MG Vaidya Courtesy Indian Express
Sometimes, something good comes out of a seemingly ugly or evil event. The JNU episode, though unfortunate, has given rise to a debate on what constitutes a nation. The confusion is due to the present-day formation of a one state — one nation reality. But the two concepts need not be congruent. One state can include many nations, so also one nation can consist of many states.
For example, the state of the USSR, till a quarter of a century ago, included many nations, like Latvia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, etc. The state of Yugoslavia, too, had comprised of more than one nation. Our India, that is Bharat, that is Hindustan, was one nation from time immemorial but contained many states. At the time of the invasion of Alexander in the 4th century BCE, there was one Nanda empire but, besides that, there were many republics. Lord Buddha was born in a republic. In the 7th century CE, King Harshavardhan ruled over the territory to the north of the river Narmada; in the south, the king was one Pulakeshin. Germany had been a nation for many years. But from 1945 to 1990, there were two states.
The distinction between the two concepts — state and nation — should always be remembered. A state is a political association that is run by and through laws. And for laws to be effective, the state needs physical force. To quote political thinker Ernest Barker, “The state… is a legal association: a ‘juridically organised nation, or a nation organised for action under legal rules.’ It exists for law: it exists in and through law: we may even say that it exists as law, if by law we mean not only a sum of legal rules, but also, and in addition, an operative system of effective rules which are actually valid and regularly enforced. The essence of the state is a living body of effective rules; and in that sense the state is law.”
All those who follow the legal framework become its citizens. A nation means the people. The people are the nation. There are three main conditions for people to constitute a nation: One, their sentiment for the land in which they live. Those who believe that the land is their motherland constitute a nation. The Jews were driven out of their motherland and for 1,800 years, they lived in different countries. But they never forgot that Palestine is their motherland. The second condition is a common history. After all, what is history except certain events that happened in the past. Some of them may lead to a feeling of pride and others may cause shame. Those who have the same feeling of joy or grief about the events in their history constitute a nation. The third and most important condition is adherence to a certain value system, that is, culture. In all nations of the world, these three conditions prevail. It is in our hapless country alone that there is controversy about these conditions.
Who are the people who take pride in uttering a slogan like “Bharat Mata ki Jai” or “Vande Mataram”? Who are the people that stretch their history to Rama, Krishna, Chanakya, Vikramaditya, Rana Pratap and Shivaji? And who are the people that share a certain value system? One major principle of this value system is the appreciation of plurality of faiths and religions. These people are known, world over, by the name of Hindu. Therefore, this is a Hindu nation. It has nothing to do with whether you are a theist or atheist, whether you are an idol-worshipper or against idol-worship, whether you believe in the authority of the Vedas or some other sacred book. This was understood by the framers of our Constitution. Therefore, Explanation II under Article 25 states that “reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jaina or Buddhist religion”. Why should this not be applicable to those who profess Christianity or Islam? B.R. Ambedkar moved the Hindu Code Bill in Parliament, and it is applicable to Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists. Why not to Christians and Muslims?
For 17 long years, I was a lecturer in a Christian college run by a Protestant church. I never concealed my affiliation to the RSS. Once, in 1957, a very senior Christian professor, some two decades older than me, asked me: “Can I become a member of the RSS?” I said, “Yes, you can.” He said, “What shall I have to do?” I replied, “You need not give up your church, nor abandon faith in the Bible and can have the same reverence for Jesus Christ.” I was watching the signs of surprise on his face. However, I said, “But, sir, you have to accept the validity of other faiths and religions also.” He immediately remarked, “I cannot accept this. If I accept this, I will not be able to propagate my religion.” I said, “Sir, then you cannot become a member of the RSS.”
The whole confusion in our understanding of “Hindu” is due to our consideration of Hinduism as a religion. It is not a religion. As S. Radhakrishnan said, “It is a commonwealth of many religions.” “Hindu” is a dharma. And in English, there is no equivalent of the word dharma. It will require another article to explain the correct concept and connotation of dharma. I will end by quoting Ernest Renan, a French philosopher, whose book as translated in English is titled What is a Nation. I quote, “The soil provides the substratum, the field for struggle and labour, man provides the soul. Man is everything in the formation of this sacred thing that we call a people. Nothing that is material suffices here. A nation is a spiritual principle, the result of the intricate workings of history; a spiritual family and not a group determined by the configuration of the earth.”
He adds, “Two things, which are really one, go to make up this soul or spiritual principle. One of these things lies in the past, the other in the present. The one is the possession in common of a rich heritage of memories; and the other is actual agreement, the desire to live together, and the will to make the most of the joint inheritance. Man, gentlemen, cannot be improvised. The nation, like the individual, is the fruit of a long past spent in toil, sacrifice and devotion…To share the glories of the past, and a common will in the present; to have done great deeds together, and to desire to do more — these are the essential conditions of a people’s being. Love is in proportion to
the sacrifice one has made and the evils one has borne.”
To become a nation, Renan emphasises that you don’t need to have one language or one religion, or a community of economic interests. You only need the spirit, the sentiment, the value system. Can one abuse this connotation of “nation” as narrow or dangerous?