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Secular anti-Nationalism vs Cultural Nationalism - Part I

By: V Sundaram, IAS, Retd.
Nov-19-2008
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I have just finished reading masterpiece of a book titled "INDIA A Cultural Decline or Revival"? by Bharat Gupt. The so-called educated people in India-usually pseudo-secular Indians with Western Education-take it for granted that Independence from the British Rule also ushered an era of cultural and social freedom in India. Bharat Gupt in this beautifully conceived and written book has carefully examined as to whether this is true or whether a dark age of cultural decline and barbarism descended on India after Independence.

1947: Dark age descended on India - Part I
1947: Dark age descended on India - Part II


To quote the brilliant words of Bharat Gupt from his preface: "It is further imagined that in spite of its poverty, India is admired by the richer nations of the West as a culturally evolved nation. This self-congratulation, lingering from the euphoric days of our freedom struggle, sounds now like the thunder on distant mountains shedding not a glimmer of hope on our present lives. For most of us our memory is enough to be a lived-through account of the cultural decline that set in barely within a decade after freedom. Any analysis is sufficient to counter the smug belief, still fostered in schools and political speeches about the superiority of our culture, once voiced in Iqbal"s song, "Saare Jahaan se acchaa Hindustan hamaaraa". Very insidiously this rhyme nurses a misplaced conviction that while many other ancient civilizations were wiped out in time, India alone is indestructible.... The song takes special pride in stating that while the Greek and Roman civilizations, the so-called predecessors of the West, lost to ravages of time, Indian civilization alone remains immortal".

According to Bharat Gupt such headiness was excusable during the struggle for freedom but is hardly justified after half a century of self-misrule. Our name and significance (naam-o-nishaan) are now "under gradual but marked erosion, fading faster than anything witnessed in the last millennium". The ravages of technology are greater than even those perpetrated by Islamic misrule for more than thousand years. Bharat Gupt argues and proves with force that in every sphere of life it is now obvious that India has not been able "to internalise European technology to march its own civilization concepts, the foreign techno-kaayaa into its traditional dharma-kaayaa".

Bharat Gupt, Reader (Associate Professor) in English, at the College of Vocational Studies, University of Delhi, holds two Master"s degrees, one from St. Stephen"s College, Delhi and another from Toronto. He did his doctoral research at the M.S. University of Baroda. His Doctoral Dissertation was on "A Comparison of Greek and Indian Dramatic Theories as given in the Poetics and the Natyasastra". Bharat Gupt was taught Sitar and Surbahar by Pandit Uma Shankar Mishra and musicology and classics by Acarya Brhaspati. Trained both in modern and traditional educational systems, he is also on the Visiting Faculty of National School of Drama, Delhi. For his interest in media studies he was awarded a fellowship to work at the McLuhan Program, University of Toronto. Author of several research articles, he has presented many papers at various international seminars. He has also published critical editions and translations of ancient Indian books on music and drama (Natyasastra, Chapter 28: Ancient Scales of Indian Music, Natyasastra, Chapter 17: A Critique of Theatrical Polyglossia., Natyasastra, Chapters 29 - 36, and Dibbuk).

In a breezy manner, in his preface, Bharat Gupt has traced the process of cultural and spiritual decline of India after Independence from decade to decade. He argues that after Independence, each passing decade, excepting perhaps the first (1947-1957), ushered in an uncomfortable, dislocating and deranging change. Only the decade of the 1950s was characterised by hope and optimism, within India, and as well in the minds of her well wishers in India and abroad. She was expected to perform by leaps as a developing nation by the international community. The optimism of this decade was symbolised by our first Prime Minister, called "Chaachaa Nehru" by his sycophants who spent his every Birthday, November 14, with school children as a State ritual. He projected the expectation that the nation was going to grow big and strong like its children. To quote the caustic words of Bharat Gupt "Every year in the capital of the reborn nation, international exhibitions connected its people to the big and small nations of the world. Perhaps in the fifties only the country like its kids and their Chaachaa could smile hopefully".

