CounterThoughts – 4: Bharatya nationhood and Yogendra Yadav’s neo-Stracheyism

Posted on March 3, 2015. Filed under: Buddhists, Hindu, Historians with political agenda, History, India, Indian National Congress, Islam, Islamic propaganda, Israel, Left, neoimperialism, Pakistan, religion, Russia, terrorism, UK, Uncategorized | Tags: , |

John Strachey, the iconic colonial administrator and so-called liberal theoretician posed the question “What is India? What does the name India really signify?” and answered it as

“The answer that I have sometimes given sounds paradoxical, but it is true. There is no such country, and this is the first and most essential fact about India that can be learned….India is a name which we give to a great region…there is not, and never was an India, or even a country of India, possessing, according to European ideas, any sort of unity, physical, political, social, or religious; no Indian nation, no “people of India,” of which we hear so much” [John Strachey, India: Its Administration and Progress, 4th ed. London, 1911, 1-5.]

Yogendra Yadav, http://ibnlive.in.com/news/india-is-a-statenation-not-a-nationstate-yogendra-yadav/417588-55.html uses Strachey in a dangerous game of justifying the centrifugal forces generated by persistent imperialist religions and ideologies which have remained foreign to Bharat by their own declared identification with politic-military-cultural centres of power and transnational intrigue situated outside the subcontinent’s geography.

Yadav’s article itself is a textbook illustration as to how Indian anti-Hindu humanities academics spin their fantastic narratives of Bharat’s past and even history of whatever period of whatever part of the world they cite to support their hidden political agenda. But refuting and showing up the fallacies, misrepresentations and gross suppression of historical realities in Yadav’s article will itself need another blog post. So here I will concentrate on giving the positive counter-arguments rather than the negative ones to simply refute him. During the course of these arguments one should be able to see the hilarious contradictions of Yadav’s pompous statements about India’s past, and even his lack of knowledge of the supposed “diversity-worshiper Congress leadership of the freedom movement”.

Briefly, Yadav’s tactics lies in mischievous and rather academically dubious silence on why the Brit Isles, or Spain, or Italy remained unified while Yugoslavia, USSR splintered, even though sociologically all had comparable “deep” identity diversities. Yadava’s mischief also lies in completely avoiding the role of religion behind state and unity and inter-religious rivalry in the disintegrations he blames the idea of nation-states on. However lets leave Yadav behind for a moment and look into the issues involved.

For John Seeley “the fundamental fact then is that India had no jealousy of the foreigner because India had no sense whatever of national unity, because there was no India and therefore, properly speaking, no foreigner” [John Seeley, The Expansion of England, London, 1882, 161.]

The same Seeley however saw in Brahmanism the seed of Indian nationalism ” After this victory [over Buddhism] Brahmanism had to resist the assault of another powerful aggressive religion, before which Zoroastrianism had already fallen and even Christianity… had to retreat some steps, Mohammedanism. Here again it held its own…Now religion seems to me to be the strongest and most important of all the elements which  go to constitute nationality, and this element exists in India” [Expansion of England, 1882, p.15].

However, the viewpoint of the new nationalist thinking in India was radically different with an insight either not available or unpalatable for the imperialist and racist European mind.

Gandhiji, then still in South Africa in 1909, wrote in “Hind Swaraj”: “The English have taught us that we were not a nation before and it will require centuries before we became one nation. This is without foundation. We were one nation before they came to India. One thought inspired us. Our mode of life was the same. It was because we were one nation that they were able to establish one kingdom.” [M. K. Gandhi-Hindu Dharma, Ahmedabad, 1950, p. 56].

The same year, Bengali historian Radha Kumud Mukerji read a paper before the Dawn Society, Calcutta, presenting his “scientific” findings on the “Fundamental Unity of India”. An expanded form of this essay was published from London in 1913. Bipin Chandra Pal wrote on his own interpretation of “nationalism” in 1912, in his monthly journal, ‘The Hindu Review’ under the title ‘Hindu Nationalism: What It Stands For’ followed by another article ‘Nationalism and Politics’ in May 1913.  His thesis was that European nationalism, being isolationist and materialist in nature was anti-humanity, while the Indian nationalism represented a higher stage of group consciousness and was a positive step towards human brotherhood and spirituality. In his own words, Hindu nationalism stood for – “God, Humanity and the Motherland” [B.C. Pal, Nationality and Empire, Calcutta, 1916.  22-48, 73-112].

