Indian nationalist streams and Pakistani liberals

How was Hindu nationalism different from an Indian nationalism and what sort of a relationship had the two forged?

The Pakistani establishment has tried its utmost to project India as our inveterate enemy. Our self-perception is constituted around the notion of us being anybody but Indians. The official Pakistani narrative has always been imperiously anti-Indian.

Any Indian Hindu is taken as inherently incapable of wishing Pakistanis well. His projected characteristics of malice, untrustworthiness and disdain for Muslims are deeply ingrained in the minds of the Pakistanis.

One of my teachers stopped consuming onions after our crop failed and Pakistan had to import onions from India. The feeling of enmity had spilled over from humans to vegetables. Despite the persistent effort by our state to underscore the otherness of India vis a vis Pakistan, three factors have cast their shadow on the political self of Pakistani liberals. These are Gandhi’s non-violence, Nehru’s inclusive social democracy, which he tried assiduously to nurture in India, and Abul Kalam Azad’s adherence to an Islamic tradition which he entwined with some measure of success with modern politics.

One can argue that these were the ideological pillars that had spurred the anti-colonial movement and bolstered the edifice of Indian nationalism reflected in the policy initiatives of the Nehruvian era. These intellectual impulses found their way into various sections of Pakistani liberals.

One of the major contributors to that connection with Indian social democratic experiment, undertaken by Nehru, was the books taught at Pakistani colleges and universities. Tripathi, Bhandari, Mazumdar, Tara Chand, VD Mahajan, Muhammad Mujeeb and Prof Habib had authored the books used at the institutions of higher learning in Pakistan.

The works of these scholars had a visible inclination to underscore Indian nationalism as professed by the Congress leadership. The books did influence the Pakistani mind of 1950s and ’60s. Also, popular writers entertained an ambivalence of sorts towards the partition. Faiz, Manto and Intezar Hussain had umpteen reservations towards that event that resonated in their works.

Ironically, for a couple of decades, no credible Pakistani author could be identified (until the books of Ishtiaq Hussain Qureshi and Sheikh Muhammad Ikram were published and circulated with some consistency). Unlike Pakistani politicians, who hardly wrote anything worth quoting, Jawaharlal Nehru’s Discovery of India and his autobiography were widely read in Pakistan as was India Wins Freedom by Abul Kalam Azad.

My experiment with Truth by MK Gandhi had profound influence on not only Indians but also Pakistani readers. The politics of anti-imperialism too cobbled a bond between Pakistani Left/Liberals and Indian politicians with a similar political ideology. The Pakistani Liberals/Leftists’ romance with India continued until the Bhartiya Janata Party assumed prominence in Indian politics and gradually became the frontline political party.

What I am arguing here is that the emergence of the BJP and Modi and Amit Shah at the helm is the failure of Gandhi-Nehru-Azad trio’s bid to construct an Indian nationalism in lieu of Hindu nationalism. In the end we have seen the Hindu nationalism establish its unequivocal sway over any other ideology, including Indian nationalism which accepted only a tamed existence of religion as a political force.

Gandhi’s non-violence, Nehru’s inclusive version of social democracy and Abul Kalam Azad’s adherence to Islamic tradition are three things about India admired by Pakistani liberals.

To put the matter in perspective, the difference between the Hindu nationalism and Indian nationalism needs to be spelt out.

Nirad C Chaudhuri in his book Autobiography of an Unknown Indian points to four distinct aspects in the attitude of Hindu middle classes towards Muslims. (a) a retrospective hostility towards Muslims for their one-time domination of Hindus, (b) on the plane of thought the Hindus were utterly indifferent to the Muslims as an element in contemporary society, (c) members of Hindu middle/upper-middle classes had friendliness for the Muslims of their own economic and social status and (d) feeling of mixed concern and contempt for the Muslim peasant, whom they saw in the same light as “low-caste Hindu tenants, or in other words, as our livestock”.

In some of the books as well as his talks, Khushwant Singh has said almost the same thing about the communal situation. Bimal Prasad is yet another scholar who sees a wide gulf between the Hindus and the Muslims with no point of socio-cultural confluence between the two.

In 19th century Bengali literature the Muslims were always referred to under the contemptuous epithet of Yavana. The historical romances of Bankim Chandra Chatterji (1838-1894) and Romesh Chundra Dutt (1848-1909) glorified Hindu rebellion against the Muslims and showed the Muslims in a correspondingly poor light.

Nirad C Chaudhuri termed Chatterji, the creator of Vande Matram and the author of the polemical book, Ananda Math, as positively and fiercely anti-Muslim. He goes on to say, “Our attitude to the Muslims whom we saw around us was also influenced, if not by the positive utterances, at all events by the silences, of our nineteenth-century writers.” Thus, of Muslims as the contemporaries Hindus were totally oblivious; and when they were not forgetful, they were indifferent. The crux of the Hindu nationalism was the exclusion of the Muslim which also became the basis of communal antagonism in the 19th century.

British rule was a factor which discouraged “the cultivation of Islamic culture and sympathies by the Hindus.” To this was added the far stronger influence of the discovery of the ancient Indian civilisation. The very first outcome of this renaissance was “a progressive de-Islamisation of the Hindus of India and a corresponding revival of Hindu traditions.”

Throughout the 19th century, the culture of the Hindus was taken back to its ancient Sanskritic foundations. The only non-Hindu influences which it recognised and assimilated were the European. All the thinkers and reformers from Ram Mohun Roy to Rabindra Nath Tagore based their lifework on the formula of a synthesis of Hindu and European currents. Islamic trends and traditions did not touch even the arc of their consciousness.

Offshoots of this Hindu nationalist sensibility permeated into all regions. In the Punjab, Arya Samaj was the typical instrument of propounding Hindu puritanism. Bal Ganga Dhar Tilak in Maharashtra and Hindu Mahasabha in Northern India were the ardent advocates of Hindu nationalism.

How was Hindu nationalism different from Indian nationalism and what sort of a relationship they had forged and how come Indian nationalism was defeated by Hindu nationalists is what I will cover in the next column.

(To be continued)

Indian nationalist streams and Pakistani liberals