The Idea of India At A Crossroad

The Idea of India, as conceived just after the country's independence, is facing an existential challenge, but that may not be a bad thing. It is being challenged because it was an act of imagination, something that ought to be clarified from time to time. Republican Nationhood should be no stranger to challenges - the American nationhood was forged not just through its Founding ideas, but also through the travails of the Civil War - but rather be a dynamic concept which is refreshed from time to time, and such a moment is now.

At this point, though, the politics of secularism is a baggage. By this, I argue not for abandonment of secularism, but placing it in the proper order after the commitment to Republicanism and Rule of Law. The politics of secularism reverses this order. The objections to the current regime is expressed because 'it is not secular' and being 'secular' becomes a goal in itself. This makes 'Secular' a sacred idea, and debate about the idea of India not a debate, but a shouting match.

In fact, one should have no issues if someone wants to challenge the idea of India. There were not one, but many ideas of India, from the very founding of the Republic. We settled, eventually, not one specific idea, but a compromise, combining many elements and sacrificing some elements here and there. The Constitution that came out of that compromise reflected this compromise, by allowing plurality and by not allowing any one idea to become an ideology, by constructing a Republican nation quite uniquely. But the very principle of plurality meant that this is not be frozen in time, and challenges, even existential ones, ought to be expected and looked forward to.

So, even as the Republic faces a perfect storm of Crony Capitalism, Religious Chauvinism and Political Opportunism on an unprecedented scale, this is just business as usual. The world of today is not the world of 1947, and the constitution as written then needs to be interrogated with contemporary perspectives and demands. Jefferson maintained that American Constitution ought to be rewritten every twenty years, as the expectations of every generation may be quite different. This suggestion might not have been taken up, but we do have situations from time to time, when what a previous generation took for granted becomes open for questioning, and new ideas emerge. 

I have no sympathies with those pushing for a Hindu India, but I have to acknowledge that they are winning the conversation. In the battle of sacredness, the idea of India as conceived in 1947 is always at a disadvantage when compared with the mythical, Aryan India. In a broader sense, Liberal politics actually have no answer when faced off with politics of identity, except for claiming that all collective identities are false, a line of reasoning which, in turn, undermine their own claims to collective identity (as Indians). 

Indeed, one knows why Republican Nationhood gets so little airtime compared with 'secularism'. Secularism is a commitment to nothing, a byword, as the Hindu Nationalists claim with some justification, for opportunism. Republican Nationhood is a commitment to many things, including equal opportunity and equal voice, and the Liberal politicians of India can not claim that they stand for those things. 

What happens next? Depends on where one stands politically, but where I stand, I would believe that pluralism has come to stay and however hard they may try, it will be hard for Hindu nationalists to set the clock back. Indeed, if they can set the clock back, then my assumption that pluralism, in a country like India, is natural, is completely wrong. And, therefore, I believe the challenge that India faces today will test its founding ideas and refresh them, which is a good thing. I keep my faith in Nietzsche: That, which does not destroy me, makes me stronger.



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