A question of identity – Is that important or not?

In a brilliant exposition of the politics of ‘identity denial’, Smt Radha Rajan takes us hand-in-hand as it were, through and around the intricate web that has been woven for the unwary and the deluded.

Its also fortunate that I came across this piece the same time I debated Shri Yossarin at his new Shveta Chhatra on similar issue.  I wish Shri Yossarin would comment on it in light of his own White Umbrella principle. I would like readers to read and re-read and re-re-read this article and imbibe its lessons for us Hindus.

I don’t have the heart to merely ‘link’ to Smt Rajan’s article. That would be an insult. I am posting it in full.

– Namaste

Confronting the spectre of pluralism

White European and White American Christians are now discovering the problems of living in multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural societies where they find their Christian values and their racial, ethnic and religious supremacist way of life coming under increasing pressure from non-White and non-Christian Americans and Europeans. The Islamization of Europe, the Hispanization of the U.S and the ever increasing immigration from Asia and other regions of the world into their countries is forcing nervous White Christians to re-examine issues of national identity and national ethos. ‘What does it mean to be American, What does it mean to be British, Should Christianity be stated to be the religion of the European Union in the EU Constitution’ are questions that are being increasingly and openly debated. And these countries are forced to examine the “salience and substance” of their national identity because what is threatening their national identity and security are the very features of a modern nation-state and the compulsions of globalisation that they have been insisting are universally desirable.

Outside of territories governed by Sanatana Dharma the world has not known spontaneous or harmonious diversity where diversity is accepted as the way of Creation and existence. Christian and Islamic countries have been homogenous by the very nature of their religion. Homogenising societies and nations is a violent political intent realized by religion and vise versa and even after two thousand years of bloody history and pervasive destruction of other cultures and nations it doesn’t look like either Islam or Christianity will give up their homogenizing mission as the fundamental purpose for existence. So how do Hindus protect and defend their religion in an increasingly intimidating political climate which defines itself as a secular democracy and where secular has come to mean ‘anti-Hindu’?

Christian and Muslim societies and nations have been racially, ethnically or religiously homogenous until very recently in their history; the ‘only one God, only one path’ obsession of both religions never allowed the demography of other races and religions to pose a threat to their supremacy; (while Native Americans have been almost exterminated from their homeland and constitute barely five percent of the population, the population of black Americans has been kept static at 12% for nearly a century). Europeans moved out to colonise other continents but never permitted other continents to inhabit their nations in destabilizing large numbers until the last fifty years or even less. And whenever racial, ethnic or religious demography has been disturbed and sharply altered in the territories controlled by Islam or Christianity or in their vicinity, it has always led to bloody wars across borders or bloody civil wars within their own borders. All this is known history.

September 11 has compelled the US, Europe and other white Christian countries to deal with issues going beyond terrorism. Issues like rapidly-changing cultural and religious demography, increasing assertiveness of sub-national and pan-national identities of minorities affecting social stability and threatening national security, policy making and law making which have a bearing upon minorities and immigrant communities and which raise feeble questions about human rights and civil liberties, and much, much more are cropping up within their countries with increasing frequency. It is delicious irony if only because these countries until recently used these very issues to hector and lecture to countries where they have political and strategic interests. Grappling with these issues all at once and at the same time, these white Christian countries are being compelled to re-examine the importance of national identity, and the substance of their national identity and nationhood. And soon these countries will begin to confront the thorny question of whether national identity can be defined ignoring the interests of the majority population. Just as Hindu intellectuals must begin to question whether inter-religious harmony can be maintained if Indian polity and intellectualism continue to maintain their vicious anti-Hindu posture.

If nation is different from nation-state, then citizenship is different from nationality. If this much can be accepted, then a nation’s identity determines its national interest. Some of the big components of national interest may be said to be – national security, interests of the majority, type of government, framework for inter-religious/inter-cultural or inter-ethnic relations within that country and foreign policy. If Americans are debating what it means to be American, then the British are debating what it means to be British. In India we have not yet begun to discuss if India is different from Bharat which is different from Hindustan. We have not begun to discuss if all three mean the same or if there is a conceptual distinction to these names. Hindu intellectuals must now discuss the gap between being a nation of Hindus and being a Hindu nation. We have not begun to discuss yet if the name is really important as long as we, the intellectual and ruling elite, subscribe in the main to the contents of contemporary nation-state and therefore national identity is of no real consequence.

Which brings us to the question, what are the contents of the nation-state as it has evolved today? Broadly speaking, contemporary nation-state remains today as it was in the past, a creature of white Christian imagination – specifically Protestant Christian imagination. Its features are democracy, rule of law and secularism. Pluralism, individualism, free press, independent judiciary, human rights and religious freedom are hinged to the three cardinal features of this modern nation-state. Any one, more or all of these are used as weapons of containment by the U.S, the European Union and other western white Christian nations, the U.N and the Commonwealth, and their sundry human rights agents to pressure, coerce and harass countries like India, China and Russia. And whenever smaller countries like Zimbabwe, Indonesia, Venezuela and Malaysia have stood up to the bullying ways of these white Christian nations, these nations and their pan-optic instruments of power like the U.N and their human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have brandished these weapons of war-by-another-name threateningly.

