I could see the other evening that you have an instinctive grasp of nationalism as a
concept. I wonder whether this grasp has anything to do with the faith to which you
belong. I say this because of the communities and religious groups that have operated on a
world scale, it is the Christian who contributed most to the evolution of nationalism and
practiced it as a political philosophy.
In contrast, most Jews, no matter where they live, candidly show their
first sympathy for the idea of Israel. Until 1924, there was the khalifa who was,
at lease symbolically, the spiritual as well as the temporal head of all Sunni Islam. The
communist is, Per se, an internationalist owing his first loyalty to the workers of
the world rather than to the government of his country.
As I told you, suraaj is our ultimate goal. The question is how
to get there. There is no short cut and the only way to achieve the objective is with the
help of nationalism. Unless our country becomes nationalist, it is going to be well nigh
impossible to become modern, leave alone a suraaj. And what is nationalism?
To put it simply, a nation is the extension of a joint family. It is
the macro or the enlargement of what is micro or small as represented by a family.
Most people usually have a common tradition and a shared memory which
is often called a common consciousness. Usually they speak the same language and worship
similar Gods. But not necessarily so. When someone in the family marries a lady from
another part of the country or the worlrl, she may speak a deifferent language and profess
a different faith. But she can still be very much an integral part of the family. The
ultimate test of her membership is her loyalty to the family.
In exchange for this loyalty and love, the individual experiences a
sense of belonging and a sense of security. The family roof offers shelter and protection.
The family's goodwill gives the individual an identity, a legitimacy and a respectability.
To belong to a nation, therefore, is to save oneself from the loneliness of an orphan or
the diffidence which is often associated with an illegitimate child.
Property, whether land or building, gives the joint family a physical
base. It provides a material bond to the members and the promise of a refuge in times of
adversity. Territory is similarly the nation's property.Without it, the nation disperses
just as the joint family disintegrates when it does not have its land or buildings. The
Jewish nation is a classic example. After its diaspora or dispersal from Palestine, over
20 centuries ago, the Jewish people had no territory. The people dispersed to settle as
far away as India, Iran, Russia, Germany, Poland and theUSA.
The ill treatment of the Jews has a long history. Anti-semitism is a
common expression. Except in India, they were discriminated against everywhere. In Europe,
they could neither own land nor get state employment. The climax of their tragedy was the
extermination of six million Jews by Adolf Hitler before and during World War II. What
acolossal price for a people to pay for not possessing territory! This should be a useful
reminder to those Indians who do not recognise the sanctity of our Motherland and who
object to the prayer 'Vande Mataram'.
After a long struggle, the Jews were able to acquire a part of
Palestine as their territory. In 1948, the State of Israel was established with a small
population including those who had been immigrating since1882. It was indeed an old
national dream at last come true. The Jews behaved like a nation possessed. With energy
and determination, they have built up a country of now 47 lakh (4.7 million) Jews who
inspire awe in the hearts of 13 crore (130 million) Arabs across West Asia! Such is the
magic of a motherland.
What is else practical value of nationalism? The answer is simple. No society has
successfully graduated from the medieval, agrarian stage of history to the modern
industrial era without the energy of nationalism. The communist countries were the
exceptions which tried to take a historic leap into the modern age without the help of a
nationalist spirit. In fact, they deprecated nationalism and claimed they were internationalist.
Their call was for the workers of the world to unite.
The Soviet Union led this experiment which, as is well known, ended in
disaster. The failure was similar in the satellite countries of Europe. Be it Poland,
Hungary, Czechoslovakia or Romania, all have abandoned communism. Observe also the
contrast between North Korea and South Korea. Nationalism must not be confused with either
liberalization or democracy. The regime in Seoul, South Korea, was autocratic until quite
recently. The Chinese leadership after Mao Dze-dong was wise enough to see the point and
to abandon its internationalist posture. Today China is a picture of Han (their
Contrast the Russian disaster with the Japanese miracle. An
islandcountry with few natural resources and see how it is aspiring to become the
wealthiest nation on earth. And remember Japan suffered a severe reverse in World War II.
The atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 is still green in world memory. As a
people, the Japanese are extraordinarily single minded in their purpose; to the extent of
being obsessed by their objective. But that alone would not have taken them so far. What
has made the overwhelming difference is their nationalism carried, as it were, to
perfection in unity.
The whole nation has one supreme goal: to improve technology, make
better and better products and to export more and more of them. What is unique is how the
whole nation puts its collective shoulder to the wheel of this supreme goal. As if every
Japanese, man, woman and child, whether he/she is in industry, farming, government or
municipality, is preoccupied with the supreme goal. This explains the nature of their
Just contrast the Indian stagnation with the Japanese miracle. In1945, India was better
placed than the war ravaged land of the rising sun. Yet our country kept fumbling:
going forward in some areas, receding backwards in others and marking time in many others.
If there be one reason for this stagnation, it is the neglect of nationalism for all the
decades since Independence.
The collective memory or the consciousness of virtually all Indians is
about the same. Whether it is described as Hindu, Bharatiya or Indian, it amounts to the
same. The ancestors of most Indians were at some stage or another Hindu. True, the Parsees
came from Iran and have maintained their separate identity. But over the thousand years
that they have been here, they have imbibed more than enough of the Indian ethos to be
politically speaking one with the rest. The position of the Jews may be comparable.
True, a small percentage of the Muslims who came to India may or may
not share the same consciousness. But even two or three centuries are not a short time.
And who can claim to be of pure foreign blood? In any case, many of those who had strong
nonIndian leanings migrated toPakistan. There was no Islam even in most of what is now
Pakistan until the 13th century. Even Sind and Baluchistan had none till after the coming
of Mohammed bin Qasim in the eighth century.
The essence of cultural nationalism was captured by Sir Syed Ahmad
Khan, the founder of the Aligarh Muslim University in a speech he delivered in 1884
(British Paramountcy and Indian Renaissance edited by Dr. R.C. Majumdar page 309, taken
from Eminent Mussalmans (Natesan) page 32, Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan) "Do you not inhabit
the same land? he asked. Remember that the words Hindu and Mahomedan are only meant for
religious distinction - otherwise all persons, whether Hindu or Mahomedan, and even
Christians who reside in this country, are all in this particular respect belonging to one
and the same nation". In another speech he referred to the Hindus and Muslims as
forming one nation. To a Punjabi Hindu audience he said that every inhabitant of Hindustan
is a Hindu, and added "I am therefore very sorry that you do not regard me as a
Hindu". (India Divided page99 by Rajendra Prasad).