I had the privilege over the last one month of attending a couple of public discourses with many known intellectuals debating on whether India should reinvent its idea in totality or merely rediscover itself or go for restructuring. While the ruling Right Wing has been campaigning for a New India, as coined by Prime Minister Modi recently, and bashing Nehruvian idea of India, Rahul Gandhi recently organized a Save Constitution Rally and called for rediscovering the Nehruvian idea of India of unity in diversity.
The 'Reinvent, Recreate' Lobby:
Apologists of the reinvention, decidedly from the right-wing, have an aggressive stance these days with a favourable government at the Centre and in a large number of states as well.
One major argument of the Reinvent Lobby is that Indian Civilization is 7000 years old, Republic is 70 years old and there is a new government at the centre with a decidedly new outlook. This outlook believes that the great ancient Indian culture "has been shackled for 250 years now, 180 years by colonialism and 70 years by agents of colonialism." Hence, recreating is reclaiming. Indian economy which was 27% of the global economy in the 18th century became 3% in 1950s.
The Macaulay's education policy of 1835 imposed English education and permanently infused inferiority among common Indians with regards to English language, taken forward in the Nehruvian era after 1947. This has led to subservience to the West, rise of a poverty-mongering idea of India, and an inward looking socialism today which has produced more poor rather than solving poverty.
True scientific research and entrepreneurial forces have been restrained by this apologizing attitude. Central planning and controlled economy are obsolete today, and India's achievements till today are in spite of central planning and Nehruvian socialism, not due to these.
Indians do not look at themselves as they should. Universal Spiritualism and Brotherhood were embodied in Indian philosophy through Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (Whole World is My Family). Kalidasa is comparable to Shakespeare, but not recognized. Aurobindo's discourse on foundation of Indian culture is still relevant. The Indian civilizational ideas are even reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations today but we are neither aware nor proud of the same.
Foreign recognition was important for some stature after independence, not anymore. "We should make our own role models and transition strategy." By 2050, even Price Water Coopers predicts that India will be the second largest economy with $46 trillion, ahead of USA, and behind China.
The reinvent & recreate lobby also opines that for everything that is true in India, the opposite is also true. "Why should there be one idea of India? Why singular? Why no million mutinies? Constitution is a rule book about how we conduct our lives, and it can change with change of time. Did India begin in 1947? And did the idea of India start only then, run by one family, written in one book, and fathered by Gandhi?"
The 'Rediscover' Lobby:
The Rediscover Lobby, decidedly the Nehruvian apologists, are in turn questioning the much-touted New India noting that it has seen heightening of social disharmony, majoritarian dominance, cow vigilantism, fall of scientific temper, and worsening of the position of women. This lobby wants a return to Nehruvian idealism, protection of Ambedkar's Constitution, and a rainbow coalition of many castes and communities (and, perhaps political parties too) to rule India.
India with the vision of the founding fathers of Indian constitution, still survives, while Pakistan is virtually falling apart. Even after 101 amendments, the Indian Constitution is still the beacon of Indian polity since it has handled diverse social contradictions, and ensured the rule of law, separation of power, independence of judiciary, and a strong Union in a federal polity: all of which, according to this lobby, are under threat in the right wing vision of New India.
They say that the constitution survived sub-national aspirations and regional demands. And Nehru's Discovery of India is deeply spiritual, and he got our culture married to modern governance through the constitution, and ensured growth of science and scientific temper, which is now under threat as seen by Central ministers questioning Darwin's theory and saying that Internet existed in Vedic age or that Ganesha went through a plastic surgery for his trunk.
A section of the rediscovery lobby also says that the Western thinking is linear, ours is cyclical, not straight, and converging. And, hence reinforcing the idea of India is not necessarily the same of the past. Invasions in India, by whoever in last 800 years, have led to a cultural mix and assimilation to make India diverse and richer. It is this cultural parallelism that exists at the core of the existing idea of India, and a centralized rightist narrative cannot be imposed on it. Since recreation is linear, it does not reflect the truth in the land which believes in 'Ekam satyam, viprah vahudha vadanti' (The Truth is One, interpreted differently by different learned men).
This rediscovery lobby passionately puts forth that pluralism, sense of diversity and inclusivity are at the core of the idea of India today, reflecting the civilizational journey of us, and hence to maintain its nature of antiquity, continuity, diversity and assimilation, it cannot be reinvented or recreated.
Historians among the rediscovery lobby points out that in 1923, the Hindutva focused idea of India presented by Savarkar was rejected for a syncretic vision. Savarkar's ideas of Pitrabhoomi and Punyabhoomi, in effect accepting the two nation theory of Jinnah, put forth later in 1942, had been rejected by the people in favour of multi-cultural Hindustan. Founding fathers of India of today called for opening of windows and doors of our houses, but not to be blown off our feet.
This lobby questions the right wing asking if Akhlaq's killing or Sambhulal killing Afroz or six men raping and killing 8-years old Asifa are signs of New India. Why no Muslim contribution from medieval ages to India or the oldest Church of the world being here are recognized in this New India? And what is this New India apart from an aggressive brand of masculine Hindutva and blatant crony capitalism of Adani-Ambani-Nirav Modi etc?
Way Forward: Re-structuring & Evolving Idea of India:
India, with the second largest Muslim population of the world, cannot be a Hindu Rashtra for sure. India, with 7% and above GDP growth, cannot also play second fiddle to the Western economies. India, with 56% of population below 25 years of age and 67% below 35 years, is surely a major force of the future talent pool and work force of the world.
While Sambhulal's heinous murder in Rajasthan or Asifa's brutal rape and murder in Jammu cannot be allowed to represent the face of New India, we cannot also accept minority appeasement and using Muslims or Dalits or tribals as mere vote-banks without changing their socio-economic status, as shown in Sachhar Committee report.
Hence, evolution of the idea of India is needed surely, building upon self-reliance, national role models, strengthening the conversation with our tradition, and honouring diversity in every walk of life. The re-structured or evolved idea of India needs to ensure strict secularism where the State has no role to play in religious matters (which are best left to individuals), and all religious conflicts should be seen only as law and order problems. On the other hand, this re-structured of India ahead must ensure better economic life of the marginalized people (through Minimum Support Prices for farm produce, executing forest and tribal protection acts, and executing women's protection, minimum wages and days of work protection and rural health protection acts).
Neither ultra-nationalism of the Hindutva variety, nor eulogy of rule by one family through appeasement: the idea of India needs an evolution to a re-structured identity which blends aspiration of the privileged with dignified life of the under-privileged, irrespective of community, caste or gender. One party rule or multi-party coalition, India needs a programme of progress and sustainability, neither a powerful arrogant leader nor a group squabbling regional leaders.
(The writer is currently the School Head, School of Media, Pearl Academy, Delhi & Mumbai.)