The Constitution of India begins with those noble words – ‘We the people’. ‘We the people’ are expected to form a nation. And the first words of the United Nations Charter also begin with – ‘We the people’. The ideal of a nation or a united nations depends on ‘we the people’! To what extent, there is an organic link with ‘we the people’ and the modern ‘nation-states’? Or is it merely a logical reasoning of constructing and managing structures and institutions of power? Or ‘We the people’ is another abstract dehumanised idea devoid of real feel of real human beings with flesh and blood? Questions matter!
Who does not love their nation? I love ‘my’ India. We hear this in films, music and in so many ways. From class four, as the school leader I led the pledge-making ‘India is my country; all Indians are my brothers and sisters’. And of course, even now when I hear the national anthem, there is ‘deep feeling’ inside as that is one of the music and songs I grew up with – and in many ways national anthem make one feel at ‘home’. Whenever an Indian see the tri-colour flag, we ‘feel’ good. Imagine a cricket stadium full of tricolored Indian flag- it may evoke such a great feeling of ‘we the people of India’. But that may the case with citizens of other nations as well. However, when I begin to ask questions to myself about many of our pet-notions, one realise there are not one simple answers and the answers themselves may be ‘coloured’ by our on ‘subjectivity’ , ‘locations’ and ‘identities’. To what extent we can able to ask detached questions devoid of ourselves? Many simply will not dare to ask simple but uncomfortable questions to themselves? Nation- first is what often we hear in many discussions and advertisements. Anyone who questions symbols or icons of ‘such collective’ identity can often be charged with ‘sedition’. Why bother- may be the soliloquy of many millions.
How do we begin to understand and analyse concepts like nation, nationalism and patriotism? Is it about people or about power-management structures? To what extent these are abstract notions of grammar of power and to what extent these notions are linked to connect with everyday lives of real people? Are nations merely ‘imagined communities’ with identities and loyalties constructed on a legal personality? What is the history of these ideas and teams? How they came to occupy our mind-spaces in the 19th and 20th centuries? Questions are important as questions make us to think, reflect and understand ourselves, ideas, and help us to discover and locate the world within, beyond- and the world constructed of words, ideas and images.
What is a nation? Whose nation? Oxford dictionary says nation is a community of people of mainly common descent, history, language etc, forming a state or inhabiting a territory. Is it?
There are three books that deal with some of these questions; Eric Hobsbawm’s ; Benedict Anderson’s and Ernest Gellner’s. And often our media mediation and popular political discussions do not examine how some of the concepts and ideas were internalized over a period of time and the myths of ‘nation’ and ‘nationalism’. It would be also instructive to read a critical analysis of the notions of ‘nationalism’ by Rabindra Nath Tagore and interestingly the national anthems of two countries (India and Bangladesh) came from the pen of the very same Tagore. His creative legacy is claimed by two nations!
Eric Hobswam, one of the eminent historians of the last two centuries, points out how the modern notion ‘nation’ was formed during the 18nth and 19th centuries. Before 18nth century, kingdoms, multi-cultural empires, various city-states prevailed and such power-formation and structures were not the same as the modern notion of the ‘nation-state’. In many ways, the French revolution and the American declaration of independence heralded the new era of the ideas of nation, nationalism and nation-state. French Declaration of Rights in 1795 gives a clear sense about the modern notion of ‘sovereignty’ principle: “Each people is independent and sovereign, whatever the number of individuals who compose it and the extent of territory it occupies. This sovereignty is inalienable”.
However, most of the nation-states begin the process of rationalisation by drawing up on an ancient and commonly shared heritage or ‘natural’ continuity of a geography, civilization, culture etc. History gets constructed around the locations of power-structures to rationalise the dominant power-management system in a given country at a given time.
The notions of the 'nation-state' as a military-industrial-political enterprise with its own power acquisition and management agenda often thrive on constructed images, symbols, perceptions, affiliations of interests and identity, promising freedom and evoking fear. Such power-acquisition and management systems construct multiple notions of 'other' to build' a cohesive 'national' identities. So the 'construct' of a nation state is often based on building negative identification process and also affirmative identity building process. Nation-state eventually take the monopoly of deciding and influencing not only the power, laws, regulation and policies but also our 'political' loyalties, our social locations and eventually our legal personalities through a machinery of 'law and order' and internal and external security. Every government exists based on a sort of social contract with promise of security, services and collective identity. However, in the process of building and managing power-structure of a nation-state, there is also a process of dehumanization Hence' patriotism as an idea is depends on a constructed notion of ‘loyalty’, 'love' and affection to a collective identity, though paradoxically it is a dehumanizing process- as it denies the agency, creativity, and love of human beings beyond the dominant power-structures of the day.
Love your neighbour!
