Will a Hindu Rashtra add to India's Sovereign Power?
“You are entitled to your own opinion,
but you are not entitled to your own facts.”
— Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
RSS claims it is building a more authentic nation, a Hindu Rashtra, based on the essence of Hinduism, which it calls Hindutva.
The one that we have, created by the imagination of Nehru, Sardar Patel, and Dr B R Ambedkar, and our 300 million forefathers, embodied in the Constitution that came into force in 1950, after years of debate in a Constituent Assembly, is apparently not good enough for the Sangh Parivar. The Sangh offers no explanation why.
No one has clue as to what the Sangh Parivar’s imagined Hindu Rashtra will look like. How it will be constituted? What will citizenship mean under such a nation? Will our fundamental rights endure? How will we constitute and embody sovereign power? Of all such issues we know nothing.
The Sangh, in its priestly arrogance, has not deemed it fit to even issue a white paper on the subject; to share with citizens the essential features of this Rashtra, that it proposes to impose on them. There is no information, no consultation, no discussion, no debate, on any aspect of the proposed Hindu Rashtra. And yet the Sangh expects every citizen to buy-in into its idea of a new nation.
Compare this with the years it took to discuss, debate, and promulgate our existing Constitution, and you get a fair idea of the intellectual arrogance and presumptuousness of the Parivar, its breathtaking assumption of a monopoly on wisdom, its casual presumption that it alone represents Hinduism and Hindu thought, and is therefore singularly blessed with the divine right to impose its will on the hapless populace; without ascertaining their views; without the necessity of their consent.
Yet, what is the Sangh’s track record in reflecting the social, cultural, and political reform movements in the country, over which is asserts its intellectual, cultural, and political hegemony?
It has never been at the forefront of any reform movement in Hinduism.
On the contrary it has opposed every reform, be it abolition of Sati, prohibition of child marriages, widow remarriage, abolition of caste, etc. It even opposed mass education for people because it might upset the institution of caste in society, preservation of which, it equated with preservation of Hinduism, and Hindu culture. It opposed equal rights for women. It still cannot abide independent women and seeks to bury them in families under a male guardian. It admits no women in the Sangh proper, keeping them in silos of their own.
It sat out the independence movement. It is only now trying to convince us that it was an active participant. That too only by pushing onto us its flawed icons refurbished as ideal freedom fighters; or by simply stealing icons from the Congress, and others. For years it didn’t recognize the country’s Constitution, national flag, and other symbols. But suddenly it is the custodian of our very nationhood. By what right?
Merely winning a few elections, that give you the right to run the executive of the country for 5 years at a time, doesn’t mean you can upturn the very basis of our nationhood, or use the Constitution as an exegetical text whose hermeneutics you can alter at will.
Let us face facts. Hindu Rashtra is a negation of some of the key aspects of the Constitution, in letter and Spirit. It is moot if it can be reconstituted and reconfigured as a text for a Hindu Rashtra to form the basis of our new nationhood, without a new Constituent Assembly. If the Sangh is serious about Hindu Rashtra, it needs to be doubly serious about the existing Constitution. Consensus and consent are a prerequisite for any change.
My point in this essay is not so much to question the concept of Hindu Rashtra. It is rather to examine if such a concept of our nationhood can deliver a sovereign, to whom every individual in the land can offer full, sincere, and unreserved allegiance.
At the end of the day, nationhood, nationalism, and every other notion of a state, must deliver a sustainable and robust way for all individuals in the land to be governed, in a fair and equitable manner. If this minimum is unachievable, then we must go back to the drawing board and reconfigure the basis of our nationhood.
What is the absolute minimum that makes for an effective sovereign power in any country, democracy or not?
The first requirement is a shared imagination of who we are, how we are to be governed, and how we envisage our future as a community.
This imagination is in the mind of every individual, and every individual alone.
This is not an imagination that resides in any priesthood, community leadership, cultural organization, or any another sub-national body. Its locus is in the mind of an individual. No other entity has such a mind.
Nobody can offer such allegiance on her behalf: not her family, not her community, not her political party. Both, her imagination and her allegiance, are in her sovereign domain, and only she can share both with her sovereign. Nothing comes between her and her sovereign because, with her allegiance she also offers to fight, defend, and die for her sovereign if need be. This not an idle oath to be treated cavalierly.
This imagination of every individual in the community must be shared, either explicitly, or through commonly accepted and shared ideas, symbols, myths, culture, history, language, geography, religion etc., with all other individuals in the polity. Not all of these have to be common for everybody. But what is essential is that there be such a shared imagination; of past, present and future.
The Sovereign, howsoever constituted, reflects this shared imagination, and must be seen executing it, always. It is because the Sovereign tacitly agrees to execute the shared imagination of all the individuals in the community he leads, that we give him or her our total allegiance, and the power to govern the community, in such a way as to preserve it, and to secure its future - that everybody imagines and accepts as common destiny.
