I read Jawaharlal Nehru's Discovery of India for the first time, when I had just joined college. Since then, I must have re-read it at least half a dozen times, the latest being in October when I was preparing for recording a conversation with Shyam Benegal for Kitab — my weekly show on Rajya Sabha TV. This time, the reading acquired added poignancy given the current environment characterised by vulgar, in fact hostile rejection of intellectual vocation; and political scene populated by "leaders" who proudly display their ignorance of Indian history and culture while aggressively professing great love and reverence for "Bharat Mata". Naturally, some of this environment reflected in the recording also, when nonchalantly admitting their ignorance of the text, some of the audience condemned it nonetheless. After all, “why should anybody bother to read such a thick and obviously dated book?”
The leaders of India's Struggle For Freedom envision a nation confident enough to look at itself critically, not suffering from self-pity of present or delusions of the past, committed to a just and inclusive growth-pattern. Reuters
The question was blunt enough and the answer can be similarly straight: "Going through this book will help you in knowing that leaders of our freedom movement were struggling not merely for political freedom, but for regaining the soul of India and for creating a just and compassionate society."
The idea of India — a nation self-confident enough to look at itself critically, not suffering from self-pity of present or delusions of the past, committed to a just and inclusive growth-pattern, conscious of its historical role — was not Nehru’s alone. It was shared by all forward looking leaders and thinkers of his generation — their disagreements (sometimes quite acrimonious) notwithstanding. In fact, People like BR Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh were critical of the Congress party, precisely because they thought that it was not doing enough to realise the shared vision of an egalitarian and just society.
The slogan desiring the 'Jai' or victory of Bharat Mata was popularised during the freedom struggle. Nehru recalls that he used to ask his audiences the "meaning of the expression Bharat Mata", and proceeds to decode the slogan. He writes, "...what counted ultimately were the people of India, people like them and me. who were spread all over this vast land. Bharat Mata — Mother India was essentially these millions of people, and victory to her meant victory to these people” (page 53).
There can be no “people” without shared memories, dreams and aspirations. And, “A nation like an individual has many personalities, many approaches to life. If there is sufficiently strong bond between these different personalities, it is well; otherwise those personalities split up and lead to disintegration and trouble” (page 562). To Nehru, "discovery" of India meant discovering the matrix of "strong bond" holding the personalty of India together and to identify the potential threats as well. It was a search of destiny, as given its human, material and cultural resources "India can only be in the frontline in the comity of nations; it is her destiny".
Written in Ahmednagar Fort prison during April-September 1944, the "discovery" begins with reflections on national and international political situation of the time. In these, reflections are interwoven with the memories of his wife Kamla Nehru who after a prolonged illness, passed away in February, 1936. Nehru’s reflections on this admittedly less than perfect relationship reach to the fundamental "problem of human relationship" which is "often ignored in our fierce arguments about politics and economics", he reminds his reader, "it was not so ignored in the old and wise civilisations of India and China" (page 34).
This book is an attempt to trace the evolution, nature and problems of the "wise civilisation of India". Starting from reflections on contemporary political scene, the book turns into a poignant re-telling of the evolution of Indian society, its culture and economy. Nehru notes the remarkable continuity of Indian culture and its material context from Indus Valley Civilisation to his own time, and also the "break" in its natural growth caused by the British colonialism. Delving into the heritage of literature, art, science and philosophy, he underlines the crucial fact that one can not imagine Indian civilisation without diversity and dialogue amongst various viewpoints. He underlines the importance of scientific temper and method for understanding the mysteries of nature, but is clear about its limitations as well — science can hardly tell us anything about the purpose of life, hence there must be moral basis and ethical dimension to the life of individual, community and nation. To him, one of Gandhiji’s greatest contributions was his "stress on right means" (page 16), ie, the ethical idea of the purpose of life.
Quite contrary to popular ignorance, Nehru did not dismiss religion summarily. He was, of course motivated by the desire to see a "culture less based on religion, and more on morality and ethics" (page 577). As a matter of fact, by making ethics more important than dogma and belief as a principle of social organisation, Nehru is speaking here in a quintessentially Indian way. He did not fancy himself as a crusader against religion, because, “...religion had supplied some deeply felt inner human needs of human nature" (page 13). As for himself, he felt attracted "towards the advaita philosophy of Vedanta” and felt at home "in the old Indian or Greek pagan and pantheistic atmosphere, but minus the conception of God or Gods that was attached to it" (page 16).
In Nehru’s own words, this book is an attempt to "travel into the past and peep into the future". He borrows TS Elliot’s words to describe his venture as an attempt to "balance myself on that point of intersection of the timeless and time" (page 627). This book, so directly concerned with the events of that time has a timeless quality, because such a balance on the "point of intersection of the timeless and time" is always needed in the lives of individuals and nations. More so, these days, when we seem to be living under the illusions regarding past and confusions regarding future, coupled with a disastrous lack of a higher ethical vision.
(All page numbers are Discovery of India, Penguin edition, New Delhi, 2010)
Published Date: Oct 29, 2016 17:24 PM | Updated Date: Oct 29, 2016 17:24 PM
Tags :#Bharat Mata#Bharat Mata Ki Jai#Discovery Of India#Fundamentalism#Indus Valley Civilisation#InMyOpinion#Jawaharlal Nehru#Kamla Nehru#Kitab#Purushottam Agrawal#Rajya Sabha TV#Right Wing
We celebrated 15 August in the same way at my school, every year — an obligatory march past, the ceremonial flag hoisting followed by a cultural programme. It was not a holiday for us as attendance was compulsory. Every year, standing out on the school field, the same thought used to run through my head: Why do we pick this wailing banshee (a fellow student) to sing all the songs?