For Sukumar Dutt “A mind free from western conception of nationality is absolutely necessary to comprehend the problems of Indian Nationality” (p.18) because “it is difficult for a western mind to grasp the order of the ideas, unknown in European history, which has evolved this unique conception of the spiritual unity of India.” [Sukumar Dutt, Problems of Indian Nationality, Calcutta, 1926, p.17]

For those who do not believe in the existence of any “nation” of Indians in the past and  throw all these into the “garbage heap” as “Hindu fundamentalists” living in their “dream world”, there are people who cannot fit the bill of “Hindu revivalism” by any stretch of imagination, holding similar views on nationalism.

However, already in the backdrop of experiences of WWI, in the 1920’s the three theoreticians, Ramsay Muir, G.P. Gooch, and MacDougall rejected the old definition based on five unities. MacDougall defined it as a ‘group consciousness’ [The Group Mind, London, 1920, p.100]. G.P Gooch [Nationalism, London 1920] was explicit, “The core of nationalism is group consciousness[….]. neither the occupation of a well defined area, nor community of race, language, religion, government or economic interests are indispensable to national self-consciousness” (p. 5-6). Ramsay Muir wrote “Nationality, then, is an elusive idea, difficult to define[….] Its essence is a sentiment”. [Nationalism and Internationalism, London, 1919].

In “Nationalism: A religion” [C.J.H Hayes, New York, 1960], Carlton Hayes concludes  “In simplest terms nationalism may be defined as a fusion of patriotism with a consciousness of nationality” (p. 2) and that “A nationality receives its impress, its character, its individuality from cultural and historical forces (p. 3)….historical tradition means an accumulation of remembered or imagined experiences of the past” (p. 4). Hayes defines patriotism “as a peoples’ territorial past, its ancestral soil, involving a popular, sentimental regard for a homeland where one’s forefathers lived and are buried or cremated” (p. 4).

Rejecting the nineteenth Century belief that nationalism was a political phenomenon and the existence of State was a prerequisite in nation-formation, Hayes writes, “If we are to grasp what a nationality is, we must avoid confusing it with state or nation” (p. 6). Accepting the idea of cultural nationalism, Hayes writes, “Cultural nationalism may exist with or without political nationalism. For, nationalities can do and exist for fairly long periods without political unity and independence.”

Hans Kohn, [The Idea of Nationalism, 1944] concludes that the nature of the processes of nation formation in Europe and Asia was not the same. In Europe ‘state’ was mainly instrumental in nation formation, while in Asia nationalism had cultural origins. Even political unity of Germany and Italy was preceded by vigorous intellectual and cultural movements led by Herder, Goethe and Kant, and Mazzini. Regarding patriotism, Hayes writes, “Loyalty to familiar places is relatively natural, but it requires artificial effort-purposeful conscious education and training to render men loyal to the sum total of places unfamiliar as well as familiar in an entire country inhabited by his nationality” (p. 9). That means that the spirit of patriotism and national consciousness does not permeate all sections of the population in the same degree at a given point of time. To quote Hayes again, “only through an intensive and extensive educational process will a local group of people become thoroughly aware of their entire nationality and supremely loyal to it” (p. 10).

Every Purana text contains a section called Bhuvan Kosh, in which the boundaries of the land called Bharatavarsha are clearly defined and its progeny is given a common name Bharati. A list of all the Janapadas scattered all over the country is given along with the lists of rivers and mountains. A smaller list of seven holy rivers, mountains and cities symbolizing the unity of the land are given there. These slokas were meant for daily recital. List of “punyasthan” or tirthas are explicitly given in the Puranas as well as Mahabharata. These pilgrim centers cover the whole land.

This devotion to the land is not confined to its physical or material aspect only. Vishnu Purana states that the gods in heaven also feel envious of those who are born in the land of Bharatavarsha because the gods after the expiry of their merits will have to take rebirth on the earth while those born in Bharata will be able to transcend the cycle of rebirth. Chapter 9 of the Bhishmaparva in Mahabharata describes Bharatavarsha. While describing the greatness of Bharatavarsha the narrator gives a long list of ancient kings who loved this land – combining the very modern elements of “patriotism, love of the land”.