In the sixties, things continued to take some shape as schools and colleges expanded. "Temples of modern India" - a term coined by Nehru to describe the New Factories and Dams-gave employment to many. Yet the less lucky but more enterprising started moving away to far off lands in large numbers. The present prosperous lot of the Indian diaspora in North America and Europe left the country at this time. By now the stagnation in the economic growth of Socialist Order imposed upon the country in a dictatorial manner began to extract its price. Nevertheless, on account of strong nationalism, in spite of strong bullying by China in 1962 and a grievous injury by Pakistan in 1965, India was able to defend most of its territory and reaffirm its identity.

The seventies, in their first half, witnessed another triumph of nationalism when "Indira Gandhi played midwife to the birth of Bangladesh terminating a horrendous genocide of the Bangla Muslims and Hindus by the Punjabi Muslim army of West Pakistan. But giddy from her success, Indira Gandhi unheedingly consolidated the Socialist agenda to prune it of all liberal intellectual and democratic vitality that Nehru would not have liked to disappear". By the mid seventies, darker days set in. Indira Gandhi introduced emergency. External support to terrorism and internal regional factionalism cast their net around the nation. As Bharat Gupt puts it, "Both were promoted under many garbs by a pernicious propaganda masterminded in the bastions of Western subversive agencies and academics as well. To contain the politically centrifugal forces, Indira Gandhi, flushed with her earlier success, made the pendulum of State governance swing from the dictatorial Socialism at the Centre to conspiratorial manipulations in the regions, thus seriously eroding democracy".

The period from 1970 to 1980 was marked by a great illusion of all at the Left of Centre. They imagined that Socialism could be poured from the top like flowing river waters and that changes at the grassroots would automatically follow. This kind of make-believe Socialism created a class of corrupt and unscrupulous politicians who acquired total control over national wealth and perpetuated a licence-permit-control-quota Raj that killed personal enterprise and initiative, while very little from the State percolated to the poor.

Bharat Gupt rightly concludes that on the cultural front, in the name of Secularism, religious regression was promoted not only among minorities, but more so in the Hindu majority. Under the shadow of nurturing parochial minions for Centrist manipulations, regional outfits were promoted to such an extent that they went out of control. By the end of the decade in 1980, both the Socialist State and Nationalism came to be discredited.

The period from 1980 to 1990 was marked by the escalation of terrorist wars, caste polarisation and withering of Socialist State that revealed the himalayan corruption operating beneath. A proxy war against us was started by Pakistan in Punjab and Kashmir. A section of Indian policy-makers from Tamilnadu, started sympathising with the terrorist and separatist outfit of LTTE in Sri Lanka. But the final blunder of sending the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to eliminate LTTE was beyond belief and gave a severe blow to nationalism. The consolidation of the middle castes, which had acquired enough economic muscle to translate their cultural identity into a political clout, was subverted by cheap politicians like V P Singh, "under the impact of Western notions of ethnicity and compensatory discrimination under the garb of affirmative action for the so called OTHER BACKWARD CLASSES". Thus V P Singh gave a deathblow to the process of integration of Hindu society. The slogan of "social justice" has become another name for Social stagnation riding rough on the backs of the lowest castes. Reiteration of the caste identities has subverted Indian Nationalism. Every political party, for a handful of votes or a momentary alliance, pampers the regional, religious, or caste identities.

Thus Bharat Gupt rightly concludes that the new millennium has opened with glaring entropy in the Indian political system and social institutions. The ruling elite of legislators and bureaucrats is unable to handle even every day governance let alone crisis situations that are routine as sunrise. National interest seems to have been totally sacrificed at the altar of power struggle and corruption. In such a scenario there is a temptation to throw cultural matters into the background and focus on enforcement of law and defence of national territory. As Bharat Gupt brilliantly puts it: "But this is not an age of territorial invasions. It is the age of cultural invasion and subversion. Political territories are altered after the cultural landscape has been reordered from within. There are three distinct forces that have at present laid a strong siege of India after the Cold War and the fall of her politically supportive though hardly economically beneficial ally, namely the Soviet Union. They are, COMMERCIAL GLOBALISM, JEHADI ISLAM AND EVANLEGICAL CHRISTIANITY. India needs a new leadership to counter these three. This requires strategies born of a cool and analytical mind and least of all an emotional retaliation of the momentary kind that seems to be the fashion of the day".

