Notions of nation


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Notions of Nation
Gandhi's Composite Vision of India

Anil Nauriya

(The author of the following piece is a well known progressive Gandhian and a Supreme Court lawyer. The reference in the opening paragraph is to the 'liberalist' correctness of some intellectuals who denounced a recent governemental ban on the performance of a Marathi play with strong fascist overtones. This ban was won after a bitter struggle by the democratic opinion against a most unwilling central governement ruled by BJP-combine and an adamant stand in favour of the play by the ruling Shiv Sena-BJP combine in Maharashtra.)

It is difficult to share the certitude of those who have been opposing as "nonsense" a ban on the play glorifying Gandhi's assassin. Liberal opinion, or what passes for it, h

as tended to invoke freedom of expression to compare the restrictions, illusory as they maybe, with Mr. M F Hussain's recent unpleasant experiences. This comparison is erroneous Mr. Hussain's paintings did not preach violence or the politics of assassination.

If there were a play which sought to justify Adolf Hitler and to 'give his perspective' on why it became 'necessary' to eliminate millions of Jews, or a play justifying the anti-Sikh pogrom in Delhi in 1984, would this also now be justified as an exercise of freedom of expression? The glorification of the sati incident in Rajasthan was rightly interdicted by an ordinance; also the local public demonstration in support of the Bhagalpur blindings -- on the ground that those blinded were criminals -- was condemned by civil society.


Rude Shock

That a columnist of Harijan and former editor of that paper and of Young India should be shot dead by the editor of Hindu Rashtra was an extraordinary way to settle a political argument. Imagine an editor today killing another editor and a play justifying that killing being bruited about as an exercise of the freedom of expression. The matter is therefore, not as simple as has been made out. After all, what must a play contain before its performance may be validly restricted as a permissible 'reason-able restriction' on freedom of expression as envisaged by the Constitution?

One can, however, be more open to a position which, while admitting that the play deserves a legal ban, asserts that the misinformation contained in it needs to be tackled politically. The play is supposedly based on the statement, which the convicted murderer made in the course of his trial. That statement is a tissue of suppressio veri suggestio falsi. The role played by the Hindu Mahasabha at each stage from 1928 onwards in complicating settlement of the communal problem is throughout sup-pressed from the statement. Nor does Gandhi's assassin mention the fact that the two- nation idea was propounded by Savarkar in the presidential speech from the Hindu Mahasabha platform in December 1939.

In this speech, Savarkar attacked the territorial concept of nation: "This conception has...received a rude shock in Europe itself from which it was imported wholesale to India and the present war has justified my assertion by exploding the myth altogether"...Instead he propounded the alternative conception that "...we Hindus are marked out as an abiding Nation by ourselves". (Indian Annual Register I 939, Vol. II, p. 317).

Jinnah's formal adoption of the two-nation theory came soon after this and is simply the other side of the coin. Savarkar, the assassin's ideological mentor and co-accused, then, must rank among the ideological forebears of Pakistan. Similarly, having spoken of equal rights for all in Pakistan in August 1947, Jinnah relapsed to speak Savarkar's language in December 1947. At the League Council meeting in Karachi, Jinnah spoke of Pakistan as a "Muslim State" (though not an ''ecclesiastical state"). And on March 28,1948, apparently unmoved even by Gandhi having staked his life for a composite concept of Indian nationhood, Jinnah said: "Pakistan is the embodiment of the unity of the Muslim nation and so it must remain". (Jinnah's speeches and statements as Governor General of Pakistan, 1947-48, pp. 211-212). On August 15, 1943 Savarkar declared: "I have no quarrel with Mr. Jinnah's two-nation theory. We Hindus are a nation by ourselves and it is a historical fact that Hindus and Muslims are two-nations". (Indian Annual Register, 1943,Vol. 2, p. 10)


Different definition

The vital difference between Gandhi's approach and the Savarkar line, to which the assassin subscribed, is thus not mentioned in the court statement. This lay in their entirely different definition of the nation. Gandhi's definition of nation was one of composite Indian nationhood while Savarkar's concept of nation, like Jinnah's was religion-based. Gandhi's understanding of Indian nationhood is summed up succinctly in a statement he issued a fortnight before his death:

"Delhi is the Metropolis of India. If therefore we really in our hearts do not subscribe to the two-nation theory, in other words, if we do not regard the Hindus and the Muslims as constituting two distinct nations, we shall have to admit that the picture that Delhi presents today is not what we have envisaged always of the capital of India. Delhi is the Eternal City, as the ruins of its forerunners Indraprastha and Hastinapur testify. It is the heart of India. Only a nitwit can regard it as belonging to the Hindus or the Sikhs only. It may sound harsh but it is the literal truth. From Kanya Kumari to Kashmir and from Karachi to Dibrugarh in Assam, all Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Jews who people this vast sub-continent and have adopted it as their dear motherland, have an equal right to it. No one has a right to say that it belongs to the majority community only and that the minority community can only remain there as the underdog. Whoever serves it with the purest devotion must have the first claim. Therefore, anyone who wants to drive out of Delhi all Musalmans as such must be set down as its enemy No. l and, therefore, enemy no. l of India. We are rushing towards the catastrophe. It is the bounden duty of every son and daughter of India to take his or her full share in averting it". (Letter to Men and Women of Gujarat, Jan14, 1948, Selected Letters, Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, p. 324).


Composite Nation

Over-emphasis, especially in Anglo-centric writings, on Gandhi's religiosity has sometimes blinded scholars to the fact that Gandhi's definition of nation is emphatically non-religious, non-denominational and secular in every sense of the term, while Savarkar's and Jinnah's definition of nation is religion-based. Gandhi's concept of nation was and is shared by millions of Muslims, Hindus Sikhs, Christians and others while the Savarkar-Jinnah definition of nation was and is a source of communal conflict and made anti-humanistic demands for exchanges of population and eviction. Hindu Mahasabha and RSS members prior to independence acted especially to injure the concept of a composite Indian nation. As the veteran socialist, NG Goray, wrote in the Congress Socialist of May 14, 1938, the Mahasabhaites and RSS workers attacked the May Day procession, tore up the nationalist flag and beat up leaders like Senapati Bapat and Kanitkar.


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Last updated: February 26, 2000 .