There can be no effective sovereign for any community without a shared imagination, and without the full allegiance of every individual to a sovereign, who undertakes to lead such a community.
This then is the minimum requirement for constituting an effective sovereign. So let us examine if the Sangh’s imagination of its Hindu Rashtra can be the basis of such a shared imagination of every individual that delivers an effective sovereign power in such a polity.
Is the idea of a Hindu Rashtra shared by all individual citizens of India, in every nook and corner of the polity? Flat out, the answer is a resounding no; not only from the 20% minorities, but also from many Hindus who do not want any religious, or castiest driven agenda governing their lives. It is suspect if only because few know what the idea of Hindu Rashtra is in the first place.
I would venture to say if a referendum on Hindu Rashtra were held in the country today, the motion would be lost.
Which is perhaps why some in the Sangh want to smuggle in a Hindu Rashtra through stealth.
Which is why their concept is promoted by prachaar, in informal gatherings of the kindred, rather than in a formal process of consultation, public debate, and discussion, and by trying to evolve a honest consensus around it, as befits a democracy.
I am not saying a Hindu Rashtra is undesirable per se. What I am saying is that a Hindu Rashtra without a formal, visible, and a fully joyous consensus, is not only undesirable, but may also lead to more problems down the road.
Such a stealthy way of reconstituting the basis of our nationhood, is not only an insult to our democracy, but also a deep violation of the social contract embodied in the existing Constitution. The Sangh’s ill-advised venture will lead to disaster down the road if we ignore full consultation, consent, and buy-in on this critical issue.
The second key requirement of an effective sovereign power is universal buy-in. Which is to say, every individual must, of her own free will, concede in her mind, that the shared imagination that the sovereign embodies is authentic, that it has her consent and support, and that she agrees that the sovereign represents her will to execute such a shared imagination.
This process happens whether the sovereign is a king, or a constitution. Whatever the institutional arrangement, this validation of the imagination, and affirmation of allegiance needs to happen. There can be only one sovereign. There is always a sovereign. And it is suicidal to have a sovereign who does not command the primary allegiance of all individuals, whether they agree with such a sovereign on all policy or not.
Sovereign power comes from consent of the individual, and is offered as concrete allegiance, and includes with it, the obligation to fight, defend, and die for the sovereign.
So, the matter of consent is not trivial.
It is because we ignored the importance of such consent, that we saw a Nadir Shah, or Ahmed Shah Durrani, march his invading armies, from Kabul to Delhi, through the plains of Punjab, while peasants tilled their fields unconcerned, instead of tearing into the invading army with whatever was at hand. After all, it was the same peasantry that went on to rule Kabul later. If you ignore buy-in and consent, you do not get allegiance. It is as simple as that.
The Sangh’s lingering priesthood must not ignore the lessons of history, that its caste blinkers are prone to overlook. Individual buy-in and consent are vital if you want full and spontaneous allegiance of citizens. And so, we must make the most strenuous of efforts to secure buy-in, consent, and full allegiance.
Sovereignty and sovereign power are not a destination. It is not something you fix once for all. Instead, it is a dynamic process that needs care, nourishment, and reaffirmation every day, day after day.
At all points sovereign power must be legitimate. It must have the essential consent and trust of all individuals. The sovereign’s institutions of state must always be seen as upholding the nation’s consensus and carrying it forward faithfully.
The power of governance derives from consent and trust, not from the power to coerce. The latter is reserved for dealing with those who violate the law of the land. You cannot use the power-to-coerce over those who offer you full allegiance, while differing with you on policy. If you do, the power to coerce itself erodes, and your sovereign power begins to shrink.
While sovereign power is not static, it cannot be allowed to shrink. It must always expand its influence, [not coercive power], by winning evermore willing allegiance. Wise sovereigns expand their power by doing things that citizens by themselves cannot do; building infrastructure, helping new cities come up, providing public services that incorporate a lot of public good, such as education or public health.
Sovereign power is dangerous when it is uncertain, disrupts public trust, or otherwise shrinks.
The paradox of sovereign power is that it is tremendously resilient in the face of natural disasters, economic calamities, epidemics, even invasions. Because when you have full allegiance, individuals add to the power of the sovereign in a massive, coherent, and collective effort to overcome the calamity. The key is trust.
If you have trust, Sovereign power expands in the face of a calamity. When you have low trust, it shrinks, as individuals look to their own safety first. Understanding the role of trust, and maintaining it all times, is key to exercising sovereign power.
All state failure is caused by shrinking sovereign power.
If the British won the Battle of Plassey, it wasn’t that India lacked the men and material to overwhelm the 200,000 men that East India Company could muster. Nor were Indians or Hindus lacking in masculinity as Savarkar thought, and the Sangh so assumes.
