Prof. Gopal Guru (Faculty, Centre for Political Studies School of Social Sciences. Jawahar Lal Nehru University) in a talk series titled ‘What is the nation? JNU lecture series conducted by the JNU Students Union.
This subject is important today because we are finding different definitions of nation. Some are not definitions but they are simply unwarranted judgments like “we know nation you don’t know, so you have to act according to our understanding of nation.”
This is a very serious problem. We are actually being confused about the very idea of nation. On the other hand, how does one really understand the word nation or nationalism? Is it something which belongs to emotions? Where easy judgments are available so that people of any kind can make judgments on JNU students, faculty and non teaching faculty , as if we don’t understand nation and they do.
There can be two arguments, one that is coming from emotions and other that is coming from this gathering, and you already know that you belong to the sphere of argument. Nation and arguments are very closely tied to each other and therefore you have to offer a very reasonable and deep response to the idea of nation and this has to be taken forward into the society. People are being misled.
What is nation? Is it some devilistic construction of the other? Can you really define nation in terms of constructing the other who is problematic? it is very dangerous and it will only result in some kind of takeover by the fascist forces. So we will have to go with serious thinking about the nation.
What is the base of my argument? How do I understand nationalism and nation? To understand the nation should be imagined in terms of promises the nation is making and aspiration it is offering to its people. In 1947 the idea of nation offered us promises and aspirations.
What was the promise? The promise was to really build a decent nation. Nation which is not based on rumors, insecurities and not ant kind of indignity or humiliation.
Right from the start of agitation in the campus weaver being seen as people who are not fit to stay in this country. There is growing stigmatization. You can’t build nation on this notion of stigma. Those who are stigmatizing our community our campus are a actually belting our scholarships. The difference is that we don’t acquire scholarships from them. but; the promise is to built nation on some kind of decency are we doing that. To build that decency we have made some closure in the Indian constitution. There is connection between Indian constitution and nation. Which we imagine as a decent nation.
What are we aspiring for? We are aspiring a nation in which all kinds of asymmetries are eliminated from within the country. What are the asymmetries? One of the asymmetry is that India is practically, sociologically and emotionally divided we are one India which is Puraskruth India while the other one is behishkrith India. I’m taking from Ambedker,our nation should be evaluated on the basis of moral capacity to eliminate the divide between the Puraskruth India and the Behishkruth India Are we asking questions to ourselves, That after 67 years of independence we have not been able to bring Dalit into main stream. That is different India the behishkruth India. So the aspiration of bringing India together in terms of eliminating this asymmetry is important. Therefore we have to interrogate or evaluate nation by its capacity to break this gap.
We don’t need to borrow resources from outside it is available in the country. The idea of Ashok Chakra in the Thiranga(tricolor flag) is that :it is one kind of radical symbolism that the nation has incorporated to its imagination. If you really interpret it you will find that the nation has to revolve to be made radical in terms of its changing spaces .In a sense the sanitary workers (scavengers) have to go up radically. Everybody has to do that work. So there is a need of radical rotation. The way you look at the dynamism of the chakra, every blade in this chakra has to go up and come dawn. We have got a very powerful symbolism in terms of this chakra. We have mechanisms in the state to make sure the chakra acquires required dynamism.
We as young scholars of our city, have to ask the political class , to what extent they have actually pushed this mechanism ahead , have facilitated this rotation and achived this radical dynamism. This is one radical symbolism that can actually defeat other symbolism.
For example we have nationalism that is interpreted in terms of symbolism. We have very strong symbolism of ‘Mother India’. So you have a choice which symbol is stronger, Mother India symbolism or Ashok Chakra symbolism. The chakra ,it is a ‘samtha’ chakra. So the nation has to be based on some kind of egalitarianism and that is there in our constitution and in our Buddhist philosophy
The point that was raised in the teachers union meeting on what is the relationship between nation and state. Which is important? I think the nation with denying forms, denying in the sense the nation can’t treat some people as second class citizens. If you really want to frame your questions with nation there are scholars who do not want to frame questions in nation and have gone beyond nation, that is a debatable point, an academic point that you can discuss later but what is important for us to really understand is the normative character of nation but to that extend I would say we still require to pitch up our argument within the normative frame of nation and I am to that extend a nationalist, because I want a nation which is normative in character which doesn’t really treat people badly.
Now if you really want to sustain, promote and harness the essence of nation which is normative. The nation cannot do it on its own that is on its own norm. so the nation cannot be defined in terms of the borders alone and the physical character of nation that is what people do, that is the dominant definition that they pickup because that is easy for them to construct the other. The border is very important weapon in the hands of people who want to create the other “beyond the border” and that other is always transposing the boundaries. Therefore you have taken time to look at this.
What is important in understanding nation is its essence as to how we actually deals with question of poverty, Casteism…ECT .we have never understood nation also has a very deep patriarchal angle to it. When the question of cast is debated outside the nation in Durban the govt. of India said it is an internal question it is a family question, the nation is given a patriarchal color. So there is a head sitting at the top and that patriarch is very fair in his intention and his intention only and he will give you justice, so don’t take this cast issue to the international forum. So there is a deep patriarchal angle to nation. Just like Mother India patriarchal angle there is also other angle to it.