Thus, we find that all the ingredients of the group consciousness called nationalism are present here. This consciousness of the geographical unity exists in the Samkalpa mantra meant to be part of daily prayers and was recited at the beginning of every sacred act or ritual. Dr. Radha Kumud Mookerji goes to the extent “India was preaching the gospel of nationalism when Europe was passing through what has been aptly called the Dark Age of her history, and was labouring under the travails of a new birth”. [Nationalism in Hindu Culture, London 1921, 2nd Edition 1957, p. 47]

Asokan inscriptions use a common dialect and script with minor regional variations addressed to the subjects. They use the term Jambudvipa. The Samkalpa mantra treats Bharat Khande or Varsh as a part of Jambudvipa. Kautilya’s Arthashastra, usually thought to be composed in the 4th Century B.C., in defining the territory to be conquered by a Chakravarti King defines it as the land between the Himalayas and the ocean from north to south and equivalent in span of eight thousand miles from east to west. [Book 9, Chapter 1, Prakarana 135-136 -R.D.Shyamasastry]. Mukherji was of the opinion that the conception of a single power dominating the whole country had not originated with Chandragupta Maurya or Kautilya but must have preexisted. Aitreya Brahmana (VIII 15) repeats the dictum that there should be only one ruler of this Prithvi up to the ocean.

In both the above references the word Prithvi has been used as the name of the country. In Mahagovindsutta of Diggha Nikaya (currently held to be the oldest portion of Buddhist Tripitakakas) “Maha Prithvi” name has been given to the land whose shape has been compared with that of a bullock cart which happens to be rectangular in the north and conical in the south. (Rahul Sankrityayana identifies this with Bharat). Therefore the word Prithvi could not have been used for the whole earth beyond Bharatavarsha.

The Prithvi Sukta of Atharva Veda (XII.I) uses the common word Bhumi for land, but uses Prithvi for that particular territory which was later called Jambudivpa or Bharatavarsha. Here, Prithvi is clearly identified with the Vedic history and culture. This Sukta states that this is the land where our ancestors displayed their valour, where gods defeated the Asuras; where our gods Ashwinis, Vishnu and Indra, the husband of Sachi performed their divine feats; it is the land where sacrifices are performed, for them altars are established, where our sacrificial posts stand erect where five classes of men (four varnas and fifth the Nishad) live; this land which is sustained by Dharma where we are protected by god Indra himself; where we offer ghee to the Agni, who acts as our messenger to the gods. It is the land where men offer their oblations to the gods in sacrifices and relish the remains of the sacrificial offerings. Here Indra destroys the enemies of gods, the Asuras and the demon Vrtra. This is the land where pillars (Yupas) are erected for the Sacrifices and where the Rishis chant the mantras of Rigveda Samaveda and Yajurveda, where Indra is offered Somarasa. The land, where ancient Rishis sang divine songs, where they performed seven sattras with Yajnas and Tapas. This is the land where men move in their chariots and bullock carts on the roads where Sabhas and Samitis function in the villages.

Although the Prithvi Sukta does not give exact boundaries of the land, but its citing Himalayas, Sindhu, the six seasons, the flora and fauna, agriculture and crafts all point to a geographical  entity identified as “Bharatavarsha”. Prithvi Sukta uses the word “bhumi” to denote ‘land’ while the word Prithvi denotes its name and expresses a deep sense of affiliation and identification with all the living and non-living attributes of this “land”. It repeatedly reminds us that this “motherland” sustains, feeds and gives refuge even after death. Therefore, this land is our mother and “we are her sons” (12th stanza), because it feeds us just like a “mother” (10-th stanza). Prithvi Sukta acknowledges different dialects and different norms of behaviour according to their own regions, but this motherland just like a “cow”, “feeds them all with her milk without any distinction” (45-th stanza).

The opening verse of the Prithvi Sukta mentions those values and ideals which sustain this land called Prithvi : Truth, Cosmic Law, Initiation, Penance, Veda and Sacrifice. The name Prithvi, itself could have originated from king Prithu (supposed to have started agriculture on the land) indicating a conscious connection of civilization and culture.

Was there a concept of early geographical core? Manu Smriti gives four increasing spheres of influence. As the core, Manu Smriti (II. 18-19) states that the land between the divine rivers Saraswati and Drishadvati was created by the gods themselves and was known by the name Brahmavarta. In this land the code of conduct transmitted by the tradition in regular succession from generation to generation was seen as the noble code of conduct for all varnas”.

As the next circle of expansion, Manusmriti mentions (II. 20-21) the name of Brahmarshi Desh which included the Janapadas of Matsya, Kurukshetra, Panchala and Shurasena. Manusmriti declares that the people born in this land were the torch bearers in the realm of human conduct and therefore all the inhabitants of Prithvi should learn the lessons in character and conduct from them (Manu II. 20-21).

