The puzzle of stagnating Bengali Hindu nationalism
This inconsequential amateur writer has the good fortune of being born in the fabled land of Bengal, and also that of staying in other parts of our sacred motherland India. The writer has had the good fortune of listening to intellectual giants and seekers from both Bengal and other parts of India. One common question and discussion topic is that how did the patriotic Bengali people let their land come to this pass? How is it possible that the same people that had made the powerful British quake in their boots during the first few decades of 20th Century, is now allowing the Communists, Islamists and Trinamul Congress to lay this land to waste? How is it that the same people who had struck terror in the minds of the British rulers had let their land get divided in 1947, accompanied by most severe parade of killing, rape, and maiming? How did this same people almost forget the brutal Communist-led massacre and rape in Marichjhapi ( Reference 1 )? What went wrong? The few paragraphs that follow do not contain much of original thought, however, they constitute an effort to look deep into this severe fall, and find out what happened. These paragraphs will not describe in detail the severe brutality unleashed on Bengal by the Islamists, British and Communists – many competent authors have done it. Neither is this write up an effort to write a social-media style concise history of Bengali struggles and the setbacks – many historians have written these elsewhere. The writer concentrates on one sole point – the unhinging of Bengali nationalism from the spiritual roots – and offers this as the single-most important reason why Bengali nationalism has stumbled, and this article only focuses on corroborating this point. This is not a scholarly effort, and does not intend to present a rich bibliography, but honestly acknowledges that several different sources have been consulted. To that extent, this article is a very narrow one, and makes no attempt at connecting giant-sized dots of history. The article progresses in the form of a few steps, through which the key point is elaborated.
What is Bengali nationalism?
First, it is key to understand that the Bengali nationalism is one and the same as Indian nationalism. Swamy Vivekananda did not try to rejuvenate Bengali society only. Kshudiram went to gallows not for the sake of Bengal alone. Sannyasi rebels fought Islamists and British not for Bengal alone. Rash Bihari Bose tricked British and reached Japan, not for the sake of Bengal’s freedom alone. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose called for a march to Delhi, not just to Kolkata. Bengali nationalism has had the same overarching objective of the nationalism of Shivaji Maharaj, Guru Gorakhnath, Guruji Teg Bahadur, Guruji Govind Singh, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Subramanyam Bharti, Veer Savarkar, Chandrasekhar Azad, or Swamy Dayanand Saraswati.
Unique position of Indian nationalism
Second, it is imperative to understand the unique position Indian nationalism has, in the history of nations. Indian nationalism is the only one alive that has the national territory or a people as one of its marker, but not as a defining marker. Let us examine a few examples to clearly understand this point. American nationalism was forged during the defining moments such as civil war or second world war, because primarily it holds a land given to the European settlers as the defining aspect. To this date, American people celebrate the “Thanksgiving” festival, based on this very concept. The historically aware Americans do clearly acknowledge that this land was captured by the European settlers, by marginalizing and massacring the native Americans. Perhaps alive to this narrow origin of American nationalism, thinkers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson or Henry David Thoreau had attempted, through their impactful writing, to expand the intellectual horizon of American people, and focused on universal principles. They have been very successful, in generally weaving into the “American dream” these universal principles, and that intervention was important in formulating American nationalism as we know today. British nationalism was partly a response to ancient expansion of Roman empire, partly a result of resistance to later day Normans, and also partly a result of resistance to excesses of Catholic church. Overall, British nationalism considers the territory and a people as central to it’s existence. German nationalism was a manifestation of German national unification, an ugly face of that nationalism was manifested at the hands of the Nazis. Once again, a nationalism centrally dependent on sense of