What Nehruvian secularism and its missionaries have given us: an identity crisis in certain circles, with fatal political consequences.
Online public discourse has been marked by a curious sentiment this week: posts have sprung up, claiming that ‘India is my religion’. Participants include well-heeled professionals, and their posts are often accompanied by syrupy quotes. A popular one is ‘Ishwar Allah tero naam’, a line from Mahatma Gandhi’s favorite bhajan.
Some of it was triggered by the Republic Day celebrations; and some, as anticipatory defense for Sharjeel Imam – a Shaheen Bagh grandee, arrested for his incendiary hate-speeche.
Whatever the reasons, the online messaging remains simple and straightforward: discard religious identities, rise above the differences they cause, and clasp ‘India’ to your chest as the only acceptable faith.
Prima facie, the dictum, ‘India is my religion’, appears eminently worthy of both acceptance and encomiums. After all, isn’t the world painfully cleaved along deep fault-lines of faith? Hasn’t communal harmony remained a chimera for simply far too long? Don’t we deserve better?
Answer: yes, yes, and yes. There’s only one problem though: India is not a religion, but a country.
Now, a four-year-old child could have told them that. Yet, in this meaningless effort to place religious identities beneath national ones, to believe that the two are different, or to suggest a prioritisation where none is structurally possible, we are gifted a fabulous insight into both the acute hollowness of Nehruvian secularism, and the debilitating impact of identity politics.
To start with, if we look back in terms of identities, the past century has been a chronicle of trying to explain to our citizenry, and the world, the difference between a civilisational-state and a Westphalian nation-state.
The first term is a loose, Asiatic phenomenon beggaring precise definition, wherein multiple identities coexist within the same mind, while multiple ways of life coexist within the same society.
The second is a rigid, European template born of the Catholic-Protestant wars, which defines a citizen in precise terms of religious denomination, language and geography.
From the nation-state concept, we get an ‘idea of India’. From the civilization-state, we get an ‘India of ideas’. The former tends towards homogeneity; the latter accommodates diversity.
That difference caused a major ideological problem for India’s liberal elite, when Pakistan was created exclusively on the basis of religion: how then do you reconcile diversity with the creation of a nation state, while excluding religion from the matrix?
Nehru’s solution was simple: supplant religious identities with a homogenised, anodyne national identity. Hence the tricolour instead of the bhagwa jhanda, patriotic songs instead of shlokas, and Ashokan emblems equally acceptable to all. In effect, Nehru was trying to reconcile a nation-state within a civilisational-state, and it actually might have worked, but for the minority appeasement and vote banking which flourished in its wake.
Instead, the project failed, catastrophically, leaving our generation with the truly thankless task of having to dismantle a gargantuan ecosystem created to fashion an aspic nation-state.
Perhaps Nehru, being an avowed atheist, and shocked by the horrors of partition, never understood that religious and national identities are not mutually exclusive. Or, perhaps, he refused to accept it, because of the intellectual primacy he placed upon his liberal, anglicised upbringing and outlook.
Meaning, that alternative viewpoints not authored by dead white men, merited little scrutiny. At best, they could be accommodated on the edges, by noblesse oblige, like Shyama Prasad Mukherjee was, in his cabinet.
Seven painful decades on, Nehru’s intellectual and ideological descendants continue to make the same mistake. They still cannot fathom an elemental truth melding god and country:
You are Christian because you are Indian
You are Indian because you are Christian
Replace ‘Christian’ with any other faith, and the truth remains the same.
But those who say ‘India is my religion’ cannot, and will not, understand this. They are too far lost down the insulating rabbit hole of urbanised agnosticism, to be touched by reason; incomplete identities have become a way of life for them. It’s cool to be godless.
Now, having lost their own traditional moorings (city life does that to one), the age-old practices of an age-old civilisation then start to seem like alien, antiquated nonsense to their refined, post-truth minds. If anything, the greater the cultural divide, the stronger the tendency to view the opium of the masses as something fearsome.
Why else would a perfectly sane person indulge in the dangerously-trite naiveté, of hoping to replace religious identity with a national one? Indeed, can these two identities even be mutually exclusive? How can one exist in our hearts without the other?
The problem, then, is not a lack of patriotism, but a lack of faith. The problem is that such sorts have let their religious identities lapse – either by spiritual laziness, or liberal guilt, or both.
Which means, believe it or not, that while these souls actually love their India, they can’t relate fully to her because they’ve lost their traditional roots. Call it ‘deracination’ – if you can stand that term. There is a culture gap, and hence these culture wars.
They are proud to call themselves ‘Indian’, but are chary of being called Hindus. As a result, a confusing, unhealthy mixture of superficiality of thought, urbanity-driven agnosticism (sometimes, militant, ideology-driven atheism), and an utter cultural inability to relate to the practices of an average, vernacular-speaking Joe, forces an inadvertent alienation.
In a way, it is this alienation which induces empathy with a Muslim sense of alienation. Both are culturally equidistant from the main, albeit for different reasons. Consequently, it is also this alienation which provides grist to the Liberal mill, buys into that majoritarian narrative, condones the ‘Azadi’ cries, provides justifications to hate speech, and creates a culture of perpetual dissent; Jaitley’s famous ‘compulsive contrarians’!
Naturally, since anyone would shrink away from that which they are unable to relate to.
This is an important derivation, because now, we have a clear explanation of why the Left Liberal brigade stands with the Azadi brigade, to shout both ‘Azadi’ and ‘Jai Hind’ in the same breath.
This is what Nehruvian secularism and its missionaries have brought us to: an identity crisis in certain circles, with fatal political consequences; a crisis, which on occasion, reduces politicians to the abject defense of even writing books titled ‘Why I am a Hindu’.
Such a stance, already under erosion, will continue to be whittled away by its own inherent contradictions. For example: How, we wonder, will those who say ‘India is my religion’, react to billionaire-liberal George Soros’s recent declaration of war against nationalism? Will they defend their ‘religion’ of India, or will they discard it in their haste to support Soros, because he just might be the ultimate counter to that which they hate? Or, will they engineer a postmodernist via media to keep two legs in two boats? Only time will tell.
Unfortunately, there is very little that can be done by way of discourse, argument or explanation in the interim. For, how on earth do you explain to an urbane adult, that a national identity is not an alternative to a religious identity; that they are simply two sides of the same coin?
How do you explain that having multiple identities is not a symptom of schizophrenia, but a perfectly natural form of social existence? How do you get someone to not hate that which they alienate? Sadly, you can’t, since minds have been made up too rigidly.
Explanatory efforts would only be viewed as deeply patronising, or worse, deeply condescending, and return counterproductive results. It would be futile to try.
Consequently, the logical solution is to continue with the hard work of quietly, gently, and methodically dismantling that Nehruvian ecosystem, and by continuously showing its hypocrisies and contradictions up for what they are.
That way, at least the next generation would grow up with a better understanding of what a civilisational state is, in a much healthier, more inclusive atmosphere of far less alienation.
And so, we close with a wicked sting in the tail, to those who say ‘India is my religion’: Do they appreciate the delicious irony of employing a Shri Rama bhajan, to promote a post-faith order?
Sab ko sanmati de bhagawan!