The Idea of Bharat

via Dr. Vijaya Rajiva published on January 25, 2011

Historian Ramachandra Guha has provided a  survey of the Indian scene which is held together by his positing of the phrase ‘the idea of India’. It is a bumpy ride, probably like the motor car drives that he undertook from various points in India. To change the metaphor, his article in Outlookindia is a glad bag of disconnected thoughts, which he throws in and tries to bind together with that magic phrase ‘the idea of India’ (‘A Nation Consumed by the State’, Outlookindia,Jan.31,2011).

Maoism, Communism, Insurgency, Nationalism are all thrown in higglepiggledgy and for good measure he throws in Corruption, the State of the Economy and so on. The burden of his song is that India has survived as a nation state despite dark predictions by former colonial masters, notably Winston Churchill, that India as a nation would not survive very long.

Yet it has. The question why it has so survived, is not answered by Ram Guha and the reason is not far to seek. Psychologically and spiritually he belongs to the generation of Indians who cannot admit the reality of the Idea of Bharat that historically held together the peoples of this vast subcontinent for several millennia. His arguments are weakened by his tacit assumption that India was never united, was never a nation in the European sense of the word (an argument to this day advanced by some Western scholars). And yet clearly it held together, long before the Indian Constitution of post independence India, and which makes Indians readily accept the lofty goals of the Indian Constitution.

That uniting bond, that vision, is the Idea of Bharat. It is older than the Idea of India. It incorporates the ideals of the Indian Consitution but is not a lifeless set of secular goals ; it spells out the long cherished and long nurtured living ideals of Hinduism. Hence, the word ‘rashtra’ which seems to frighten Ram Guha, is of ancient Vedic origin. In the Rig Veda, the Goddess Sarasvati speaks of the Rashtra. Since Sarasvati is associated in the Hindu mind with the plenitude of rivers and prosperity and as well with wisdom as an existential reality, the Hindu rashtra is what binds the Indian people and has bound them together since time immemorial. The word ‘rashtra’ cannot be easily translated into the idiom of Western usage. It is a word that the Hindu mind which has not been colonized can understand.

The attachment that Hindus feel for the subcontinent is the attachment to the sacred earth, to the Punya Bhumi, which also incorporates a wide diversity.

The unstated but ever present ideal for Hindus is the ideal of Ayodhya where peace and prosperity reigns for all peoples who inhabit the subcontinent.

Hence, the Idea of Bharat has a clear content, which unfortunately Ram Guha’s Idea of India does not have. His catalogue of disturbances within the country are mentioned only to have the reader’s attention soothed by stray references to secularism and democracy.
There is nothing new that the reader gleans from the historian’s writing about the sorry state that the present regime in New Delhi has brought the country to.

But he cannot even momentarily entertain the Idea of Bharat because his worldview has been conditioned (it seems permanently damaged) by a colonial view of Indian history.
Consequently, he cannot entertain the idea of Hindu nationalism. For him it is a bugaboo and he hides this discomfort by the quick seizing of a set of  fashionable truisms : the Sangh Parivar organizations are the diabolical enemy of his idea of India. Effectively, this is a repeat of the sort of lunatic references that people like Digvijay Singh throws around.

At best, he repeats, although in disguised language, the arguments of writers such as Christophe Jaffrelot, who write from the august halls of Western establishments and who have made the phrase ‘Hindu fundamentalism’ fashionable in elitist circles There is also, ofcourse, a class bias in Guha’s article. The Sangh Parivar addresses the concerns of the majority of Hindus, not only the fashionable elite of the upper classes. This majority upholds the Idea of Bharat in various ways. The beneficiaries of this steadfastness are the elite; but they never cease to bad mouth it.

The systematic demonisation of Hindu nationalism by dark references to the Sangh Parivar (no one quite knows what the Parivar is guilty of, except that it does not conform to neo colonial views of what India should be) may only be a blind spot in Ram Guha’s mental make up. One does not want to attribute ulterior motives in his writing. On the other hand, his reluctance to study Hindu nationalism as an integral part of the Indian ethos, makes it easy for enemies of the country to fish in troubled waters.

And, in the end, his historical writing suffers from a systemic drawback. It is like telling the story of the Shakespearean play Hamlet without the prince of Denmark in it. Or, like the telling of the story of the Ramayana without Rama in it.

The Idea of India is incomplete without the Idea of Bharat and as Ram Guha presents it even this truncated version  is not particularly an authentic account of the realities of the Indian subcontinent, either its past or its present configurations.

(The writer is a Political Philosopher who taught at a Canadian university)

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