In the context of recent happenings in the Kashmir valley and the debate in blogosphere on nationalism, identity and history, please read these extracts from “People are the Nation“ by Sh M G Vaidya (emphasis added):
…My question: what was newly created on 15August 1947? A new ‘State’ or a new ‘Nation’?…So, then, what is a ‘nation’?
I quote French thinker Ernest Renan: ‘It is not soil any more than the race which makes a nation…A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things which are really only one go to make this 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, the other is actual agreement; the desire to live together, and the will to continue to make the most of the joint inheritance. Man cannot be improvised. The Nation, like the individual, is the fruit of a long past, spent in toil, sacrifice and devotion.’ (Ernest Renan: What Is a Nation, quoted in Modern Political Thought by William Ebenstein.)
In short, a nation is not a system. People are the nation. What sort of people constitute a nation? There are three major requirements. One is their sentiment about the country in which they live, the country that has been the substratum for their struggle and labour. Any piece of land is simple matter, and therefore inert; it becomes a living entity when it becomes a motherland, as adorable and sacred as one’s birth-giving mother. And, therefore, revered Bankimchandra can say ‘Vande Mataram’, which inspired the millions who fought for our Independence. True, it is a notion, but it is a valued notion, required to hold together people of different hues, perceptions, faiths and persuasions.
The second condition is a shared history. Is it a drawback that it is a millennium old? And the third is a shared value system, i.e., culture. The third requirement is the most important of all the three. We adopted a value system that appreciates plurality, tolerates differences of opinion, and values different modes of worship. These are our national values and they are enshrined in our Constitution.
Ram is one such historical personality that embodied these values. I said people are the Nation. Who are the people who fulfill these three conditions? They are Hindus; therefore, this is a Hindu nation. It has nothing to do with whether you are an idol-worshipper or not, whether you believe in the ultimate authority of the Vedas or not, whether you put a mark on your forehead or not. In pre-Independence India, the word Hindu had no notoriety attached to it.
Look at the writings of Vivekananda or Mahatma Gandhi. A nationalist paper, started 125 years ago, was named The Hindu. Hindustan was a common name for our country. It is post-Independence vote-bank politics that has showered abuses on ‘Hindu’. Let us be proud of our nation, our value-system, our name Hindu, whose cultural heritage was instrumental in determining the character of our Constitution.
As many of you would know, Sh M G Vaidya is a leading RSS ideologue and its former spokerperson. Comments, thoughts and counter-points welcome, as always.
P.S. Interestingly, Andrew C McCarthy, writing in a very different context, makes a very similar point:
A nation is a big, bumptious thing. It needn’t agree on everything. It can even bitterly disagree on major things. But to be a nation, a People, it has to agree that it has a shared destiny: that its unique culture, core principles, and independence are worth preserving, protecting, and defending.