- This question has historical as well as contemporary moorings and the key for the answer is to blend these moorings. We are witnessing a cultural and political phenomenon around the world where a single and unitary idea of nationalism is being pushed upon countries and India is also touched by it. Rise of majoritarianism politics, cultural intolerance and a new idea of Indian nationalism makes this question quite important.
- Start by discussing how Indian nationalism and unity shaped post-independence and how there was no single idea of the country. Discuss the challenges faced by then leaders and how they shaped the constitution to encompass the plurality and egalitarianism of society.
- Then discuss why any single idea of India is antithesis to Indian unity and how it’s not possible now. For example, after ages, now we have accommodated all types of ideologies, religions, thoughts, and practices in our culture and politics. The thoughts and character of the national movement have been dug deep in our national polity which makes it all the more important for the idea of pluralism and accommodation more important.
- Before ending, mention what are the new challenges to this safety net or plurality that India is facing.
In the long struggle for national freedom, there emerged a clear enough concept of a single, composite, nonsectarian Indian nationhood. All those who spoke about divisive and sectarian nationalism, were therefore outside the pale of this nationalism, evolved during the freedom struggle. The hostile and majoritarian nationalism and idea of India we hear about today is antithetical to the ethos of freedom struggle and against the belief of all those who helped it evolve.
What was the Idea of India during Independence?
- Independent India faced different kinds of challenges.
- The first and immediate challenge was to shape a nation that was united, yet accommodative of the diversity in our society.
- India was a land of continental size and diversity. Its people spoke different languages and followed different cultures and religions.
- Many believed that a country full of diversity could not remain together for long.
- There can be no objection to the consolidation of any community provided this does not lead to a separatist mentality, inter-communal alienation, communal politics and domination of one community, no matter how large, over another.
- The confusion here is between the cultural unity of a people and their political unity.
- Despite the fact that the people of India, from the north to the south, have shared for centuries a common cultural heritage they very rarely belonged to a single political state.
- Nor is this a peculiarly Indian phenomenon. Elsewhere too such as in Europe or in the Arab world, cultural unity has coexisted for centuries with political disunity.
- Therefore any single idea could not have worked in unifying India.
- For that, our constitution came to rescue and rather than imposing any single idea or culture or religion or region over the rest of India, it declared secularism and nonsectarian ethos as its founding pillars and single nationhood based on single citizenship and equal primacy to all the regions of the nation.
Why no single Idea of India can work for unifying India:
- All the convergent influences of the world run through our society: Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Seculars, Atheists, Communists, Liberals, Maoist, Democratic Socialist, Gandhian.
- Indian mind has been shaped by remarkably diverse forces: ancient Vedic tradition, myths, and scripture; the impact of Islam and Christianity; and two centuries of British colonial rule.
- The result is unique, not just because of the variety of contemporary influences available in India, but because of the diversity of its heritage.
- Many observers have been astonished by India’s survival as a pluralist state. But India could hardly have survived as anything else.
- Pluralism is a reality that emerges from the very nature of the country; it is a choice made inevitable by India’s geography and reaffirmed by its history.
- Our country is so diverse in terms of lived culture, language, food habits.
- Hence you need to take everyone together.
- Many political and cultural organizations, time and again have iterated that they will follow or impose a certain kind of idea of India and culture on the nation.
- But independent India was constituted under a Constitution whose basic values, egalitarianism, pluralism and inclusiveness, together form what we the idea of India.
- Therefore the constitutional vision will triumph over the ideology of division and polarisation.
- If the other vision succeeds, the country will disintegrate and the Idea of India will collapse.
- What may work in a part of the nation may not be suitable for the other parts of the nation and vice versa.
- Our central concern at the present moment of our history is to ensure that the political unity established by the constitution should be made firm and enduring.
- There is another view which considers the sense of belonging to India’s historic past and of being with all those who share that past an essential qualification of a true Indian national.
- Our national heritage includes not only what has come down to us from ancient times but also what came later.
- Our national heritage is a very complex affair and includes all we have inherited not only from the past millennia but also from the past centuries of our history.
- It is not only a question of minorities with religions of foreign origin accepting India’s ancient past as a part of their national heritage, but also of majoritarian religious orders and indigenous religions accepting India’s medieval and recent past as a part of their national heritage.
Challenges to this notion:
- Recently, the trend of communalism in politics, intolerance to other worldviews, regionalism as well as casteism have cast doubts on this idea of India under the constitution.
- All the institutions preserving these ideals have come under attack and their integrity has been eroded through constant bickering.
- The economic disparity, jobless growth and increasing inequality among rich and poor has also given credence to the rising resentment against earlier notions of peaceful co-existence with different cultural ideas.
- Also, we are facing the absence of mature leadership who could bridge the difference between two ideas, regions and cultures and bind the nation together.
- Leaders of early independent India gave their everything to preserve Indianness but it is missing now with the present generation of leadership.
India with its vastness both from the point of view of the geographical spectrum, social diversities, and culture and spiritual autonomy, has always been a political federacy. The modern concept of nationhood has rechristened the entire mind and body politic of the country. India has believed in the past and believes today that creativity and change through continuity and a sense of unity amidst diversities is paramount to national integration. Hence no single idea of its identity can prevail over India in any possible way.