Bharat Gupt is indeed a renaissance man in every sense of the word. He clearly brings out the fact that the levelling down of the first rate, the excellent, and the noble has been a very crucial part of the destruction of our national life after our Independence. Destruction of cultural history has proceeded, step by step, with the destruction of all the traditional, social, cultural and familial institutions in our ancient country. Bharat Gupt"s brilliant book brings to my mind the following words of Matthew Arnold (1822-1888):

"Culture is nothing but sweetness and light. Culture, the acquainting ourselves with the best that as been known and said in the world, and thus with the history of the human sprit".

In the Mahabharata there is a shloka, which was perhaps incorporated into later day classical texts. The meaning and message of the shloka can be summarised as follows: "Give up the individual for the family, the family for the habitat, the habitat for land. But for the Aatman, give up the whole earth". According to Bharat Gupt this shloka offers a Neeti or practical ethics for organising a humane social order that provides as much for the single person as for its larger units. In the above shloka, Eka, Kula, Graama, Janapada, Prithvee and Aatman make up the mental and terrestrial shelves for the inner and outer being of an individual in the cultural context in Indian terms. Bharat Gupt brilliantly observes that the changes that have taken place in these areas can and do index the decline or revival in cultural life.

The same conceptual framework can also be seen in a verse in the Panchatantra. The Panchatantra, was originally a canonical collection of Sanskrit (Hindu) as well as Pali (Buddhist) animal fables in verse and prose. The original Sanskrit text, now long lost, and which some scholars believe was composed in the 3rd century BC, is attributed to Vishnu Sarma. However, based as it is on older oral traditions, it illustrates, for the benefit of princes who may succeed to a throne, the central Hindu principles of Raja niti (political science) through an inter-woven series of colorful animal tales.

Based on the framework of a verse in the Panchatantra, Bharat Gupt"s book has been divided into six parts: Eka (person), Kula (family), Graama (habitat), Janapada (land), Prithvee (earth), and Aatman (self). Eka is the individual, male or female that makes up the unit of cultural consciousness and the fulcrum of creative ability. Bharat Gupt says that if the Eka breaks either due to a hostile social environment or due to lack of inner ethical or moral strength, the social order that depends upon individuals will also collapse. The same disastrous result will follow if the individual is unable to give up one"s selfish interest for the larger unit of kula (family), the kula (family) for Graama (habitat), the Graama (habitat) for Janapaada (regional kingdom/political unit/nation) and the Janapaada (land) for Prithvee (earth) and all material interests of the earth for the Aatman (self). According to Bharat Gupt the mode of this non-selfish action varies with time and place but as a principle of action it is none other than what Socrates called the Supreme Good (ton agathon) and what the Indian philosophers have called DHARMA.

Bharat Gupt has divided his book into six sections based on the Panchatantra framework referred to above. He says that he has chosen the six terms in the Panchatantra as they "not only define the Indian cultural experience more accurately than the Western categories like the "individual", "society", "nation" and the "global order". The ancient Janapaada was neither synonymous with the modern nation state or raashtra, nor with the present day provinces of a nation state. It was a local cultural space with community governance that enforced a moral and financial discipline that mattered much more for a person than the distant court of a de jure Emperor or the de facto Emperor. In the age of nationalism and globalisation in India, it has been virtually replaced for the time being by the nation state and will be further replaced by a newer entity".

Bharat Gupt states with conviction that beneath the present "regional states" and the nation state of India, the Janapaada is still very much alive as a cultural force that has a pervasive influence on the behaviour of the rural India. With telling effect, Bharat Gupt observes that Janapaada as a cultural force offers eventoday the rural Indian a sustenance through festivals, dress and cuisine, colour and designs that are more rewarding than the "week-end" is to metro-Indian. The six categories - Eka, kula, Graama, Janapaada, Prithvee and Aatma-seem more natural not only to understand the Indian identity of the past, but also to develop a healthier framework for personal, social and cosmic organisation for the future. As Bharat Gupt puts it "More than anything else, as indicated in the verse from the Mahabharata, they provide a well tested way (marga/pantha) to progress from the PERSONAL TO THE UNIVERSAL".