That the modern nation-state is a creature of Anglo-Protestant intent is not a far-fetched argument by nationalist Hindu intellectuals. Samuel Huntington thinks

‘The American Creed’ as initially formulated by Thomas Jefferson is the “crucial defining element of American identity. The Creed however was the product of the distinct Anglo-Protestant culture of the founding settlers of America in the 17th and 18th centuries. Key elements of the culture include: the English language; Christianity; religious commitment; English concepts of the rule of law, the responsibility of rulers, and the rights of individuals; and dissenting Protestant values of individualism, the work ethic, and the belief that humans have the ability and the duty to create a heaven on earth, a “city on a hill.”

And again, “If American identity is defined by a set of universal principles of liberty and democracy then presumably the promotion of these principles in other countries should be the primary goal of American foreign policy.”

And that is the core of the issue. That Huntington can state glibly that liberty and democracy are universal principles; and flowing from that presumption that the core of American and western foreign policy is the unabashed promotion abroad of what are essentially these Christian values. Samuel Huntington must be thanked for stating the obvious so bluntly – that foreign policy for the US and other white Christian countries is not about building international relationships on the basis of common or mutually beneficial interests but primarily to promote, establish and sustain Anglo-Protestant values packaged as democracy, sundry freedoms and rule of law. White Christian nations believe that just as their religion is the only path to the only truth, their concept of a nation-state is also the best and universally desirable. Without going deeper into what white Christian intentions are, we need to examine the implications of this browbeating foreign policy on India and how it is influencing domestic politics which in its turn is affecting the Hindus who constitute over 80% of the population.

Dispensing with nationalism

From around the mid-1990s, western intellectuals have sought to make a distinction between nationalism and patriotism and now, the distinction is more or less well-defined and the concepts not inter-changeable. Nationalism was described as being retrogressive because it defined itself in part in terms of how it was different from ‘them’. Essentially nationalism excluded ‘them’. The Pope gave voice to his dislike of nationalism in the UNGA in 1995 because he perceived the growing nationalism in Russia and in some of the countries of Asia as being the most difficult impediment to the Church’s evangelizing mission.

Western governments too began to perceive the dangers of nationalism to their national interests as embodied in the new globalised economy which many developing nations perceived as being neo-colonial in intention and methods. It is from around the mid 1990s that western intellectuals and American think-tanks explicitly bad-mouth nationalism – religious, cultural and economic. Simultaneously with bad-mouthing nationalism these agenda-setting groups also begin to talk of the imminent collapse of the nation-state and the world moving towards the post-nation-state era in history.

Explicitly articulated in this package is the threat that these White Christian nations reserve the right to intervene militarily and wage war against those nations that refuse to promote democracy, freedoms and rule of law. Chris Patten in Chennai told us all under the benevolent gaze of the current NSA, MK Narayanan that national sovereignty was like virginity and that we Indians tend to make too much of it. National sovereignty, like virginity, he said, was there one day and gone the next and nationalist Indians and the rest of the world must get used to the idea of sharing their national sovereignty with White Christian nations.

The brilliance and audacity of this Anglo-Protestant presumption proposes:

  • National identity is bad because it breeds nationalism which is an impediment to their neo-colonial ambitions:

  • Therefore national sovereignty for non-White Christian nations is dispensable:

  • Why make a big deal of national sovereignty and national identity given that the nation-state is even otherwise on the verge of disappearing

  • The collapse of the nation-state will not lead the world to anarchy because White Christian nations would have enforced democracy, freedoms and rule of law in all parts of the world well in advance of this imminent collapse. What will be deliberately eroded is the nation while the state will remain. In this idyllic Utopia of Anglo-Protestant imagination, constitutions and rule of law will replace national soul and ethos

  • What all people of the world really need is good governance that respects individualism, pluralism, human rights, religious freedom and rule of law. People do not need ideology or exclusivist nationalism

This in fact is the secular Second Coming, the White Christian heaven on earth as presented to us by Huntington. Let us take him seriously because the American political establishment and its competitor the European Union share identical opinions on how to contain and control the rest of the world. Teresita Schaffer in Chennai recently accepted the accusation that the US was seeking to re-shape the Middle –East to look like itself. Huntington is only placing in the public domain what Hindu nationalists had been fulminating about for some years now.

Encouraging sub-national identities

Indian nationalism has always posed a problem to our adversaries. Notwithstanding the spontaneous and organic diversity which is intrinsic to the Indian nation, our adversaries have realized that Hindu society has always thrown up an effective Hindu leadership to organize society in resistance movements and wars. But this time, the war is different. It is not a war against an evil individual, another country or collective, it is a war against an idea that kills. The idea that if nationalism has to be destroyed then the Hindus of India must never be allowed to think that this is their homeland, their territory, and that it is a war of survival.

