On 18 August 2013, NDTV celebrated India’s 66th Independence anniversary by broadcasting a panel discussion on “Nationalism”. The panellists were liberal democrat BJP leader Jaswant Singh, political psychologist Dr Ashis Nandy, Bollywood lyricist and scriptwriter Javed Akhtar and moderate conservative political commentator Swapan Dasgupta.
Jaswant Singh began the dialogue by confessing that independent India adopted a European concept of nation which had never existed in India: “I personally think that nationalism is an adopted word. It really got born as a concept in Westphalia, before that there were states …. which is why until the East India Company came on the scene, there is not a single map of India that you can find. There is no map.” No Hindu, Muslim, or Buddhist ever made a map of “India” because no one ever thought in terms of a nation called “India”.
Swapan Dasgupta affirmed his view: “I think the extent to which European influences have played a role in shaping India have subsequently been underestimated by a lot of people. In the first flush of freedom we thought that really we’ve achieved it ourselves. But the extent to which, what we are today, as being defined by the European influence, is tremendous. Just to take two or three minor examples: the notion of trust, the notion of Government by trust. Government should exist on behalf of, for all the people, is something that is a direct follow from the 1688 Glorious Revolution in Britain. That concept did not exist in India before this. Similarly, the term nationality was very much a European import, particularly, at the turn of the century.”
Shashi Tharoor, the Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram, concurs with the BJP intellectual. In an op-ed piece for NDTV (12 March 2014) he writes, “The idea of India as a modern nation based on a certain conception of human rights and citizenship, vigorously backed by due process of law and equality before law, is a relatively recent and strikingly modern idea.”
Roots of India’s freedom
Where did this idea of a free India come from? What made India a free nation?
The idea came from the Bible: a collection of 66 books, which began to be complied 3,400 years ago, in order to transform 12 tribes of Hebrew slaves coming out of Egypt into one free and great nation in the land of Canaan or Palestine. The Bible, not the East India Company, brought to India the idea of a free nation. William Carey (1761–1834) is the father of modern missions and modern Bengali. Before he knew that he would be coming to India as a missionary, he supported his manifesto of missions with the argument that the Bible is the seed that would produce civilized and free governments in the non-Christian world, as it had done in Europe. Responding to the objections that lawless communities would kill missionaries who taught foreign religions, Carey wrote:
“It was no objection to the [Christian] apostles and their successors, who went among the barbarous Germans and Gauls, and still more barbarous Britons! They did not wait for the ancient inhabitants of these countries, to be civilized, before they could be Christianized, but went simply with the doctrine of the cross; and Tertullian could boast that ‘those parts of Britain which were proof against the Roman armies, were conquered by the gospel of Christ’ – a cordial reception of the gospel produced those happy effects which the longest intercourse with Europeans, without it could never accomplish. . .”
Englishmen, who did not take the Bible seriously, disagreed with Carey. Yet, the morality of his mission triumphed. A year before Carey’s death, in 1833, Hindutva’s most hated colonial icon, Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay, won the moral argument in the British Parliament that Britain must rule India in such a way as to prepare Indians to govern themselves as a free nation.
Famous constitutional lawyer, the late Mr Nani Palkhivala, summarized Macaulay’s work in his book, We, The People. “If India is a free republic today, that is also a consequence of the British rule. Indians fought, and fought valiantly, to get rid of foreign domination. But it is probable that, up to now, India would not have shaken off the domination of Indian rulers but for the notions of freedom imbibed from the days of the British rule. Macaulay foresaw this development. He said, ‘By good government we may educate our subjects [so] that they may in some future age demand European institutions [of freedom]. Whenever such as day comes, it will be the proudest day in English history.’”
Here is the context of Macaulay’s moral argument for India’s freedom that won the day in the British Parliament:
“Are we to keep the people of India, ignorant in order that we may keep them submissive? Or do we think that we can give them knowledge without awakening ambition? Or do we mean to awaken ambition and to provide it with no legitimate vent? Who will answer any of these questions in the affirmative? Yet one of them must be answered in the affirmative, by every person who maintains that we ought permanently to exclude the natives from high office. I have no fears. The path of duty is plain before us: and it is also the path of wisdom, of national prosperity, of national honour.”