Within South Asia, the 'India' and 'Pakistan' constructs are often negotiated and filtered through dominant military, media and market structures of two respective 'nation-state' and the loyalty/patriotism to one country is often constructed upon the 'hate' to the 'other' country. And this is often a 'constructed' lie to serve the interests of the military-market- political elites of both countries. This has nothing whatsoever to do with real people with flesh, blood, mind and sense of agency of their own. I have visited the society and landscape called Pakistan several times and the people there are very much like the real people in India. And I had the privilege to experience and feel the love and affection of so many friends from Pakistan. In fact, visiting the real people in Pakistan will be an eye opener to anyone who is fed on the 'constructed' image of the hated other.
Even when many of us visit a country or society or interact with people, our own sense of ‘collective memory’ and constructed ‘subjectivity’ filter and manage our perceptions of a society or people. Our own locations of multiple identities (as perceived and as given) and our constructed ‘self’ of politics and ‘nationality’ in so many ways coloure our notions and ideas. We often see what we see, depending on where do we stand. Where do we stand depends on the process of cultural and knowledge socialization over a period. During an official visit to Pakistan, soon after the horrible terror attack in Mumbai, I wrote down the following in my diary. Though the following notes were written in 2008, it still seems to be relevant as there is a new round of ‘constructed’ or real tension on the border between India and Pakistan.
I just got back from Pakistan. In fact, visiting our neighbor is something I always cherish. After each visit I come back with a sense of nostalgia- still feeling the flavour of excellent food at Food Street in Lahore or having a pani-puri at the Karachi beach. Those wide streets and bungalows in Islamabad or the brick-kiln workers at Toba-tak Sing. Pakistan never looked like an alien country to me. People there make you feel at home.
1) It is almost like a visiting the house of a cousin or a close relative in a distant land. Or it could be visiting your neighbour once in a year. Though I travel to so many places, visiting Pakistan is different. It is a peculiar feeling. People are so happy to welcome the “mehman’ from India- always animated discussions about democracy, militarization, communalism and the problems of India and Pakistan. And of course, everyone wants to call you for lunch or dinner. There is a genuine affection in their hug. People do not send their driver to receive you. They would find time to receive you at the airport and see off you.
2) At the airport, the moment they see the blue Indian passport, one could see the new alertness- checking every page and visas in the passport. So the only place, one feels like the “other” and alien is the immigration (I am sure that Pakistani citizen may feel the same in India as well). This time it was easier, as there was a protocol officer to receive and help me to get through a rather difficult immigration procedure. But once you get out, the situation is different. Driver talks about the latest Bollywood film or cricket or about “our mulk”. Obviously, this time the topic was Mumbai terror attack. Whomever I met (from all walks of life) conveyed a deep sense of sorrow, anguish and a sense of frustration. The only one preoccupation in the media and social talk last week was “Mumbai and the aftermath”
3) But once you get in to TV and media, it is a different story. There is a whole range of discussion- about India’s “aggressive stand”, how India “won’ in the UN, and whole range of discussion ranging from “jingoism” to grudge, “don’t trust them” to “why’ they” keep blaming us. I noticed that while academics, poets and activists are more balanced-stressing the responsibility of the government of Pakistan to address the “terror” in the backyard, some of the former generals, ambassadors, bureaucrats and the usual media commentators- seemed like various versions of Arnab Gosami and the jingoist types in India. In spite of all the “anti” India sentiments by those in the shadows of the power-cartel, there are so many sensible voices among the media commentators, intellectuals and activists.
3) So in one channel you find all the “sound and fury’ about India- and the in the next channel one can watch an item number from the Bollywood. During the ad-break, Amir Khan fills the screen- announcing “Titan watch is now in Pakistan”! If you are bored with all the news and talk shows- then one can watch the whole range of bollywood films or the latest Ekta kapoor serial. So it is a strange feeling. India is all over the TV and the news channels and talk show give a different story of the “other” India.
4) I always wondered about this neighbour-syndrome- very interesting sense of social and psychological obsession with India- at various levels. It is a peculiar kind of preoccupation with the neighbour- a mix of love, grudging admiration, simple grudges, a bit of irritation, a sense of cynicism and sometime bordering hate( of mixed with “love”).At one level, people do admire- democracy and freedom, space etc. At another it is a deep rooted cultivated sense of comparison (after all ‘they’ are not that great as they look!)- a grudging feeling ( hum kisi se kum nahi! or who cares about the ‘big” brother!). This strange mix is partly due to the whole range of ‘manufactured” history, school curriculum and the media mediation. The K word- Kashmir- is driven in to the social and political perspective from the school days. So while most of the ordinary people love to travel to India, watch bollywood, or to enjoy Cricket, the Establishment “construct” the “other” India- arrogant, insincere, Hindu, ‘occupied” Kashmir , “marginalized” Muslims etc. These two contradictory images and constructs compete with each other to find space in the public perception and social psychology. These contradictory trends are so evident at various levels of media, civil society and the ordinary middle class.
