There has been a lot of discussion and debate ever since the incidents of 9 February 2016 on the issues of nation and nationalism.
While the RSS-BJP-ABVP ran a massive campaign painting JNU as a centre of “anti-national activities”, the absurdity of the RSS - which was not part of the anti-colonial struggle of the Indian people against British rule - talking about nation and nationalism was obvious.
Nathuram Godse was an RSS man, and V D Savarkar — the Hindu Mahasabha leader and Sangh ideologue who had repeatedly apologised to the British to get himself released from the Cellular Jail in Port Blari — was also an accused in the murder of Gandhi, and was let of only on technical grounds.
The RSS’s majoritarian, communal-casteist-patriarchal, ruling class idea of the nation
The RSS's ideal of India is enshrined in the notorious motto “Hindi-Hindu-Hindusthan”. It refuses to accept the equality of all the different nationalities that constitute and comprise India, and which fought together in the freedom struggle against colonial rule. The RSS seeks to impose a monolithic, communal idea of the nation, which is evident, for instance, in the writings of M.S. Golwalkar, the Hindutva ideologue and the second Sarsanghchalak of the RSS. He wrote in his work We or Our Nationhood Defined:
“The foreign races (non-Hindu people) in Hindusthan must either adopt Hindu culture and language, must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment - not even citizen's rights.”
In other words, the minorities in this country would have no place in the RSS's concept of India. The Hindutva forces’ notion of India is exclusionary not just to non-Hindus, but even to those within the “Hindu fold”, as the vast majority of them do not enjoy the same socio-economic rights or cultural freedom. By avoiding any move that will further the cause of the annihilation of caste, the Sangh Parivar seeks to ensure the continuing support of the reactionary, casteist sections of society. The untouchability still prevalent in Gujarat and the criminal silence of the Sangh Parivar in this regard expose their agenda of sustaining Brahminical supremacy. It is instructive here to note Babasaheb Ambedkar's stark observation that as a caste-ridden society, India is still a nation in the making: "How can people divided into several thousands of castes be a nation? In India there are castes… The castes are anti-national."
The students of JNU, however, have always opposed the Sangh Parivar's bigoted ideology and held up the equality of all people, belonging to all religions, communities, ethnicities, languages and nationalities. They have stood up to oppose the RSS ideology which treats women as second class citizens and as “being fit only for domestic chores”. Precisely because of our determined opposition to the chauvinistic project of the RSS, the Hindutva forces have made JNU a target.
Not only is the RSS's idea of India utterly communal, casteist and patriarchal, in essence and practice the India that it promotes is that of the Adanis and the Ambanis and other big corporates. The workers, peasants, petty produces, Dalits, Adivasis and women belonging to all communities lie outside this ruling class idea of India. The economic policies of the RSS-led Modi government benefit only the ruling classes led by the big corporates, who ultimately form a tiny section of our population. To paraphrase what Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto, the working people of India, consisting of the workers, peasants, Dalits, Adivasis, women and other toiling sections, must constitute themselves the nation (though not in the bourgeois sense of the word) in order to resolutely oppose and defeat the RSS and its communal-fascist vision of what India ought to be.
Secular, Anti-Imperialist Nationalism
While the RSS and its affiliates like the BJP and the ABVP have been trying to turn India into an intolerant Hindu Rashtra, the left and democratic movement in India, including the SFI, has stood resolutely in opposition to this, holding aloft the flag of secular, anti-imperialist nationalism. The very first line of the SFI Programme (the key document that outlines the vision of the organisation) says: “Students’ Federation of India inherits with pride the anti-imperialist, patriotic, secular, democratic, and progressive legacy of the Indian people’s struggle for national liberation from the British colonial rule.”
Uphold the Equality of Nationalities in India!
India is a multi-national country, and there are two streams of national consciousness in our country - one is the pan-Indian national consciousness and the other is the national consciousness associated with the various nationalities or linguistic-cultural groups that comprise India. The negation of either of these two (the multi-national character of the country on the one hand and the unity of the country on the other) to the exclusion of the other would be a mistake. The common struggle of the people of India against social oppression and economic exploitation will be facilitated by the preservation of Indian unity on the basis of the firm equality and real autonomy of the nationalities that constitute India. The growth of secessionist forces, on the other hand, help the ruling classes to disorganise and disrupt the people's struggle to build an egalitarian country free of all oppression and exploitation.
