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Building of the Indian Nation

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There are four questions that remain foremost in our national agenda: concept of the self; models of nationhood; strategies of empowerment; and the quality of leadership. These questions are important. For the answers to these will determine the shape and future of the Indian nation.
Today, each of these categories has been questioned, attacked, vilified and discredited. There is an all-pervasive atmosphere of cynicism and gloom. The earlier models of nation building that the Indian Republic had consciously embraced: a Self committed to human and communitarian welfare; a secular democratic polity designed to promote the well-being of the whole nation rather than partisan or sectional interests; empowerment strategies anchored to the philosophy of self help and enlightened State support; and finally, a leadership style based on a culture of dedicated service and self effacement– these, alas, are greatly absent today. The Gandhi-Nehruvian vision that lent character to much of the national efforts in the idealistic hours of post independence is everywhere in a state of retreat.

This absence of an ideological vision within the country has been largely hastened by the collapse of cherished ideologies abroad. The fall of the Bolshevist model of Soviet socialism and its millennial appeal have caused widespread ripples throughout the world. This has led to the rise of the so-called unipolar world and the American brand of multinational consumer capitalism. The neo-Darwinian principle: “every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost!” seems to be the shameful spirit of the times.

And yet, it is at our peril that we can relinquish our faith in the nation. While the Indian civilization has  existed for thousands of years, according to some thinkers, the concept of the nation in the European sense has been of relatively recent origin. As far back as 1882, we find John Seeley calling the very idea of the Indian nation, “a vulgar error”. Equally emphatic was John Stratchey in denying that “the man of Punjab, Bengal or Madras would never feel that they belonged to one nation”. And Marqis of Dufferin, at a speech delivered at a St. Andrews dinner at Calcutta on 20 November 1888 called Indian nationality “a fictitious nationality”, “a tessellation of incomplete races, religions, languages, interests and above all two mighty political communities – the Hindus and the Mohammedan”.

On the other hand, there have been many thinkers who believe that this is only a superficial way of looking, which misses the real truth.

As Sri Aurobindo tells us in moving terms, Mother India is not just a piece of land, a geographical entity, it is a soul and a civilizational being. It has had a continuous existence, and despite the many vicissitudes and upheavals, it remains imperishable. A free play of socio-political and cultural experiments, of the life of the spirit no less than that of the matter, has marked the origin, growth and evolution of this unique civilization. The life values it embodies have stood the test of time while other civilizations are dead and gone.

Our concept of nation is intimately connected with our understanding of the self. If we posit man primarily as a mentalized animal with commercial greed as the main driving force behind all his actions, then we will surely deserve a nation of warring individuals. If, on the other hand, man is seen primarily as a spiritual being with a propensity for mutual love and cooperation rather than of conflict and antagonism, then we will have an alternative vision of nationhood. What this spirituality basically means has been admirably summed up by Sri Aurobindo:

“Spirituality is in its essence an awakening to the inner reality of our being, to a spirit, self, soul which is other than our mind, life and body, an inner aspiration to know, to feel, to be that, to enter into contact with the greater Reality beyond and pervading the universe which inhabits also our own being, to be in communion with It and union with It, and a turning, a conversion, a transformation of our whole being as a result of the aspiration, the contact, the union, a growth or waking into a new becoming or new being, a new self, a new nature.” (The Life Divine, 1972, p.857)

What spirituality basically entails then is a faculty that goes beyond dualities and binaries. It is a principle and a consciousness that accommodates, harmonizes, unifies and integrates. It does not seek a facile unification or consensus by ignoring unique particulars, an all-effacing commonality. It recognizes the uniqueness of each constituent but considers the whole as more than the sum total of the parts. The difference between the dictates of reason and its dialects vis-à-vis the logic of the intuition and spiritual is not a difference of degree but a difference in kind. It is a difference between the ape consciousness and human consciousness. It eschews binaries and the logic of exclusiveness. It does not seek rival claims – ecology vs. development; higher learning vs. primary education; individual vs. the collectivity; the State vs. the individual. It considers these oppositions, polarities and dichotomies as false and man made, the result of our narrow myopic thinking rather than intrinsic differences that are insurmountable. It considers all problems, as Sri Aurobindo explains in The Life Divine, essentially as problems of harmony. It is only by standing back and looking at issues in a non-passionate manner, from an elevated consciousness that we can hope to ensure the logic of the possible.