The next expansion circle is named Madhyadesa in Manusmriti (II. 22), covering the land between Himalaya and Vindhya mountains from north to south and to the west of Prayag in the east and to the east of Vinsana in the west, (the place where river Saraswati is believed to have disappeared).

The fourth and the last expansion circle mentioned by Manu Smriti was called Aryavarta, i.e. the land of the Aryas. It was spread from eastern sea to the western sea and from Himalaya Mountain in the north upto river Narmada in the south. This pure land is worthy of performing sacrifices (yajna) and the black antelope, the symbol of sacrifice, could roam there freely. The lands beyond Aryavarta are impure, i.e. not yet part of the cultural stream. (Manu II. 22-23).

The etymology of the word Arya also includes the meaning ‘agriculture’ as well as its use as a qualitative meaning “noble, respectable, higher” in classical Sanskrit and Praakrit texts. Rigvedic “Aryanise the whole world”, could there have meant a civilizational process leading to the spread of an advanced culture and this is also reflected in the early Buddhist and Jain texts. The story of Mathav Videgh following the march of Sacrificial fire from the bank of the river Saraswati to the banks of the river Sadanira (Satapath Brahman) also indicates that it was a cultural process and not a racial one.

Gandhiji wrote in Hind Swaraj (1909). “Our leading men traveled throughout India either on foot or in bullock-carts………. what do you think could have been the intention of those farseeing ancestors of ours who established Setuabandh  in the south, Jagannath in the East and Hardwar in the North as places of pilgrimage? You will admit they were no fools. They knew that worship of God could have been performed just as well at home. They taught us that those whose hearts were aglow with righteousness had the Ganga in their own homes….But they saw that India was one undivided land so made by nature. They, therefore, argued that it must be one nation. Arguing thus, they established holy places in various parts of India, and fired the people with idea of nationality in a manner unknown in other parts of the world”. (M.K. Gandhi. Hind Swaraj, Chap. 9, Hindu Dharma, Ahmedabad 1950, p. 56).

If we are looking for “historical awareness of the need to defend borders as sign of awareness of nationhood” we are looking for something that will be hard to find not only in India but even across the world.

Start with UK. Apparently one tribal king invited the Romans in, and even left his inheritance to them, while his queen led other tribes against the Romans. Lots of English Breton tribal chiefs joined in with the Romans, and “aristocracy’s” habits were “Romanized”. But then, Hadrian built a wall cutting off Scots and Picts. When Saxons came in, they had been invited in as mercenaries by English kings who had risen up after the departure of the Romans. When they took land for themselves and tried to expand, the Welsh – predominantly perhaps Romano-Breton tried to fight them at their border – which was where Wales ended. And the distinction of Welsh, Scottish and Irish identities continued with bloody fanfare well into the early modern. So parts of UK were not conscious of their modern “borders” well into the early modern. But do we find strands of commonality – yes, starting from Bede’s narrative – monks and Christianity crossed “borders”, and were accepted as part of a “national” awareness distinguishing the “islanders” from that of the mainland or from the “Irish”.

Think of the Germans. At least six different tribes are mentioned by Tacitus, and we know mostly of their early history from their “enemies”. We have explicit references to sections of German tribes collaborating with the Romans against other German tribes, and not always defending their modern “borders”. Until modern German unification, the constituents of “German nation” existed in “elusive” mistiness of literature, myth and legends.

All through Europe, even in the Russia under the Golden Horde and then under the early Tsars, we do not always see a consciousness of “borders to be defended” in the modern sense. Whole groups, fought to defend themselves and survive, or migrated en-masse to preserve themselves. What was more important was survival of their “way of life”, their culture, and their “civilization” – whatever that “civilization” could be.

We dont even see that “defending the border” as part of “national/civilizational” awareness even in the Islamic regimes of Arabia, Iraq and Iran.

What is today our official “border” need not be our border in the future. If in the past that “border” had shrunk inwards, in the future it can expand. The crucial point was preservation of the core in times of adversity and expansion in favourable times – or when situation could be made “favourable”.

When hard-pressed in the north, it became a choice of “fight/flight”, and at some point they had to decide painfully what took priority – pride and annihilation, or “slinking away” to preserve your texts and the best continuing mechanism of “culture” – living, practicing humans. No wonder, so many of the Sanskrit texts were recovered from the “South”.

Borders should be taken as temporary compromises in space-time, to keep identities in equilibrium. When needed “borders” should be changed, even expanded – not “identities”.

 

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