Why opposition to surge of Nationalism in India?


(Brig (retd) GB Reddi)

Why is opposition to surge of ‘Nationalism’ particularly in India? After all, the wave of ‘nationalism-cum-racism’ is sweeping across Europe and USA besides its strong sway in China and Japan.

The root cause for ongoing sweeping change in voter’s preferences particularly in India is simple. The “Middle Class” bulge is growing. Many low-skilled working class families are shifting to urban services sector abandoning traditional agricultural occupations in pursuit of improved lifestyles due to growing awareness and rising expectations. And, there is shift of loyalties from “left to right’ parties. Thus, populism and nationalism are gaining ascendency over liberalism and socialism.

Furthermore, the downslide of “Left and the Center-Left” parties, which stands for more social welfare and economic redistribution, is real, particularly in developed and even few developing countries. No longer, people are enamored by slogans such as fair and just economic redistribution and subsidies that have strangulated majority in perpetual poverty.

In contrast, the upswing of “Right and Center-Right” parties, which stand for market liberalization, traditional social values with consensus on the welfare-state model is real today. At least, “Universal Basic Income Scheme” proposal offers hope to majority of poor.

Be that as it may, the “Left and Center-Left” political parties are crying foul over the rise of nationalism, which they believe is contra national security interests?

Understanding of the basics of nationalism is vital to appreciate its surge. Nationalism is traced to the evolution and growth of nation-state. By conception, the nation state model is based on population united by a common descent, a common language and many forms of shared culture. When the implied unity is absent, the nation state often attempts to create uniform national culture through state policy – a uniform national language, through language policy through compulsory primary education and a relatively uniform curriculum in secondary schools to spread the national language.

Let me cite two examples of promotion of uniform language policy. At the time of the 1789 French Revolution that heralded the nation-state emergence, only half of the French people spoke some French, and only 12-13% spoke it “correctly”. The introduction of conscription and the Third Republic’s 1880s laws on public instruction facilitated the creation of a national identity.

Next, during the Italian unification in 1861, the number of people speaking the Italian language was even lower. Massimo d’Azeglio stated “We have made Italy; Now we have to make Italians.”

However, language and cultural policy imposition usually trigger and fuel bitter ethnic conflicts and separatism. For example, attempt to impose Hindi as the common language resulted in anti-Hindi agitation in Tamil Nadu in 1967 and the rise of Dravidian parties and movement.

Stating the obvious, India is a multi civilization society – stone-age to space-age context and content. Its social plurality is summed up as multiethnic, multicultural, multi communal and multi class society divided vertically and horizontally. India’s pluralist society dictates the course of politics; or, its curse. Assimilation of extraordinarily complex social divide under ‘ONE’ label is a Himalayan challenge. Conflicts between groups of different cultures and civilizations are inevitable.

Let me recall my exposures and experiences regarding fissiparous trends at the grass root levels. The agitation for separate Andhra in 1953 – linguistic-cum-cultural chauvinism – was my first experience as a student. Its fallout was reorganization of states on linguistic basis in 1956 that is the bane of national integration and unity today.

In 1962, I was exposed to the rise of “Supra Tribalism (Nagaland for Nagas; Nagaland for Christ and Greater Nagalim).  Subsequently followed my exposures to developments like “Khalistan” movement, Supra Tribalism (Greater Konyak Nagaland); Pan Mongoloid regionalism; Dandakaranya leftist extremist movement; and so on. A number of sub-regional agitations like Telangana, Vidharbha and so on preceded.

Yet, many analysts believed in India’s “Great Assimilating” capacity developed over many centuries to consolidate “unity in diversity”. They are oblivious to the fact that modern India is, no longer, the “land of promise” attracted by hospitable geography and natural resources abundance.

Of course, successive waves of invaders have looted and plundered its natural resources, In reality, alien plundering pales into insignificance in contrast with the looting and plundering carried out be political leaders and their cronies after 1947 – over the past 70 years .

Meanwhile the surge of demographic transitions – population explosion and migrations – has exacerbated proliferation of identity crises due to lack of job opportunities and sustainable livelihoods.

In reality, the current and emerging internal geo political and social context and content does not lend hope for consolidation and advancement of modern India due to variety of reasons.

Most important, uncontrolled demographic explosion is mindboggling. From 300 BCE to 1600 CE South Asian population was more or less stable between 10 crores to 14 crores. By 1750, it was about 12 crores 50 lakhs and increased to 38 crores and 90 lakhs in 1941. From around 34 crores of population at the time of partition in 1947, India’s population has multiplied over four times to over 133.94 crores as per worldometer as on 23 April 2017. If population growth remains uncontrolled, 200 crores by 2050 may become a frightening reality. Where are the job opportunities, water and energy resources?

Next, with advancing technology breakthroughs in all fields particularly robotics, job opportunities will be reduced except for highly skilled individuals. Eruption and polarization around “Sons of the Soil” movements are bound to escalate. Racism, which is inherently antipatriotic and antinationalist, is also bound to explode.

Surely, minorities particularly of Northeastern States and Island Territories cannot be denied in perpetuity to play a legitimate role in affairs of the state. Ethnic and racial polarization and radicalization will only increase – escalating surge of sub regional or supra tribal chauvinism.