territory and a people. Japanese nationalism was, and still is, centrally dependent on the land that is considered to be sacred – the land of rising Sun, and a people’s cultural mooring. Over-dependence on these central tenets can be dangerous, as was evident during Japanese brutalities during the second world war. Chinese nationalism, as shown by authors Claude Arpi and Arun Shourie in their separate books and articles (refer to “Tibet: The last frontier” by Claude Arpi; and “Self Deception: India’s China policies: Origin, premises, and lessons” by Arun Shourie), is deeply dependent on the military prowess of a powerful central regime. Whenever China has had strong central ruler, the nationalism quotient increased, and China expanded. How is Indian nationalism different? Does it not acknowledge territory? Does it not acknowledge people? It surely does. In the most ancient Shastras and Puranas, Indian territory is defined clearly. Even more practically, India’s countless pilgrimage circuits, followed by people over millennia, clearly lays out Indian territory in practical terms (refer to “India – a sacred geography” by Diana L Eck). More pertinent, Indian ancient texts clearly define Indian people too, simply the people who follow Sanatana Dharma. But the key difference starts from this point. Indian nationalism acknowledges territory and people, but is not dependant on these markers. The most direct evidence is found through an unfortunate indirect proof point. Note that while 1400 years before, present day Afghanistan was very much part of Indian civilization. Now that it is no longer part of India, does nothing to weaken Indian nationalism. In spite of knowing that we have lost territory such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, Indian people voted in large number for a political party that promised nationalist governance in 2014. In spite of knowing that unification of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh with India may be very hard practically, Indian people rose up in their united support to the Indian Armed Forces after the despicable coward terrorist attack in Uri. Remember that 1400 years back, people in present day Pakistan were as much Indian as we are. We do not have them any longer in our project of nationalism. But the project of nationalism continues, to the extent that poor street side fruit vendor adapts to electronic payment systems, after hearing the clarion call given to them by a nationalist Prime Minister, who calls on the Indian people to accept hardship so that the corrupt world of black money can be disrupted. Loss of vast territory, and loss of well over several hundreds of million people during the last 1400 years, due to the brutality of Islamists, Portuguese, British and Communists, did not destroy Indian nationalism. Simply because Indian nationalism is not centrally founded on the concepts of territory and select people.
India’s spiritual nationalism
Now is the time to clearly spell out an important hypothesis that Indian nationalism is essentially a spiritual nationalism, a Dharmic nationalism. This writer will provide three categories of evidences to prove this hypothesis. First category is to cite authoritative text. Second category can be called “Positive evidence”, that is, to show when the desired triggers are there, desired effect is realized. Third category can be called “Negative evidence”, that is, to show when the desired triggers are absent, desired effect is also missing.
Authoritative text as evidence
As authoritative text, this writer opts to cite Srimad Bhagvad Gita, which is possibly the most widely followed text in India. In the fourth chapter, Shri Krishna clearly states that he manifests in every era, when demonic forces wreak havoc and Dharma is in danger. To protect Dharma and to stamp out evil, the supreme soul descends in a mortal form, and leads struggle for right, against wrong. At a conceptual level, shorn of any regional, territorial, communal, and linguistic baggage, Indian nationalism is born of this universal principle. Hence, even when we lost significantly large territory and hundreds of million people, during the assault we have faced over the last one thousand and four hundred years, our nationalism is alive.
As a “Positive evidence”, this writer wishes to highlight the nationalist movements led, at different times, by Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, Guru Goving Singh ji, Swamy Vivekananda, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. As long as the clarity was there, as long as the bedrock of spiritual principles prevailed, these movements were able to defeat and push back, or at the very least strike terror in the hearts of the imperialist brutal powers.