Traditional theories of empowerment have relied on a conflict model of human behavior. They emphasize contestation and confrontation as the best means of group progress. Today, we see that such empowerment balkanizes society and trivializes our efforts. It humiliates those that seek to benefit by such actions. Viewed from this angle, the various actors of our group life, the State, the commune, the family – all appear to belong to hostile camps, their claims seemingly irreconcilable. On the other hand, spirituality sees a common truth, the nation and the individual as common pole of the same existence although they appear to be mutually antagonistic.

True mediation, based on a spiritual principle, comes by the recognition of the otherness of the self or group, their unique past and destiny. It goes beyond even what the critic Patrick J. Hill calls “the conversation of respect” among people. It communicates through Kierkegardian principles that are profoundly moral and spiritual.

Such emancipatory drives will clearly be incomplete without an appropriate leadership style. Today, mostly such leadership is grossly absent, in whichever direction we may look. It is bereft of vision and integrity. It promotes sectional interests, because by doing so, it hopes to garner a constituency of the disgruntled and the dispossessed. It develops vested interests in the perpetuation of ill will and mutual suspicion. Leadership is thus seen divested from its moral and spiritual moorings. It becomes not part of the solution but part of the problem. Not idealism but self-serving cynicism, therefore, appears to be the dominant motto of the modern leader.

This too must radically change. For an enlightened leader is an essential part of the dynamic chain that binds the nation and holds it together. He is the central pivot, the essential prop for all our social action. He must be a pathfinder and show the way rather than be the head of a mob.

Such leadership had always existed in ancient India. It was not the king but the Rishi, not the warrior but the sage, not Janaka but Vasistha who showed the way. During the last 50 years, they have been replaced by the Philistine or the economic man, the man who amasses wealth through unfair means and squanders it with an equally reckless disdain, for the sake of enjoyment, power or fame.

This trend is changing, albeit slowly. All is not lost! Everywhere in India individuals and groups who swear by alternate visions of idealistic life and action are groping for solutions – the conscientious individual and the dissenter who holds on to his truth; the ecologist who resists the march of the steam roller; the human rights activist who defies the tyranny of the State; the citizen who thwarts the terrorists’ blackmail – all in their own imperfect ways are affirming the truth of the nation. Their efforts are commendable. But they do not go far enough.

We will be closer to truth only by basing our actions on a deeper foundation. We can then tap a surer source and drink deep from a perennial source, a deeper fountain ahead. This however requires a more inward turn to our being and action. It calls for the quietening of our mind and freedom from the habitual fret and fever that mark our customary action. Not an easy job!

But we need to try precisely this! For we must remember that all action is not necessarily progress. Only those that have an aim and a goal constitute so. It also means that in our struggle for Swarajya and Samrajya, we must be true to our Swadharama, the law of our own being, and to the spirit and genius of India. For far too long, we have sung the anthem of others. Instead, it is our own music that we must now compose. It is only a spiritualized self that alone can take us into the true depths of our being and produce the desired action.

Humankind has essentially faced two kinds of tragedies: the job pattern of inexplicable suffering and the Promethean pattern of tragic choice. In the Bible’s “Book of Job” in The Old Testament, Job the protagonist asks of God the cause of his unmerited suffering. On the other hand, Prometheus who stole fire from heaven for Man, exercises a tragic choice and pays the price.

We too have a choice: make a pact with the Devil and invite our doom; drink from the poisoned chalice and embrace collective death. Or affirm the nobility of our being and our future for a national and global well-being.

Today, we find ourselves in an embattled State. Our models of governance rely on the vision of the Self and the Nation that are hopelessly discordant.  We must quickly replace this and return to our spiritual moorings. Only then can we rebuild the nation on a firmer foundation.

Dr. Sachidananda Mohanty

( Dr. Sachidananda Mohanty  is a Professor of English Literature at the University of Hyderabad. He has a number of books to his credit including two edited volumes on Sri Aurobindo.)

  • http://Website Mudit Jain

    “Rebuilding the Nation” by S. Mohanty was a very thoughtful & good article. We need many more like these to help India rise from its present state. However, the ideal of our leaders working from a spiritual angle seems unreal and far away at present. But more work in the form of concrete measures such as Resurgent India needs to be undertaken without delay by all who love India. Hopefully, this e- magazine can help promote some action in this direction by like minded people around the world for India.