() What we are interested today as thinking being as it argument to collectively it is not emotional collectivity it is argument to collectivity. Therefore our responsibility is to keep this argument collectivity intact and enhance it. Therefore I would always request you, when there is a class going on slogans is not needed. Because you augmented to being where slogans are needed but not immediately. So I hope you understand this point.
The question is maintaining this normative essence of the nation, who will do it? It is the state. The state has to play a very supportive role, Through the Indian constitution and legal interventions. We are skeptical about this legal and the bureaucratic and the police thing as it is unfolding itself in terms of very undependable bias. But you have to actually defend the essence of nation through the constitution and the state. The point we have to remember is that if the nation becomes more what happens. today the state is seen much more prominent than the nation. But for your one reasons you were actually trying to define nation. One government lead by one political party thinks that the politics of this party is much more important than this nation. So there is a serious problem. If it is a welfare state, state which is responsible for the future of this nation then that state has to take() on every day.
We do not ask question, how many of us exist within the nation?, how many of us are visible within the nation?, how many of us are claiming nation?, do we have any kind of moral authority to claim this nation? Do we relate ourselves to nation? Is the question. So when you are re you are deviating from the nation it is the duty of the state to that you actually correct yourself through invoking everyday (). But here situation is different instead of asking question to it the state is actually framing people and that is much more serious. You should have the responsibility to see if you perform according to national interest. The national interest is not militarization, national interest is to see if people are hungry, they don’t commit suicide, farmers don’t commit suicide. What kind of nation are you talking about? You don’t ask questions to yourselves. So you are actually in a way deviating from your own constitutional responsibility. So there is a tension between nation and state. The state is becoming much more powerful than the nation.
Should we really recover nation. To have the recovery of nation. You will have to take up all the residual liabilities and one liability is patriarchy. We have not been able really deal with this problem. There are several others.
I just remember Vemula’s poem, the last two-three line and you should think about it, it is a very profound line that “if the nation is creating void emptiness in your life, what kind of nation am I living in?” what is the emptiness in Rohith Vemula that he was known as star in his cast certificate. People knew Rohith Vemula as somebody who only has been reduced to star. In HCU you don’t mention your cast you only mention your star if ST –one and ST-two stars and he was actually fed up of this star. Therefore he said “I’m fed up with this star that are labeled against me, I want to join other stars”. I’m not happy with this stars, I’m going to on stars at the night sky. He is talking about a very tragic line. So in this kind of country if somebody is actually celebrating the void, it is a reflection on civil society. Which a received nationalism differently. What is you actual responsibility. So I’m saying is the civil society in the campus need to be really civilized, which is not the case. I think the role of the bureaucracy, state and all that is to really respond to these aspirations of the nation by thinking it’s on ob seriously, which they are not taking. There is a tension between state and nation.
Other point that you have to keep in mind what is the relationship between the government and the state. State is an essence and government is its existence. What we see in court is an existence. You can’t see essence. Someone is asking that JNU is subsidized by the corporate money. The essence is the corporate money. But, that essence is invisible. it only sustain the existence. The government shapes the existence of nation. But if government because on certain ideology is overriding the state it is the problem. There are three levels of problem one is nation, nation and state and the rip between the two and another rip between state and government. So it is a big problem my friends.
Do you want to restore nation? Yes. In which form do you want to restore nation? in its () egalitarian form. What kind of state do you want control on? State which is not anti people, anti minorities. A state which is responsible for meeting these aspirations that we have been promised. The () of the nation is what it is promised in the beginning doesn’t really fulfill later. What is promised at the first instance is not provided at the next instance.
We have nation state and state government and what happens; common people mistake government is state. Government is only one apparatus of the state. We have to find out how to deal with this state. It’s a much larger question. You talk about the sovereignty of the state the state actually. Sovereignty is considered in terms of external danger. In most cases the external danger is constructed. We actually have a fake notion of sovereignty because we actually have never seen in the new economic regime, everything is decided. Sovereignty of the state is actually articulated by the state. But what about this created sovereignty. We are all sovereign against each other. If you were not sovereign Rohith wouldn’t really have committed suicide. We are all sovereign. We all require somebody inferior to you. There is a continuous infirioritisation of people. So you feel so sovereign. If you want to work within the parameters of normative nation pull out this great sovereignty and make sovereignty in terms of autonomous decision .I’m not to be bullied by some bodies’ emotional definitions of nation. I have own capacity to define really what is nation. However nation attacks me hurts me I will take decision on everyday basis. it is not definition of nation which is acquisition to which actually brings out confession and commitment and confirmation from you. These are days in which you are forced to commit, confess this is corruption. You cannot define nation in terms of forcing somebody to live.
Compiled by Hamna A Hassan. a media student in MBL institute , Calicut