As “Negative evidence”, this writer highlights the breakdown of Indian dream after India achieved independence, for six decades. When India achieved independence from British, Indian youth had all the hope in their heart. The dream of building a progressive nation, however, suffered a crushing blow, in the hands of the Nehruvian socialist state that was built up. This socialist state perfected the arts of pseudo secularism, corruption, patronage, mediocrity, treachery and perpetuated the crushing poverty. Nationalism was sought to be constructed from a platform of “Secularism”. The original concept of secularism was imported from Europe. In European context it had relevance, what with Church completely controlling the state machinery during the dark ages of Europe. Indian experience was completely different. Manu, against whom Indian communists lead massive propaganda warfare, had mandated that the Brahmans must live at subsistence level, not hanker after worldly pleasures, and strictly fulfil their responsibilities, which were to contribute to spiritual and intellectual uplifting of the nation. Even during Mahabharat, when a Brahman – Drona – assumed a mercenary role during the later part of his life, valuing gold from Duryodhana over Dharma, Kshatriya warriors eliminated him. Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s spiritual master Swami Ramdas extracted no worldly compensation from him. Guru Govind Singh ji focused on building the institution, via the Khalsa principles, so that after him, no spiritual leader of the Sikhs can degenerate into mercenary level and interfere in the governance. Nationalist Sikhs are to this day bound by the Khalsa principles, and have no need for an eleventh Guru. However, when godless secularism was promoted, the converts forgot the roots of Indian nationalism. As a result, the Union Government that ruled, nay, misruled, from 2004 to 2014 was the most corrupt government Independent India has seen.
Bengali nationalism as manifestation of Indian nationalism
The same trend can be seen vis-à-vis nationalism in Bengal.
Rishi Bankimchandra’s “Anondo Motth” can be considered the authoritative text of Bengali nationalism. This seminal work was inspired by Srimad Bhagvad Gita, like most other nationalist Indian literature. In “Anondo Motth”, we see our motherland being venerated as Indians have done since millennia, the sacred mother. Nationalism was clearly defined, which was to fight the Islamic Jihad and British imperialism.
When the key concepts of Bengali spiritual nationalism were upheld, Bengalis shook up the brutal forces. Sannyasi rebels fought against Islamic Jihadi forces and British tooth and nail. Santhals sacrificed all they had for their motherland. Barely a young man, Kshudiram Bose went to gallows with a smile on his face. Binoy, Badal and Dinesh attacked the seat of British power. “Master da” Surya Sen led his band of brave nationalists and fought against the British, among the fighters were Pritilata Waddedar and Kalpana Datta, supposedly “Weak Indian Women who required reservation”. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose led an Indian National Army of sixty thousands Indian soldiers, who managed to advance till Kohima, and took the sleep away from British. Retired Major General Gagan Deep Bakshi has consistently demonstrated in his books and articles how British left India not because of supposed non-violent movement, but because they were shaken by INA, they felt their most important arm for ruling India is, that is Indian army, is now slipping away from their grip. Interestingly, primary sources of Major General Gagan Deep Bakshi are all utterances and correspondence of high ranking contemporary British political heavyweights.
When the root of Bengali nationalism was violated, Bengali nationalism lost steam. Examples are far too many, and far too depressing. This writer will cite only a few.
Losing the root
First was the mass scale conversion of Hindu population in favour of Buddhism, during the early first millennium of Christian calendar. While we Bengali people rightly celebrate Atish Dipankar as illustrious son of Bengal, for his intellectual work of spreading Buddhist philosophy in places as far as Tibet, we sometimes underestimate the effect of Buddhism, especially in the Eastern part of Bengal (latert day East Pakistan, which subsequently became Bangladesh in 1971 largely due to Indian Armed forces momentous sacrifice). Buddhism, as spread by the state-sponsored mass proselytizing initiated by Ashoka, held non-violence at a dogmatic level, and swore by it. People, en masse, in places as diverse as Afghanistan, Tibet and East Bengal, gave up arms, took up prayer wheels. Such dogma never helps. In future, Afghanistan, Tibet and East Bengal were all devoured by predatory imperialist forces, such as Islam and Communism. While many regions in India fell before the sword of Islam, periodical regeneration of Hinduism also formed significant resistance against Islam, and the rule by Jihad was also pushed back in many regions of India. Unfortunately, regions almost completely Buddhist had no such regenerative influence, and Afghanistan, Kashmir valley or East Bengal could never push Islam back. En masse conversion of Hindu Bengali people into Buddhism was totally against what Dharma held, non-violence was never to be followed dogmatically in India. Even lord Shri Krishna threatened to kill Bheesma, when Arjuna was prevaricating, torn between his love for grandsire and sense of duty. This author recommends Shri Tathagata Roy’s book “My People, Uprooted: A Saga of the Hindus of Eastern Bengal”, where impact of this unfortunate en masse conversion into Buddhism is described in great details.
