Opposition parties must assert civic nationalism against narrow and intolerant nationalism


Suhas Palshikar (‘Why the unity of the opposition‘, IE, September 4, rightly called for broader changes on which any attempt to unite the opposition must be based, beyond the simple tactic of winning the elections. One of these major changes concerns what he calls “the effort to redefine nationalism”. In an IE article two years ago (“Un-civic nationalism”, October 12, 2019), I pointed out that the opposition allows the ruling party to hijack the idea of ​​nationalism, and it is possible to consider and restore an alternative, healthier form of nationalism. This article is mainly to develop this idea.

The RSS-BJP’s idea of ​​nationalism is based on a Hindu supremacist vision, with a majority religious community subordinating minorities and effectively transforming them into second-class citizens. This is similar to the idea on the basis of which the Muslim League of Jinnah formed Pakistan or Erdogan’s Islamic party rules Turkey, or, in an extreme form, the Nazis built the Third Reich in Germany. During our struggle for freedom, Gandhiji and Tagore rejected this basis of nationalism. After independence, we turned to a more inclusive form of nationalism based on the constitutional values ​​of tolerance, respect for diversity and pluralism, and equal rights for all communities. This constitutionally based nationalism was built not only by Nehru and Ambedkar, but also by Vallabhbhai Patel and Rajendra Prasad. At the time, the RSS opposed the Constitution because, as an editorial by the Organizer pointed out, it was alien to the Manusmriti. Of course, this was foreign, because otherwise the Constitution would have to allow for caste discrimination and the suppression of the rights of Dalits and women, as prescribed by the laws of Manu.

The RSS, some of whose leaders have in the past openly expressed their admiration for Nazi “effective” ways of organizing and mobilizing society, has called our Constitution “Western”. This deliberately ignored the long tradition of the Bhakti movement in different parts of India (not to mention the Sufis), which promoted interfaith harmony and syncretic values, quite often rebelling against Brahmin domination and orthodoxy.

The idea of ​​nationalism based on ethnicity or religion is borrowed from the West. In the past it has devastated many Western societies and in recent years such narrow, intolerant, nostalgic and xenophobic nationalism has reappeared in some countries – from the Christian nationalism of the Evangelicals in the United States to the Catholics in Poland or the Orthodox Slavs. – faithful of the church in Russia. In some other countries, an alternative form of nationalism prevails. Germany is a good example. After being burnt down by the narrow ethnic gender under the Nazis, German nationalism, on the whole, adopted (supported by all political parties, except perhaps by extreme parties like the AfD) the form based on the liberal values ​​of the constitution. The eminent German philosopher Jurgen Habermas calls this “constitutional patriotism”.

Among democratic states, one of the first instances where pluralism and liberal constitutional values ​​are the basis of nationalism is that of the United States. Abraham Lincoln’s speech at Gettysburg begins by referring to the “nation, conceived in freedom, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” In 1973, Hannah Arendt, the American political scientist of German origin, declared in an interview with French television: “This country is united neither by heritage, nor by memory, nor by soil, nor by language. , nor by the origin of the same… and these citizens are united only by one thing: it is a lot. That is, you become a citizen of the United States by simple consent to the Constitution. In a 2009 speech, Barack Obama said, “One of the great strengths of the United States is… we do not see ourselves as a Christian nation, (but) a nation of citizens who are linked by ideals and a whole. of values ​​”, as written into the constitution. Despite its many historical (and often racially motivated) failings, it is a major example in history of what Habermas calls “constitutional patriotism” or some others call “civic nationalism”.

As we have said before, this type of civic nationalism builds on the local syncretic values ​​of the Bhakti movements of Indian history in different parts of the country. I think it is imperative on the part of the opposition parties to renounce their silence or their acquiescence (lest they be labeled unpatriotic) on the issue of the narrow and intolerant nationalism of the ruling party and to stop following some kind of gentle Hindutva … in this way they will play the game of the latter and win the contempt and ridicule of minorities, liberals and the large number of religious Hindus who believe in some form inclusive and tolerant Hinduism. They must openly embrace the alternative form of civic nationalism and inspire mass mobilization against the systematic violation of our constitutional values ​​by the ruling party. By their flagrant trampling on the rights of minorities and dissidents, by labeling most protests against the government as seditious or “anti-national”, by abusing so-called independent constitutional bodies and bodies, by weakening various necessary institutions of control and balance in a democracy, by decimating the federal structure through excessive centralization of power within the PMO, using Parliament as a buffer, and persecuting and intimidating people through the various groups of people. self-defense of the Sangh Parivar, it can be argued that the ruling party seriously undermines the “basic structure of the Constitution” and therefore the basis of our civic nationalism. In this way, they also degrade India’s national prestige to abroad, as shown by numerous international rankings.

By joining the fight for an alternative nationalism to that for the restoration of democracy, the opposition can reinvigorate itself; it must mobilize to identify and focus on the “termites” which eat away at the vital elements of our republic for all to see.

This column first appeared in the print edition on October 11, 2021 under the title “Comment reinventer le nationalisme”. The writer is a graduate professor in the economics department at the University of California at Berkeley


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