After making sure I collected the snack boxes, I used to head home only to sit in front of the telly to watch JP Dutta’s high on jingoism Border and later, when Lagaan released, the Aamir Khan-starrer proved to be a better entertainer. I moved on to Mani Ratnam’s Roja when I developed a teenage crush on Arvind Swamy.
The point is, Independence Day was spent hardly dwelling on the history of the country’s freedom struggle and the people’s movement it brought about. Blame it on the sense of entitlement that my generation is usually identified with.
This year, the Narendra Modi government has issued a diktat (let’s call it 'instruction') to schools across the country for the celebration of freedom fortnight, 'Azadi 70 — Yaad Karo Kurbani', from 9-23 August. The circular from the Ministry of Human Resource Development stated that activities should include mass singing of the national anthem, greeting card painting for the jawans posted on the border, slogan and essay writing and talks on on the 'Freedom Struggle of 1857'. The irony of a government issuing orders to celebrate freedom can’t be missed.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with school children on Independence Day in 2015. Reuters
A government circular to encourage students to remember India’s freedom struggle and leaders who made it possible and to instill feelings of patriotism and nationalism can’t be such a bad idea. Then again the self-styled nationalists of our country have gotten into the habit of categorising the citizens into ‘nationals’ and ‘anti-nationals’. Given the existing political climate, a person runs the risk of being labelled anti-national, if he/she chooses to not participate in these freedom fortnight celebrations.
The exponents of nationalism in India have a bizarre way of defining this feeling. It is perfectly logical for these nationalist vigilantes to play the national anthem before a movie to force feelings of patriotism even though all movie-goers care about is Great Grand Masti. An Bollywood star can get away with making statements like, “When I used to walk out of that ring, it used to be actually like a raped woman walking out,” but an actor is forced to face sedition charges for making an honest confession that he is alarmed by the rising intolerance in the country, with his wife even suggesting leaving the country.
Last year, a man was lynched by a mob for allegedly possessing beef and a month ago, four Dalit youths were brutally assaulted by self-styled gau rakshaks. The entire horrifying episode was recorded and shared. With a state in turmoil and vote bank at stake, Prime Minister Narendra Modi finally spoke against the cow vigilantes during his town hall address on 6 August, “It makes me angry that people are running shops in the name of cow protection. Most of them are anti-social elements hiding behind the mask of cow protection.” But he didn’t assure any harsh punishment or stringent law to curb the power of the cow vigilantes; “state governments to prepare a dossier on such people” was his only assurance.
In a country where violence is unapologetically meted out over an animal, terms like 'ghar wapsi' become political agenda, students are termed anti-nationals for not saying ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai,’ a mother-daughter pair is gang raped, but the so called torch-bearers of law and order choose to engage in political rhetoric, the government’s diktat to celebrate Independence Day with freedom fortnight and tiranga yatra simply comes across as coercion and an attempt to perpetuate the divisive politics that has become more pronounced lately. Will a tiranga yatra manage to restore faith of the many Kashmiri youths, who feel so alienated by the government, that they choose to make a martyr of a Mujahideen commander? If students are getting a list of dos and don'ts for 15 August, they will probably soon be marked ‘anti-national’ instead of ‘failed’ in their report cards.
A demonstrator waves the national flag during a protest. Reuters
Eminent professors and authors including Noam Chomsky, Orhan Pamuk, Akeel Bilgrami had issued a very strong statement when protests erupted in Jawaharlal Nehru University after the arrest of JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar for allegedly raising anti-India slogans during a student rally. It stated:
We can only conclude that this arrest is further evidence of the present government’s deeply authoritarian nature, intolerant of any dissent, setting aside India’s longstanding commitment to toleration and plurality of opinion, replicating the dark times of an oppressive colonial period and briefly of the Emergency in the mid-1970s.
The cheerleaders of nationalism in India seemed to have confused the term with freedom of expression. Any form of dissent against authority or a voice that is not in line with the political ideology is being equated with being anti-national. This is, however, not a new trend as it saw manifestations under different regimes in India.
Noted historian Romila Thapar explained nationalism as:
Nationalism has a lot to do with understanding your society and finding your identity as member if that society. History is essential to a national ideology, but it has to be a shared history. It cannot be a history based on one identity, but has to be all inclusive.
She went on to say that "today efforts are being made to obfuscate the existing definition of nationalism. The nationalism draws on reliable history and not just on anyone's fantasy about the past.”
In a country, where instances of racism, sexism, homophobia and violence against minority communities are unabashedly flaunted, the call for a fortnight of Independence celebration sounds hollow and oddly has a Trumpuesque “let’s make our country great again” ring to it.
Published Date: Aug 15, 2016 07:54 AM | Updated Date: Aug 15, 2016 07:54 AM
Tags :#Anti-National#August 15#Bharat Mata Ki Jai#Freedom Struggle#Independence Day#Indian Freedom Struggle#Nationalism#Outrage Special#Patriotism#PM Narendra Modi#Tiranga Yatra