India predates the Constitution. It’s cultural nationalism that makes us Indians


VScivic nationalism versus cultural nationalism is a discourse that has dominated the Indian debate in recent days.

The first encompasses the liberal values ​​of freedom, tolerance, individual rights and multiculturalism, with constitutional guarantees. Cultural nationalism encompasses a sense of belonging and anchoring in a specific cultural and civilizational milieu.

India is the largest democracy in the world. Indian culture and society have adhered to these values ​​for thousands of years. We are imbued with the syncretic sense of being and feeling Indian, regardless of language or religion. It is this cultural nationalism that defines all Indians. India is a melting pot in which foreign influences have been assimilated inclusively to create a unique Indian identity.

Cultural nationalism is neither a chimera nor something to be overcome. The values ​​of liberalism, pluralism and tolerance should not simply be a function of constitutional guarantees. They should be grounded and rooted in a more enduring Indian cultural ethos. A civic nationalism defined simply by political institutions and liberal values ​​as legal constructs fails to synthesize India’s rich social traditions or cultural conventions and is self-limiting.

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A plural culture

Some political philosophers may argue that immigrants to a liberal-democratic state do not need to assimilate into the host culture, only to accept the tenets of the country’s Constitution. They are, in this case, only required to engage in civic nationalism, which is designed as a mechanical administrative unit that binds citizens in a constitutional contract. This type of state, devoid of the distinctive character bequeathed by its people or its history, is reductive or minimalist in the conception of its nation. It has no bearing on the reality that is India.

The “otherness” artificially sought or forged is self-denigrating. Even after three quarters of a century, Pakistan cannot deny its Indian cultural moorings, but not for lack of trying.

Unfortunately, the divide between left and right politics is widening in India. Whenever a center-right government comes to power in a democracy, far-left activists and commentators vehemently propagate the idea that democracy and liberalism are in danger. Even the mainstream Western media are calling for the end of liberal democracy. They tend to ignore the fact that liberalism is neither the invention nor the exclusive prerogative of left-wing politics. In the United States, its origins lie in the values ​​adopted by the founding fathers who followed republicanism. Across the pond in Europe it was promoted by free marketers laissez-faire principles.

In the 75and year of its independence, India’s democracy and liberal values ​​remain strong. They are deeply rooted in the country’s ancient pluralistic ethos, which can never be in jeopardy. Opposition parties are entitled to a fair and equal opportunity to shape political discourse, and they have the constitutional right to effect political change through the ballot box.

A nation is made up of people who feel a common bond (geist), which is its cornerstone. Only through an inherent sense of belonging (what Ibn Khaldoun called ‘asabiyyah‘ in Arabic) and a national culture that a state can achieve a distinct identity and longer-term sustainability. In the Indian context, cultural nationalism plays a major role in forging social cohesion and solidarity, transcending sectarian differences.

To reduce the state of India to the level of a ‘civic nation’, bound by a single, albeit highly revered, document in the form of the Indian Constitution, would be to overlook the country’s rich heritage. India as a nation predates the making of its Constitution. It predates the struggle for freedom. It predates the arrival of all those who eventually made India their homeland.

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Celebrating history, beyond religion

It is remarkable that Muslim countries like Indonesia celebrate their history and culture using Sanskrit names. For example, the name of former Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri means “goddess of clouds, daughter of Soukarno”.Sukarno itself is considered to be a name taken from historical references to the famous hero Karna, from the mahabharata.

This perhaps demonstrates that recognition of Indigenous cultural heritage does not erode a person’s religious identity.

We find that even the Arab world celebrates the pre-Islamic poetry of Arabia and that students of Arab universities study the works of poets before the advent of Islam such as Imrul Qais, Tarafa, Zuhair bin Abi Sulma and many others. others as part of their history. heritage. The Ba’ath parties of Iraq and Syria were representative of Arab nationalism, rooted in cultural nationalism.

Do you remember Tariq Aziz, former Christian Foreign Minister of Iraq under Saddam Hussein? He changed his first name, Mikhail Yuhanna, to the Arabic name Tariq, recalls Tariq ibn Ziyad, an Umayyad Berber commander who launched the Muslim conquest of present-day Spain and Portugal in the eighth century. This did not diminish Tariq Aziz’s status as a Christian. In its early years, the Palestinian movement, led by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), included Arab nationalist intellectuals and revolutionaries, including Palestinian Christians like George Habash.

In his time, Firdausi glorified the pre-Islamic kings of Persia in his famous epic, Shahnama, which praises the exploits of the great Zoroastrian rulers down to the last Sassanid king. The Muslim world celebrates this epic as a tour de force nowadays.

Following such logic, there should be no difficulty in developing or accepting a broad consensus on the shared heritage of all the peoples of India in the form of Indian literary works in Sanskrit and Hindi or songs. national as Vande Mataram. Many in the Islamic world attribute this Hadith to the Prophet: “Love of country is an essential part of true faith (hubb al-watan min al-īmān).”

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Today, we remember the poet-singer Amir Khusrau who describe India as God’s beloved country. “If my adversary taunts me, why do I prefer Behind on other lands, there are two reasons for this assertion (Hujjat) … The first reason is that this land from time immemorial (has been blessed) … To be the place of my birth (maulūd), remains (mawa) and homeland (whata)”.

Khusrau then goes on to list other rationals (aqli) proof (asbat) for the assertion (Hujjat) that India was heaven on earth. The first argument is that after being expelled from heaven, Adam found refuge in this country. According to him, “As Hind was like heaven (khuld nishān), Adam could come down here and find rest.” The second argument was that India was the land of the peacock, a celestial bird. “Had heaven (firdaus) been in another country (literally: garden or bagh) this bird would have gone there. After establishing that India was “heaven on earth”, Khusrau goes on to discuss the “reasons” for his preference for Behind on Rûm (Roman Empire), Iraq, Khurasan and Qandhar’ and bases his argument on the ideal climate of India, its flowers and its fruits.

Such ideas of patriotism and common heritage that abound in Khusrau’s writings suggest the prevalence of a strong sense of cultural nationalism even in past centuries. Cultural nationalism is never at the expense of civic nationalism. The two coexist.

The author is the Director General of the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis. He tweets @SujanChinoy. Views are personal.

(Edited by Neera Majumdar)


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