Indians lost to East India Company because there was no sovereign power in Delhi, to whom the citizenry offered full allegiance, and to whom they were pledged to fight for and defend. It was the lack of sovereign power in Delhi, that prevented a full mobilization, leaving local chieftains and Nawabs to handle the invaders in Bengal. It was lack of sovereign power, and allegiance, that invited treason at Plassey. When you do not cherish allegiance in peace, you get perfidy in war.
Shrinking sovereign power is at the heart of national debilitation and decay. Any society that forgets this fact, risks disintegration. Don’t blame individuals for it. It is the failure to organize society equitably that defeats you, not individual failure.
So, what shrinks sovereign power? A gradual wearing down of the consensus that governs the polity. A barely perceptible shrinking of space dominated by a shared imagination. Remember this is not visible. It all happens in the minds of citizens. As the consensus shrinks, so does mutual trust of the citizenry in each other on one hand, and in the sovereign on the other. This lack of trust requires frequent state intervention that stretches its limited resources.
By the time citizens begin to reserve or withhold consent, or withdraw full allegiance quietly, the state is well on its way to perdition before any real breakdown becomes visible. That is why the wise insist that sovereign power must always expand its influence, and the moment expansion stops, the elders must worry.
For the Sangh parivar elders, perhaps it is time to worry. Every step that the Sangh parivar has initiated, from good intentions or otherwise, has shrunk India’s sovereign power so far. I need not elaborate these steps. The Sangh knows them well enough. The shared imagination, the national consensus that governs in our minds, is shrinking already.
Instead, I shall reiterate why Hindu society failed to tackle invaders, an issue that the Sangh thinks it can address by radicalizing Hindus.
As I said before, India’s caste system was driven by social exclusion, not buy-in. This is the crucial difference between, say the armies of Islam, where individuals were equally sovereign, and hence had solidarity, compared to the fractured solidarity in Hindu society, that was unable to transcend caste divisions even when the polity was in peril. It was this lack of the feeling of solidarity in their minds that made peasants watch invading armies march with across the plains of Punjab unchallenged, unhindered.
The tale I narrated about Nadir Shah or Ahmed Durrani is not an exaggeration. It gets worse. On retreat, after the Third Battle of Panipat, Ahmed Shah took more than a hundred thousand slaves. He wasn’t alone. Many invaders before him did likewise. These slaves were marched, hands tied, through the plains of Punjab. The retreating soldiers were in no mood to fight, eager to get home with their plunder, and fearful of losing all. Yet in all of history, there is scarcely any mention, of the peasants on the plains, mounting any attempt to rescue the slaves, if not challenge the army. Why this apathy towards fellow beings, many of whom were young girls?
Buy-in, consent, full allegiance; all three are very important on a day-to-day basis. When you treat people fairly, not occasionally, but every day, as matter of habit, when you build bonds that endure, when you allow equality to build solidarity every day of the week, every week of the month; then, and only then, you get people to fight for others as they fight for their own.
No invading army like that of Ahmed Shah would have ever returned home safely after looting and plunder of locals. Alexander the Great did not escape the wrath of locals when he retreated. His army, the part returning home by land, was repeatedly attacked, harassed, and looted by the same avenging locals who it had defeated earlier.
The invasions were not the shame; the real shame is that the retreating army was allowed to return in safety, marching over hundreds of miles of terrain dominated by our peasantry. And for this lack of solidarity, that our priesthood must take full responsibility one day. Perhaps the right and opportune time is now; especially if you do want a Hindu Rashtra. Start with Bhima-Koregaon. Show solidarity. Demonstrate acceptance as equals. Make a credible statement that you are willing to change. Empty rhetoric cuts no ice.
History cannot begin in 2014. For modern India, it begins in 1947. The Republic was sanctified and established on 26th January 1950. You did not get a clean slate in 2014. You cannot disown and claim a valid inheritance at the same time. The era of such self-serving sophistry is over.
The wise respect what they get and build around it without pulling down anything vital. The wise never fix what is working. The more you respect the institutions of the state, the more respect you get; the more the sovereign power expands, the more you get done.
If you denigrate what exists, what you build will likewise be denigrated, when you are not in power.
The present road leads to the possibility of violent oscillations in the basic configuration of the state, with every change in government, that will shatter the consensus built over the last 70 or 80 years.
As consensus weakens, trust will diminish, the future will turn hazy & what crashed many an empire in this land before, will repeat again. Not exactly, but substantially.
Nations are built layer by layer, one on top of the other. They are never built by tearing down what exists. That’s been our tradition. Be it about Gods. Or be it about cities. It is also the tradition followed in every successful polity.
You are entitled to your own opinion. You are not entitled to your own facts. The latter must always be shared. A nation lives in the minds of its citizens. Vision, not Vistas, keep it alive and flourishing.