The fundamental question of what constitutes Indian ‘selfhood’ and ‘Indian Identity’ has never been settled. The Indian nation has been, as Kaviraj contends “an accomplished and irreversible fact” and any voices that questioned this understanding would necessarily be termed “anti-national”. India fails to fit itself in a ‘traditional’ understanding of a nation as a collective of people with similar history, culture and language. In Khilnani’s view, “Indian nationalism is just another phrase to describe a remarkable era of intellectual and cultural ferment of experimentation inaugurated in the late 19th century”. Seemingly, ‘Indian identity’ is a construct. But this begs the question of the creator of this construct. We must ask: Who is an indian? And who does he/she represent?. In the contemporary context, with revival of the nationalist debates, it is crucial to question the perceived notions of Indian identity.
If one chooses to look at India as a nation-state one will have to trace the transcendental history of Indian independence and it’s aftermath. After independence the game had fairly changed, although it had the same rules but with different players. There was a clear and smooth transmission of power from ‘white’ to ‘brown’ hands. Historical studies make the diverse nature of the territories constituting ‘India’ evident, ‘nation’ therefore was hard to justify. Nationalist hindu asserted, that indian unity could be found in its common culture derived from religion. Gandhi also resorted to religion to justify Indian unity and further went on to theorise his relatively more pluralistic morality, drawing from various religious traditions.
According to Nehru the defining spirit of India was in its unity and tolerance. For the purposes of self- definition, he relied heavily on the shared historical past of cultural mixing in India and his vision of a ‘modern liberal democratic state’ in near future. He was keen at laying foundation for a new India, redundant to make any apologies for the same. He imagined India as a secular, modern and developing nation state. Prevalence of liberal ideologies, as Chatterjee would argue, required an indifferent state towards the inherently different private selves on the basis of race, religion, class and caste. However the hegemonic nationalist elite of the times could hardly understand language, race , caste and culture as a matter of indifference in itself.
Independent India which had such unitary ambitions saw territories as sacrosanct. “…What empire has joined, let no man put asunder…” .Certainly the Indian state was keen on keeping its territory to itself. Not a yard of this British constructed territory called ‘India’ could be negotiated for. Territory hence formed a basis for sub-nationalisms in the Indian sub continent. Paranoia of this new born nation kept it from recognising any claims of self determination. Claims of Kashmiri or Naga Nationalism for that matter is alive even today. The consistency of this struggle can also make evident the existence of a a cohesive claim for self determination. They don’t recognise of themselves as Indians. One can hardly differentiate their struggle from the one of New Delhi against the British rule. There it was a struggle against alien British rule, here it continues to be one against the alien Indian rule. It is important to concede that all the protest as launched by the Naga National Council or Kashmiris or Asameese, as understood by the Indian state is not a secessionist movement but a struggle for independence. This poses a problem to the understanding of indian nationalism as a centralised movement. Religion and language posed similar problems to this idea of Indian Nation. With uprise of Hindu nationalism and initiation of language debates through out the country understanding of one ‘Indian’ identity is further problematised.
What then exists is certainly an impression that has been forged by the people behind the efforts of consolidation. We must ask: if there doesn’t exist any common ‘idea of India’, how can one idea be imposed on the other and on what basis is then one notion of nationalism inferior to any other. It is therefore important to relocate in nationalism the politics of the present, juxtaposing nationalism against the so- called non-nationalistic realities of India.
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