Therefore the war is an all-out effort to dis-engage the political, academic and professional elite (which have historically produced the Hindu leadership) from national consciousness. The idea is to weaken national identity so that there is a resultant weakening of perception over what constitutes national interest. The Hindu elite are today largely the de-nationalised and rootless elite. In its twin-pronged effort to de-nationalise important politicians, there is also the move to make ‘constitutionalists’ of Hindu politicians who swear more by the Constitution and rule of law than by their Hindu identity. Raghuraman Rajan, Shashi Tharoor, Arundhati Roy, sections of the Indian judiciary, and large sections of the Indian media are good illustrations of the tactics employed by White-Christian countries in this war. How Advani as Home Minister dealt with the proposed Shila Pooja in Ayodhya is also a good illustration of de-Hinduised constitutionalism.

What is striking today is the absence of an effective Hindu leadership even in the face of what is emerging as an ominous threat to Hindus and their religion. This absence of leadership has been caused by:

  1. Eroding national consciousness among the intellectual elite

  2. A corresponding allegiance to an international identity which is indifferent at best and actively inimical at the worst to nationalism

  3. A corresponding movement of important sections of the population like the dalits, women, and large minorities to insist on their sub-national identities as being their only identity

  4. Assuming leadership of activist movements – environment, human rights, anti-war pacifist, anti-nuclear – that ignore and even oppose national interests

  5. American think-tanks offering scholarships and fellowships, human rights organizations rewarding the elites who sharpen sub-national identities and erode national and Hindu identity

  6. Hindus holding powerful and highly remunerative positions in international organizations and Multinational business and financial institutions

  7. The business and economic elite looking for partnerships or networks with western trade or business leaders

Hindus are faced with a monumental crisis – the crisis of a lack of leadership. Hindu religious leaders are deeply divided among themselves, hamstrung by their denominational identities. Hindu organizations are not coordinating their efforts to achieve common goals. They are divided by differing perceptions on priorities – what we need to do first, second and so on. Hindu society, to the extent its social, political and religious leadership remains fragmented, is also similarly fragmented. If the leadership were to close ranks, the followers and the cadre would fall in line automatically. The leadership, as always, is letting Hindu society down; only this time it is letting us down in the war for survival.

Tailpiece

In a discussion on whether the name by which we call ourselves really matters, a question was raised. “Should we call ourselves India, Bharat or Hindustan”? What this group must take into account is, what is the substance of each name and what are the objections to the contents and who is opposed to the name and/or substance of the name. Which means, if I want to re-name this country Bharat or Hindustan without the India, then what is the substance of the name? How do I make Bharat or Hindustan different from India. Which sections of our people would oppose the change in name and why? This exercise will tell us unambiguously who wants a national identity and what is the substance of the identity.

There were strong objections to the name Hindustan on the grounds that the word ‘Hindu’ is not Indian at all. To even suggest that ‘Hindu’ is not Indian in origin is dishonest. The word may have undergone phonetic changes but ‘Sindhu’ connotes something. In Hindu tradition/religion/civilization names have a purpose because they have meaning. And it is because names have a meaning and a purpose that we have the naming ceremony. ‘Giving’ a name is not treated lightly in Hindu tradition.

Whether Bharata or Hindustan or India, the country’s name denotes ‘abode of the Hindus’. Some think ‘Bharatiya’ is a lot more aesthetic than Hindu while some others think ‘Hindu’ or ‘Hindustan’ is a lot more direct politically – this is the land of the Hindus, of Hindu civilization/religion (I think both are the same).

There is an attempt to secularise ‘Bharat’ to make it merely the Indianised version of a ‘secular, pluralist, multi-cultural’ India of the irreverent imagination so that the Muslims and the Christians and the foreigners may lay claim to the territory without owning up to its religion, its culture, its history. And that is why even though the word Bharat is as Hindu as Hindu itself, it can be more easily secularized than Hindu. Not that attempts are not being made. We have people telling us Hinduism is not a religion but a way of life although what exactly they mean by ‘way of life’ I am not sure. Do Christians and Muslims not have a way of life? Unless we mean that in our way of life, there is a sense of sanctity and reverence to everything in existence. And this sanctity is derived from my conception of ‘God’ or divine.

So there is a relentless attempt to secularise Bharat and divest Hinduism of its religious content. And that is why some of us want Hindustan to be constitutionalised so that we state unambiguously that this is the country of Hindus. Which means Hindu interests will be primary, Hindu ethos will be the defining principle of public spaces and public life, of national security, of foreign policy.

After all Christian and Muslim values and interests define most countries of the world and this has so far not triggered the kind of opposition that has come to confront Hindutva.

Radha Rajan

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