In Part I of his book Bharat Gupt deals with Eka: The Uprooted Individual in five chapters. After August 15, 1947, modernity came to be concretised in India as "print culture managed space in which the symbolic and imaginative were replaced by functional reality". A great change of attitude towards the very value of ancient and sacred ritual set in after Independence. In the State manipulated intellectually enervating climate that prevailed during Nehru"s rule, reality and truth came to be defined in Newtonian terms of European Physical Sciences. Rationality was reduced to a sterile scientific positivism which in its turn was hyped as "scientific temperament". Bharat Gupt declares that this state sponsored scientific temperament was privileged as a curative for the earlier "non scientific Hindu vision" of the Universe. Bharat Gupt laments the fact that this fascination for "scientific temperament" did not take into account the post-classical developments in Physics and their profound implications for philosophy and Hindu vedanta. Thus not only were some of the most rigorous and original Hindu traditions of native reasoning disregarded, even the latest views of modern science were blatantly ignored. Nehru was the leader of this anti-Hindu movement.

Thus Bharat Gupt gives a very just estimate of the petrified adolescence of Nehru in these words: "As a result, modernity in India, to this day remains a 19th century construct weighed down by notions that Nehru imbibed in his days in Eaton and Cambridge ossified in his adulthood into a Fabian atheism that he foisted upon the Indian educational system being the First Prime Minister".

In the name of development of a "scientific temperament" and "scientific temper", that the whole of India was de-Hinduised in a systematic manner by government after Independence. Bharat Gupt highlights the following facts to illustrate this point of view:

a. Replacement of the Vedic Model of Purusha as Angin with Angas by the Guttenberg-Newtonian Model of objectivity. All Hindu ritual was conceived as a sacred way of asserting a complete unity of the individual with the Universe. There is a great difference between this age-old Vedic method of performing an act before the Universe which is witnessed by the community, the Gods and the demi-Gods alike and the modern method of doing an act as a private action not witnessed by anybody. The first is ritual (Savana/Anushtaaanalsatra) while the second is personal consumption or "eating" alone (bhukthi). The first was the prescribed (Vaidha)way of life in traditional India and the second a forbidden (Nishidda) way. With the rise of Western individualism, the second has become esteemed and normal while the first is viewed as backward, abnormal and even suspect.

b. Replacement of Orality with Writing Philosophies and beliefs of a society depend on its educational system and the technology of their transmission and dissemination. Right from the dawn of history India used the aural as the main mode of knowledge preservation, although plastic, graphic and symbolic methods were not lacking. Right from the days of Sarasvati-Sindhu civilization, writing was kept subsidiary to oral composition. Now-a-days, there is an irrational and wrong presumption that Indian elevation of orality was caused by ignorance of writing.

As Bharat Gupt puts it "This is again based on the prejudice that graphicity once achieved can never allow orality to dominate. Hence the presumption that the Sarasvati-Sindhu script once lost, the very concept of a script was forgotten till reintroduced into India by the Greek and the Phoenician influences. The truth seems otherwise. ORALITY, which was comprehensive enough to be a combination of speech (vaacika), gesture (angika), mental concentration (saattvika) and symbolic dress (ahaarya) was preferred to other technologies of preservation as a cultural choice. This kind of orality keeps thought, speech and action in a unity for performance in education, arts, rituals and life in general. Whatever is to be done may thus be done by mind, speech and body (manasaa, vaacaa, karmanaa) together".

This paradigm has operated on all aspects of Indian life. Hence the role of writing was made supportive not performative in our culture. This paradigm also patterned India"s educational systems. These systems have been destroyed in a systematic manner by Government and Nehru acting together in post-Independent India.

In my view, after Indian Independence, Jawaharlal Nehru promoted his concept of false nationhood under the label of "secularism". According to this concept, all the people who happen to reside on the soil of India form a nation, whether he follows the culture of this country or not, whether he is loyal to this country or not. It does not matter if the state-aided minorities dismiss the time-honoured culture of this country "Sanatana Dharma" as abominable and as a path of the Devil. Thus in a mischievous way Nehru turned the concept of nationhood into a soulless geographic entity and bade good-bye to the established principles of nationhood founded on emotional unity and all that it implies. According to this Nehru"s notion (a dead substitute for a live Hindu nation), Hindus of India in absolute majority have to lose the inheritance of their traditional homeland. Nehru used his political might to propagate this soulless philosophy and this became the corner stone of all his policies that proved to be disastrous for the Hindus of India.

(To be continued...)


V Sundaram, IAS, Retd.

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