or a Christian of medieval West Asia could practice his profession, raise a family and go to the synagogue but could not become king, general, adviser, vice-chancellor.   This is clearly the model by which the jingoists of today want to impose on Christians and Muslims in India.

The Muslims and Christians of India today will be like the Jews and Christians of medieval Islam. This ideology will damage us culturally and will also damage us economically.

Excerpted from Ramachandra Guha's speech at the 23rd Justice Sunanda Bhandare Memorial Lecture on 1 November

Updated Date: Nov 02, 2017 18:08 PM

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