Even today, people still identify themselves as a “Tamilian, Malayalee, Telugu, Kannadiga, Maratha, Gujerati, Rajasthani, Bengali, Assamese, Naga, Mizo, Garo, Gurkha etc. The “Sons of Soil” or ‘locals and outsiders’ is reality.  Freedom of movement so vital to promote and advance assimilation of different sections under the “Pan Indian’ label remains a distant dream.

Some examples are recounted to include: bloody riots in Assam trigger violence in Mumbai, Pune and Mysore; in Delhi, people from the North-East face constant harassment and discrimination; exodus of people from Northeast from Bengaluru, Chennai in 2012; and so on. If polarization and radicalization on ethnic-cum-racial-cum-communal lines are increasing, it is but natural.

Nehru’s tryst with “unity in diversity” makes interesting ‘case study’ for missed opportunities in nation-state building and consolidation. In hindsight, since 1947, forging integration and consolidating unity in a pluralistic society – multi ethnic, multi communal and multi cultural – is the real strategic challenge confronting modern India. Long term strategic thinking was woefully bankrupt.

For example, having recognized the need for “Unity in Diversity”, Nehru dismally failed to encourage, promote, advance and consolidate integration of different sections of people under the “Indian” identity. The credit or blame for the Article 370 (enacted in 1950s and amended thereafter) that is contra national integration goes to Nehru that remains highly contentious even today.

Next, the credit for the eruption of the “First Naga Insurgency” by Phizo also goes to Nehru for denying the right to self-determination and autonomy for Nagaland as per the Naga-Hydari Agreement of 1948.  Furthermore, the credit for almost total “Baptization” of Nagaland goes to Nehru for following Vevier Elwin’s ideology, whilst at the same time effectively enforcing and implementing the “Inner Line Permit” rule that prevented people from other states to mix, blend and bond with local people.

Even after 70 years of independence, people from different states cannot enter and own properties without obtaining permission like in almost all Northeast States and Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Finally, vote bank politics and appeasement policies – cut-throat – by conception and execution have plunged the nation into present state of chaos.

To expect leaders, who excel in treachery and intrigue in sharing the spoils of power and pelf, elected through bribery and corruption to ensure fair and equitable redistribution of wealth is patently a false hope. Public affairs and service is their least occupation. “Self” interest predominate their psyche.

Out of power, leaders excel in creating and fueling crises and conflicts by arousing passion on ethnic and distinctive cultural lines against the State, with least consideration for the national unity.

In reality over the past 70 years, a large number of secessionist/separatist forces are gnawing away at the vitals of national unity even before different sections of society sink their inherited racial and cultural identities to proudly rally under the “Indian” symbol.

Its cumulative fallout is the surge of ‘ultra nationalism’ under the “Hindutva” label by the ‘fringe’ or radical elements will attract violent backlash in States with Christian and Muslim majorities. Let none suffer from any illusions on the above count.

“Fools learn from their own experiences; wise learn from others experiences” is a famous quote that appears relevant to modern India. Disintegration of Yugoslavia formed in the Tito era based on nationalism appeal for uniting South Slav peoples has disintegrated in the last decade of 20th Century with rival leaders appealing to ancient ethnic feuds between the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, as well Bosnians, Montenegrins and Macedonians. It resulted in gruesome ethnic cleansing on a large scale.

Add to it, the ongoing set back to globalization in recent times. With the rise of “Right and Center Right” in the developed countries, the dreams for jobs for high-skilled youth in alien lands have suddenly faded. It is bound to generate and intensify social conflicts based on ethnic, racial and communal lines.

In sum, Modi and the BJP have been caught in an extraordinary complex situation. If modern Indian nation-state is to forge ahead in its present territorial configuration, leaders have to set the right course to traverse to promote integration and unity of diverse ethnic, communal and racial sections of society on appropriate agenda.

But, Modi and the BJP cannot even develop the spirit and sense of positive nationalism to ensure peaceful co-existence among multiple ethnic, cultural, and linguistic groups what with the ultra nationalists – Hindutva Brigade – aggressively pursuing the “Akhand Bharat or Hindurashtra” as the end objective.

Nonetheless, the State policy cannot but help follow the middle path.  It should unambiguously deter and dissuade by rival fringe elements from resorting to violence to settle scores. The State must refrain or avoid negative responses to minorities. Most important, violence against minorities must be the last resort. Even mob violence such as lynching must be proactively contained.

Even stopping of appeasement of minorities through reservations and religious subsidies may result in electoral backlash. Economic backwardness as the sole criteria to award special benefits to deprived sections of people is an escape route, but will also be politically unacceptable.

Caught in the vortex of such a vicious geo political environment, Modi and the BJP cannot but help adopt strategic initiatives to promote and consolidate Indian nationalism very deliberately based on profound long term strategic considerations. If the State makes one false move under pressure, then the “Domino Effect” may become inevitable fallout. So, the State must assert its might in maintaining territorial integrity in its present form.  Indian nationalism dream and pride must remain the sole goal.