15th August 1947: Good news for all Indians?
#1
Following a number of critiques of nationalism shared in Facebook groups during India's Independence Day which is commonly viewed as a shared occasion of celebration, here was a question posted. The following is a discussion initiated in response to that.
Quote:Is it only me or have we forgotten that 15th August 1947 was about freeing ourselves from COLONIAL OPPRESSION?!

Who is it that is being referred to as ourselves and whether the oppression which these people felt most hurt by (then and in retrospect) was the colonial one, or in other words, self-identifications and dominant historical narratives, are notions which are in flux especially in the blogosphere, and that could be why the textbook view that 15th August 1947 was a watershed historically and good news for every Indian, does not quite seem to be shared by all participants in this discourse.

In Indian blogosphere we can currently find many well-meaning initiatives (including forums like this one) that function with an intent to make the margins central to the discourse. Some historically and contemporarily important spokespersons for occupants on the margins have not seen the exit of the Raj as unmixed good news or even as the most important headline of the past century. Here are some instances:

- Periyar seemed to have seen the exit of the British not as a restoration to the native but more like the culmination of a reactionary movement to preserve the old ways and existing socio-cultural hegemonies from the British interlopers, if quotes like these are anything to go by.
Quote:"If only the British rule in India is conducted in accordance to Sanatana Dharma and Manu Dharma, the present-day Nationalism, Civil Disobedience and Non-co-operation would have taken flight."
(From 'Words of Freedom: Ideas of a Nation)

- Dr. Chandrabhan Prasad, of Goddess English fame, holds the view that 'the British came too late and left too early' and remain in sum a force for good having introduced such levelers in Indian society as the English language. Prof. Kancha Ilaiah seems to agree with this assessment of English and calls for greater access to English education.

One recent instance of how popular historical narratives are in flux, is in how the pantheon of national heroes is reordered in online polls. S. Anand, while summarizing its results about the recent much-vaunted belated coronation of Dr. Ambedkar by online voters, writes:
Quote:"End 1999, in a millennium special issue, Outlook had asked four intellectuals to pick 20 Indians who shaped India in the 20th century. Each member of the panel—Khushwant Singh, Mrinal Pande, P.V. Indiresan and Mushirul Hasan—picked their Top 5. Mohandas Gandhi figured in each of their lists; Jawaharlal Nehru in three; Lata Mangeshkar (who should have stopped singing decades ago as Yesudas had suggested) in two; B.R. Ambedkar in none. In fact, Indiresan, former director of IIT Madras, even said he “had reservations about Ambedkar’s divisive legacy.”

The Outlook poll results and related coverage such as that in CNN IBN can be thought of as a success story of sorts in efforts to make the margin central to the discourse. However, one necessary sobering reminder is that this may not be as much a reflection of the empowerment of the marginalized on the ground, as it is an artifact of massive online mobilization to secure a symbolic victory in an attempt to register protest against still-existing marginalization on the ground which is an overwhelming reality. The answer to the question, "Who in the poll participants' estimation is a pivotal figure ?" will also offer clues to "Which is the historical event do they see as most pivotal?". While attempts to make the margins the center of the discourse are underway, the margin and the center have remained largely where they were and with largely the same occupants before and after 15th August 1947. Therefore for participants in this narrative, that date does not seem an altogether compelling pivot, and in this sometimes vocal and sometimes deafeningly silent lack of enthusiasm we can see how, at least in online manifestations, the postcolonial narrative is not seen as a shared subaltern narrative.
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#2
There is a glaring and unfair omission in what I have said so far in this thread, which I will try to mitigate through this post.

From what has been said above, it might appear as though it is only spokespersons of the marginalized and the more radical elements of society that are to blame for the larger lack of sense of history about the founding of the Republic. Perhaps even more so than the disaffected marginalized, who to be fair more often than not resort to democratic redress of grievances, the elements of society who are most indifferent to the Republic's founding and promise are those neither at the center nor the margins, but those elite who in the words of Arundhati Roy have seceded into outer space.

This is an insidious sort of secession which far from being denounced as seditious or as a dereliction of citizens' duties, is actually being applauded and encouraged by the establishment and increasingly emulated by the aspirant sections of society. In this space which the aspirational hope to secede to, nationalities are irrelevant and it seems entirely encompassed by a marketplace, if views such as those aired in this NDTV Big Fight discussion on 'Do Indians fare better abroad?' should be considered representative at all. A frequently repeated quote in these circles, attributed sometimes to Gurcharan Das which goes, "India grows at night when the Government sleeps", undoubtedly has a grain of truth. However, all too often, it is used to support a facile oversimplification that corporate success occurs entirely independently of the support, material and intangible, that is taken for granted in a nation state. A reminder of the sort issued by President Obama here (full speech here) is worth playing to anyone who buys into these single-handed success stories.

In sum, something which contributors to the discourse on both ends of the political spectrum would do well to remind themselves is that neither the marketplace which is the world of the aspirational nor the discourse which is the aggrieved voice of the disaffected would have been possible the way they are today but for the founding of the Republic of India, and that is reason enough for them all, us all, to recognize our stake in its strengthening and the building of an inclusive national narrative. An insightful and wide-ranging lecture by Prof. Yogendra Yadav on the promise and challenge of building an inclusive national narrative can be heard here:



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#3
I followed the Scottish independence referendum with some interest. In this interview (recorded before the vote) Chomsky argues that the referendum could be the beginning of the end to the nation state system in Europe. He claims that this should be expected because nation state system is a very artificial construct to begin with.

If the nation state system in Europe can unravel what are the implications for India? The video in the post above argues that offering more rights to states or providing outright statehood could be a way to quell the demands for secession. To me this just seems like a stop gap measure. At some point there may not be enough rights that the federal government can or will want to devolve to states. What happens then?
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