5) This constant sense of comparison and competition make the places in many ways a mirror image.
Last night I had dinner at the elite Islamabad Club- which in many ways is a mirror image of the India International Centre (IIC) in Delhi, off course, with a little more feudal and elite touch. President of the country is the patron ( that is the tradition from 1957). And the entry is strictly regulated!( and like IIC – no phone inside the dining hall etc). The key difference between India and Pakistan in this regard is that India has now an entrenched pan-Indian middle class. Such middle class are actually the defining character of India- in many ways the cohesive force- spread across all cities and towns- so intermingled. In Pakistan, it is still the feudal class that define the socio-political and economic character of power. So , in spite of being elite, India International Centre is middle-class. But Islamabad club is more aristocratic . There is an unmistakable Punjabi touch to it. Though in Karachi- the Gymkhana- the only place where the drinks are served- there is a Sindhi touch. But that is the case in various capital cities of India, where the cosmopolitanism has a flavour of the dominant ‘culture’ flavour of the locality.
6) The fact of the matter is that 75% of the land is under the control of 15 percent of the feudal-ruling elite. The rest of the people 85% got 25% of land. But even among them majority do not have any land- most of the people are tenants. The problem is that even the liberal voices are often informed or supported by a deeper feudal character and attitude. Even among the ruling elites, there is another level of identity- based on the language and regions- such kinship and networks are much stronger than that of India. In such a sense of a deeply divided class character, poor and marginalized become easy targets for the fundamentalists and those terror organizations that spend money to recruit and brainwash the poor uneducated men in the heartland of Pakistan. This is actually at the core of the issue- the entrenched inequality and a large number of poor people who do not have any stake in the governance or the resources of the country.
7) Though I was reluctant, I had to give a public lecture on Sustainable Development and Peace and South Asia. The SDPI auditorium was packed and as expected it was followed by an intense discussion on the aftermath of Mumbai, India’s “attitude” etc. But the interesting thing was I could here so many sane and sensible voices. That still makes me optimistic enough to imagine a New South Asia- in the years to come.
8) I also had to appear on a Prime TV talk show( I think the first Indian to be on the show- after Mumbai) – as my journalist friends insisted that it would help to give different perspective. Prof. Nayyer( a well know Physicist and a peace activist) who was on the show was fantastic , spot on and I was amazed to find so many people like Prof. Nayyer- now a fellow at the SDPI- who are honest, forthright and balanced in their analysis. He is a fan of Kerala, friend of KN Pannicker, and he told me that he missed an opportunity to visit Kerala for the International Education Seminar last week- due to clash of dates.
9) During the discussions, I focused on failure of governance and its impact on security of people in Pakistan ,India and elsewhere in South Asia. The need for the citizens of Pakistan to ask hard questions to the government and leaders- instead of falling in the trap “externalizing the problem” or “blaming the “other”. A sense of “perpetual self-denials’ do not help anyone. And this is also true for the citizens of India- we need to ask why there was security lapse and ask accountability from those who are supposed to serve us- living on our tax-money. As so long as citizens of Pakistan are mislead by the powerful establishment and power-cartel by “externalizing” the problem- denying the demons growing right in the midst of the society, the same forces will eat up the society, institutions and even the state like termites. So it is time to look at the future and act now.
10) It is important to make a difference between people and governments. Governments are often controlled by power-cartels- of bureaucrats, various institutional interests- and they construct public perceptions using a whole range of methods- from curriculum, to media, to academic discourse. But ordinary people- a vast majority- of them want to live a happy life, want job, want peace and want a sense of security. So there is hardly any difference between the people of Pakistan and India.
They are like twins who got separated at birth. They look the same, speak the more or less the same language, exhibit similar social attitude- share a historical and civilizational space. If it all anyone can transform the situation, it is those hundreds of millions of ordinary people who can transform the entrenched and constructed “mistrust” and “animosity” between “India” and “Pakistan”. The question is whose India and whose Pakistan? That of the elite power-cartel or that of more than a billion ordinary people?.
I am more optimistic about “aam admi” in both countries. The problem is the self-serving and corrupt political class- and a whole range of parasites of the power-cartel, particularly the entrenched class of status-quoits and self-preserving bureaucrats ( and in Pakistan’s case the all powerful military) Ultimately, the only force that can transform the relationship between India and Pakistan are millions of people who would like a better future in South Asia- who would like to see more children in schools, and less money spent on bombs and arms- supplied by the rich countries. They would like to travel and discover the shared sense of heritage. They can eventually make change happen.
As I was returning, I told my friends how it is not easy to live up to the ideal “Love your neighbour as thyself”. But it is indeed worth an ideal that can transform boarders in to bridges, and battles in to bonding! It is a dream that is still worth dreaming!