This was no empty rhetoric. India’s freedom was a mission because Jesus, the Messiah, came to this earth to break every yoke of oppression and to set the captives free (Isaiah 58:6). Quoting the prophet, Isaiah, the Lord Jesus said, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed (Luke 4:18) In 1838, Macaulay’s brother-in-law, Charles Trevelyan, spelled out the missionaries’ practical, educational strategy to set India free. In his book On the Education of the People of India Trevelyan wrote:
“The existing connexion between two such distant countries as England and India, cannot, in the nature of things, be permanent: no effort of policy can prevent the natives from ultimately regaining their independence. But there are two ways of arriving at this point. One of these is through the medium of revolution; the other through that of reform . . . [Revolution] must end in the complete alienation of mind and separation of interests between ourselves and the natives; the other [reform] in a permanent alliance, founded on mutual benefit and good-will. … The natives will have independence, after first learning how to make use of it; and we shall exchange profitable subjects for still more profitable allies . . . trained by us to happiness and independence, and endowed with our learning and political institutions, India will remain the proudest monument of British benevolence . . . .”
Myths of India’s freedom
For six decades our people have been nurtured on myths such as ‘India became a free nation because of Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent agitations such as the Quit India movement’. The reality is that Gandhi’s contemporaries such as Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar saw the Quit India movement as hypocrisy. One of Gandhi’s real agendas was to sideline his rivals such as Subhas Chandra Bose. Dr Ambedkar saw this disunity and alluded to it. However, this is how Arun Shourie attacks Ambedkar for stating the obvious:
“As Congress leaders rotted in jails, Ambedkar was broadcasting over the radio on behalf of the British Government. . . Instead of harping on ‘Quit India’, Ambedkar declared, the emphasis should have been on ‘a New India’. The demand that Independence be declared as a condition for support of the War effort was not understandable, he said. It could have been justified only if there had been ‘any sudden conspiracy to rob India of her right to freedom. But there is no evidence of any such conspiracy,’ he declared. ‘If India’s Independence is in the balance,’ he said, ‘it is because of disunity among Indians. The enemies of India’s Independence are Indians and no others,’ said Ambedkar from his perch in the Council of the British Viceroy. (Worshipping False Gods. pp. 102–3)
Ambedkar clearly saw what Shourie wants us to overlook: by 1942 the British had fully committed themselves to India’s independence. The delay was due to disunity among Indians. It was not just the distrust between Hindus and Muslims. It was a conflict between feudal princes and democrats that erupted during the Second Round Table Conference. It was the deep divide between the caste Hindus and the “depressed” classes. Gandhi’s biggest headache was disunity within the Congress – the rift between radicals and conservatives as between Bose and himself.
Facts of India’s “self-determination”
By 14 August 1941, American president Franklin Roosevelt had already persuaded British prime minister Winston Churchill to give up the pagan/Roman concept of Empire in favour of the biblical idea of Nation. Their agreement, known as the Atlantic Charter, affirmed that at the end of the Second World War victors would not colonize defeated nations, but rather give to all the colonies the right to self-determination.
This principle of national “self-determination” was first hammered out in Germany in 1555, at the end of the conflicts between Roman Catholics and the “protestant” Lutherans. During the terrible Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) this doctrine of self-determination was refined and articulated by theologians such as John Amos Comenius, better known as “the father of modern education”. It was this biblical concept of “nation” that resulted in the Peace of Westphalia referred to by Jaswant Singh in the NDTV discussion. That peace became possible because, in spite of their many differences, Calvinists, Lutherans, and the Catholics accepted the Bible’s authority.
Through the Atlantic Charter, Roosevelt universalized the Bible’s idea of nation, paving the way for the creation of the United Nations (1945), rather than the United Empires. Terms such as “national self-determination” have no meaning unless nations have a “self” – existence as real entities before God, capable of making choices that ought to be respected.
Subhash Chandra Bose thought that teaming up with Adolf Hitler was the easiest way to get rid of the British. Mahatma Gandhi thought that since America had joined the war, Hitler could not win. In any case, a violent conflict would shed unnecessary blood because the British had already committed themselves to give the right to self-determination to every colony. In order to get freedom it was enough for the Indian masses to come out on streets and make their desire known to the British rulers. Mahatma Gandhi needed the Quit India movement in order to retain his control over the Congress. He had to appear more radical than the radicals like Bose. Gandhi’s antics did not impress Dr Ambedkar as lofty nationalism because they had little to do with India’s freedom.
Published in the April 2014 issue of the Forward Press magazine
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