Left, Hindutva and Indian nationalism: Pritam Singh

Guest Post by PRITAM SINGH

Triggered by the recent events at JNU, it is inspiring that the Left and genuine liberal voices in India are standing up to the Hindutva fascist onslaught. However, I find it very disappointing that the current Left leadership and some left intellectuals and sympathisers (especially belonging to the CPI and CPM) are succumbing to the pressure of chauvinist Indian nationalism. One would be shirking one’s responsibility if one were not to criticise that misguided and seemingly scared Left for its pitiable practice of for ever chanting mantra of ‘unity and integrity of the country’ in a self-defeating game of competitive Indian nationalism. The Left is beating its breast and going to the town chanting that we are ‘desh bhagats’ in a foolish retaliation against Sanghi’s charges of left being desh dirohi. Tomorrow, the Sanghis will say that you are ‘Ram dirohi’ when you oppose the building of the Ram Mandir. Would you then start saying: we are Ram Bhatkas? Let us not succumb to Sanghi’s brow beating tactics. Let us openly proclaim that India is not one nation but a historically determined territorial space of many nations, nationalities and emerging/potential nations and nationalities. As capitalism expands in India and the regional diversity of India flowers further, new voices of national self-determination would start becoming more articulated.

Let us acknowledge the historical fact there has been an ongoing contestation right from the time of struggle against British colonialism between the Hindi speaking region wanting to hegemonise and centralise a homogenous Indian nationalism (common to both Congress and BJP, and unfortunately now being shared mindlessly by the current Left except perhaps some Maoist , Trotskyist and other Marxist groups) and several non-Hindi speaking nationalities asserting their right, in varying degrees and shapes, to autonomy and self-determination. That is the only way one can make sense of Kashmiri, Naga, Mizo, Tamil, fractured Punjabi/Sikh, Assamese struggles.  Let us not forget that many of these regions were sovereign nations e.g. the Punjab was an independent/sovereign country between 1799 and1849, and that it was only the British annexation of Punjab that led it to being tagged to the colonial India, and eventually a part of it (the East Punjab) becoming a part of India.  The Anglo-Sikh wars were almost evenly balanced and the British defeated the Sikh army mainly because of the betrayal by some of their Dogra generals. Had the British been defeated which was a concrete possibility, Punjab would have carried on being an independent country.

Similar is the history of many regions e.g. Kashmir, Ahoms, Nagas and even Tipu Sultan’s in South India.  Let us not rationalise colonial conquest by mindless repetition that Kashmir, Punjab, Nagaland or other regions demanding autonomy or self-determination are integral parts of India.  People belonging to all regions of India have the democratic right to argue that they want to shape their own destiny whether in or out of India. And the same principle applies to other nation states in South Asia such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka or Nepal or for that matter, any nation state.  Let us remember that the first socialist revolution in the world (the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917) had articulated the right of nations within Soviet Union to self-determination and even to secede.

Let us also not keep on repeating mindlessly about respecting the Indian constitution. It is not a flawless constitution and it was framed by members of the Constituent Assembly who were not elected on the basis of universal franchise.  This constitution has strong dose of upper caste, pro- Hindi and pro-Hindu bias (cow protection, Hindi in Sanskrit version, Sikhs/Buddhists and Jains being bracketed with Hindus, Hindu Marriage Act).[i] Let us not forget that the late CPM leader EMS Namboodiripad had once bravely said that that their (i.e. communists’) project in participating in India’s parliamentary institutions was to wreck the constitution from within.

Let us also not keep on eulogising M Gandhi even if we have to condemn his murderer Godse when engaged in pure tactical and limited verbal duels with the Sanghis.  Let us not forget that Nampoodripad had once called M Gandhi a ‘Hindu fundamentalist’ and his (Gandhi’s) position on caste and Dalits were truly of a Hindu fundamentalist (his Ram Rajya vision was nothing different from any other Hindu fundamentalist). Let me hazard a guess here- the Hindutva would soon start owning Gandhi as a ‘ram bhagat’ as a way of acknowledging some continuity and similarity with his world vision and that of the Sangh Parivar. Sangh parivar would also partially disown Godse as a misguided patriot. So, it is a slippery ground for the Left to think that they can use Gandhi in their fight against the Sanghis. Moreover, it would be a dishonest posturing on the part of Left to attempt to own Gandhi.  Let us remember what Antonio Gramsci had once said: truth is revolutionary. One cannot build allies on the basis of falsehood.

And finally a few words about fascist goons in India. Let us not forget that the first fascist storm troopers in India were the Sanjay Gandhi led lumpens during the Congress imposed Emergency of 1975. It is the same lumpen stuff (or their sons or grandsons) that have now migrated to the Sanghis. Having said that, there is no need to be scared of these goons.  Their social backgrounds are such that they are not made of the stuff that they can withstand a sustained fight on their own against their opponents. They are cowards who can mouth slogans only when supported by the state machinery.  They will run away at first sight when they have to face those who are trained in the hard terrains of India.

The Left needs to stand on its own feet on its own principles. It needs to defend and argue in defence of democracy and equality, and following those principles in defence of the right of self-determination of smaller nations, and not in defence of a flawed Indian nationhood and a flawed Indian constitution.  The Left needs to remain firm in these testing times and the Hindutva trying to overreach itself will only create its own grave diggers.

[i] For a more detailed examination of this argument, see my article ‘Hindu Bias in India’s ‘Secular’ Constitution: Probing Flaws in the Instruments of Governance’, Third World Quarterly,Vol. 26, No. 6 (2005), pp. 909-926, URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4017817

 Pritam Singh teaches at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford.

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