On the Question of National Self-Determination
What about secessionist demands in some parts of the country, some might ask. To argue that under all circumstances the secessionist position should be supported as opposed to the position that favours union is essentially to argue that all multi-national countries are illegitimate, which is clearly an illogical stance to adopt. The overarching question here is whether such demands will serve the interests of the working people or not. Thus in the 1840s Marx supported the Polish and Hungarian national movements while opposing those of the Czechs and the South Slavs. Marx's support to the former was guided not just by the fact that they represented oppressed nationalities. It was also rooted in the fact that the Polish and Hungarian movements were directed against the absolutism of the Russian and Austrian Empires, for political democracy which was of vital interest to the European working class at that time. He opposed the Czech and South Slav movements because this "was at that time equivalent to indirect support to Tsarism, the most dangerous enemy of the revolutionary movement in Europe".
Post-World War II history is replete with instances where secessionist demands in various countries have been used to shore up imperialism. Imperialist support to Katangan secessionism in Congo led to the coup against Patrice Lumumba (the first democratically elected Prime Minister of the country) and his subsequent assassination, resulting in a massive setback to Congo’s efforts to embark on an autonomous path of development. The best example from more recent times is the dismantling of Yugoslavia. The secessionist tendencies within Yugoslavia emerged as the direct result of the “market-friendly” policies that were pursued in the country, and its actual break-up was directly encouraged by imperialist powers which played one group in Yugoslavia against the other. The declaration of “independence” by Kosovo in 2008 was the final act in the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Kosovo is today an imperialist protectorate, housing one of the largest overseas military bases (Camp Bondsteel) that the US has built since the Vietnam War.
Will the secession of any part of India strengthen the movement of the working people, or will it play into the hands of imperialism? Take the case of Kashmir for instance. Its secession can only mean either of two scenarios — i.e. accession into Pakistan or setting up an independent state. That merger into Pakistan is not going to deliver the Kashmiri people is too obvious to require any argument. The other option of independent Kashmir is equally if not more disastrous. Such a landlocked and not particularly resource-rich entity is bound to become a client of imperialism in case of secession. It will provide US imperialism a base to unleash its machinations against all neighbouring countries. In today's circumstances, secession of any part from India will not be into some socialist haven but into the ambit of imperialism. This has grave implications for the working people of the seceding nationality. They will go out of the pale of the pan-Indian movement, thereby weakening both themselves and the general movement of the Indian workers and toilers. The different nationalities of our country cannot liberate themselves in isolation from each other.
As for Kashmir, there should be demilitarisation, and the people in the valley should be free from the oppressive security structures and controls. The draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) should be repealed. The excesses and human rights violations by the security forces have to be investigated and the guilty brought to book. Urgent steps have to be taken to revive the economy of Jammu and Kashmir. The genuine grievances of the people of Jammu should be addressed, and the dignified return of Kashmiri Pandits to the valley must be taken up as part of the restoration of peace and normalcy. There should be internal dialogue, which should proceed on the basis that maximum autonomy should be given. The Indo-Pakistan dialogue also should advance, and more confidence building measures can be taken to further encourage people to people movement and contacts across the LoC as the dialogue moves forward.
Government policies and the uneven development that is inherent to capitalism have nurtured and increased inequalities between different states. The inexorable law of uneven capitalist development is bound to assert even more viciously in circumstances marked by the retreat of the State from economic activities. This will lead to growing demands for justice among different nationalities. Their genuine demands must be championed while steering clear of any form of nationality chauvinism and secessionist trends, in the true spirit of Indian unity and proletarian internationalism. Fraternal/sororal bonds of class and national solidarity must be forged among different nationalities and linguistic States.
The emancipation of people belonging to all nationalities in India and the success of their struggle against all traces of national inequality rests with the unity and united struggle of the working people of India. The SFI, whose 23 comrades have been martyred at the hands of separatist elements in the country during the 1980s and the 1990s, stands resolutely in defence of this cause.
(From 'Resistance', the newsletter brought out by SFI JNU Unit in March 2016)