Name of the Book: The Nation as Mother and other visions of Nationhood
Author: Sugata Bose
Publisher: IVP Books
Place of Publication: Penguin Random House, Gurugram
Year of Publication: 2017
Reviewed by: J.N. Manokaran
The author has written this book from a historical perspective, rigorous investigation and with academic excellence. The current concept that is dominant in political discourse in portraying the Nation as Mother. Author quotes Bipin Chandra Pal: “Our philosophies are revelation of the Mother’s mind. Our arts-our poetry and our painting our music and our drama, our architecture and our sculpture, all these are the outflow of the Mother’s diverse emotional moods and experiences. Our religion is the organized expression of the soul of the Mother. The outsider knows her as India…”
The author explains the concept of Nation with reference to class, religious community, language and state. Then he focusses on Nation as Mother. The author states this pollical concept as ‘mother complex’: ‘an engaging social-psychological phenomenon and not to mean any sort of disorder or neurosis.’ Motherland: ‘not a mere idea or fancy, but a distinct personality. The woman who bore them and nursed them.’ “While European expressions like fatherhood were ‘clearly metaphorical’, the real concept Mother as applied to India’ had ‘no metaphor behind it’. In Bengal, emphasis was on the female principle as Shakti or the source of strength. Young freedom fighters especially from undivided Bengal considered their sacrifice is for the sake of mother. Author notes: “It is hard not to be persuaded that the young life was being sacrificed at the altar of Mother Bengal.”
Bringing the image of Parashuram from Puranas, who beheaded his mother Renuka and disobedient four brother; obeying diktat of his powerful father Jamadagni. The author writes that Independence was a gory dismemberment, if not the death, of the Mother because of partition and deaths. The author interprets: “Parashurams of the 1990s hurled their pickaxes in Ayodhya and the votaries of Ramrajya and Shiva’s soldiers demanded Shuddhi or extermination, one could not but muse over Millat’s 1947 warning that the Congress and the Hindu Mahasabha, beset by Curzon’s ghost had raised a sharpened parashu to ‘slice’ ‘Mother’ into two.”
Bande Mataram first stanza was accepted as inspirational. Other stanzas were not used. Tagore and Netaji Bose made a compromise that only first stanza would be used.Bande Mataram – the first part of song was accepted by congress for its national meetings. The author notes that Gandhian Congress was infected with Hindu communalism. The song refers to seven crores, to Bengalis and not the whole nation. For Bengalis it is widening concentric circles: Bengali patriotism, Indian nationalism and Asian universalism. “The mother in Bankim’s ‘Bande Mataram’and Abanindrnath’s Bharatmata was originally conceived as Mother Bengal and then ungrudgingly offered in the service of a wider Indian nation.” Unfortunately, “The equation of nation with goddess understandably left many Muslims cold.” Aurobindo warned: “National ego may easily mean nothing more than collective selfishness.”
However, political thought of Rabindranath Tagore was different. Thea author writes: “Tagore’s writings on nationalism and modernity disdainfully rejected European forms of the nation-state while accepting universalist ideals of humanism.” Tagore was universalist and humanist. His nationalism could be branded as ‘anti-national’ today. Tagore writes that Nationalism is merely a process to self-realization, self-development and self-fulfillment.
The author provides insightful information about Mahatma Gandhi. He commends his liberal attitude but with its own flaws. Gandhi was upset because of partition and preferred to spend his time where riots happened rather than to be in the limelight of Independence celebration. “Gandhi was a relentless nihilism, a celebration of extreme anarchy and the pursuit of decentralization to the point of atomization.” Hence, his worldview and Nehru-Patel worldview could not match. Gandhi had written ideas that were regressive: “India’s salvation consists of unlearning what she has learnt during the past fifty years or so. The railways, telegraphs, hospitals, lawyers, doctors and such like have all to go, and the so-called upper call have to learn to live consciously and religiously and deliberately the simple life of a peasant.” Gandhi also called Congress leaders to live in villages, in huts and not in towns and palaces, which was hard for anyone to follow. Gandhian ethics is explained by him: “I reject any religious doctrine that does not appeal to reason and is in conflict with morality.” Gandhi considered Europe neither religious nor spiritual, but only materialistic. Gandhi initially refused to dine with Ali brothers, showing his prejudice. He considered eating as private sacred thing. Later, he started inter-dining. Gandhi also opposed intermarriage between different religions. Later he accepted only inter-caste marriages. Gandhi prejudice against Africans also was not accepted in Africa. The author notes: “Nelson Mandela forgave Gandhi’s early prejudices against Africans as belonging to an era before he became Mahatma.”
Nehru commented that nationalism in India is a religious nationalism. There was a political failure and intellectual failure in the post-colonial period to unravel complex weave of nation, reason and religion. Congress in the colonial period refused to discuss provincial rights, which also was a reason for partition. The author blames that Congress majoritarianism shaped the partition. There was no culture of inner-party democracy. Congress also had Anti-intellectual attitude and Majoritarian arrogance. Aurobindo called Congress Un-national in 1893 for its incapacity to attract Muslims in sufficient numbers. Netaji Bose had in his INA all communities and castes.
Commenting about the First war of Independence or Sepoy mutiny author writes: “The defense of Indian faiths, both Hinduism and Islam, against perceived threat from evangelical religion, not Enlightenment reason, played a significant part in the revolt of 1857 which almost made Macaulay’s nightmare come true.”
Right-wing political thought process was a struggle for decades. Intellectuals trying to escape colonized intellectual mindset, tried to escape in an imagined past or mayajal or web of illusions. Reformers wanted reform on ‘rational’ lines, the revivalists wanted reform on ‘national’ meaning religious lines. Reformers influence mellowed Congress, while revivalists joined Hindu Maha Sabha and other similar movements. Revivalists tend to blame science. Author raises a relevant question: Why science, reason and development are blamed for failure of modern state? Hindu universalism of Gandhi and Vivekananda could fall prey to the lowly calculations of identity politics of today.
New economic policy according to the author cannot be left to the mercy of Market forces. He cites that the high performing North east Asia depended on intervention by Government and not the magic wand of market for progress. He condemns the ‘miserliness’ in budget allocation for education and health sectors.
The author is sad about the recent developments. He spoke in the parliament that hockey sticks that brought laurels to nation in the arena of sports is used today to kill people violently. “Fight against intolerance is essentially a fight against unreason, injustice and inhumanity.”
This is a good book dealing with political thought process that developed during Colonial era, its impact immediately after Independence and to current times. It brings to focus how certain ideas succeeded and certain were defeated. The author also helps us to understand the failure of politicians and political parties. A comprehensive book to learn about political science in India.