Increasing political correctness
As the second example, this writer intends to highlight the increasingly muted or absent criticism of Islam by important Bengali leaders during the early parts of twentieth century. Important Bengali leaders from multiple walks of life contributed to Bengali nationalism. Entire Bengali Hindu population was moved by Shri Rabindranath Thakur’s patriotic songs. However, as far as criticism of Islam is concerned, Rabindranath was not very forthcoming. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose electrified not only Bengali people, but the entire Indian people. However, as far as criticism of Islam’s theological fundamentals are concerned, he was not very vocal. Did Rabindranath Thakur or Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose not know of what Islam represents? Did they not know that Islam mandates Muhammad’s life as a role model for all Muslims worldwide, in spite of Muhammad’s career of mass murder, rape and paedophilia? Did they not know that Islam recognizes no nationalism, rule of Allah all over the world is the supreme and non-negotiable goal of Islam? How was it possible, when Rishi Bankimchandra, Swamy Vivekananda, or novelist Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay knew? There is only one answer. In all likelihood, Rabindranath and Netaji Subhash knew what Islam represented, but they had to find tactical alliance in their fight against British. But this de-facto dilution of dangers represented by Islam had very disastrous impact. Rabindranath or Netaji Subhas were not the only ones who focused less on Islam’s destructive potential. Even the Charan poets of Bengal, who had made yeoman contribution to nationalist struggle, had misunderstood Islam’s destructive potential, to the extent of some of them actually supporting Ottoman Caliphate. Ottoman Caliphate was one of the most repressive and regressive regimes to have ever ruled on the planet earth, and when Khilafat agitation was started in India, Moplahs in Kerala led a pogrom of Hindus, for the sake of reinstatement of Caliphate in Turkey. As we can clearly see from the last 69 years of Independent India’s history, war imposed on India by Islam continues to devour Indian people, in the most brutal manner. Pakistan of present day, or Aurangzeb of 17th Century, are manifestations only. Real enemy is Islam. The more we ignore this, the more unprepared we will remain. Tactical alliance can never be a cause for overlooking Islam’s destructive theological influence. Millions of Bengali Hindus have paid for “Hindu Muslim Bhai Bhai” with the life, home, hearth, temples, and dignity of their women. Leaders of Bengali nationalist movement should not have overlooked Islam’s brutal record, or Islam’s poisoned chalice of an ideology. Their silence was dangerous. The Bengali Hindus had lost from their radar, the dangerous enemy they had to eventually face, in the form of Islam.
Is stagnation of Bengali nationalism an unique event?
Are the Bengali people the only ones in the Indian history to have lost track of their nationalism? No. Even during Mahabharat, even after masterful exposition of Srimad Bhagvad Gita by Shri Krishna, Arjuna kept prevaricating when fighting against Drona. This was when Drona had given up all Brahman-like ideals, had become a mercenary, had hurled powerful divine weapons on common soldiers in complete contravention of the code of war. Even after masterful leadership of Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the Marathas did lose way. Even after supreme sacrifice of Guruji Teg Bahadur, and supremely inspired leadership of Guruji Govind Singh ji, the Sikhs did lose way. Unfortunately, in the history of an ancient nation like that of ours, Bengalis will not be the last community to have lost their way to their nationalism. Institution building is thus supremely important. An “United Spectrum of Hindu Vote”, as coined by Dr. Praveen Patil (of 5forty3 ) can only be built on strong institutional foundation, and can’t depend on occasional brilliant leaders.
Can Bengali nationalism turn the corner?
Will Bengali nationalism be never recovered? No, that’s incorrect. Cause for optimism is already seen. This writer will cite two examples. In February 2017, one 100,000 people assembled in Kolkata, from all parts of West Bengal, to commemorate annual foundation day of Hindu Samhati, an organization that works for Hindu unity. Many of the participant were attacked by the Jihadis on their way to Kolkata, but they did not back down. Ground level reports suggest that Mamata Bannerjee is already worried about this new found Hindu assertiveness. Articles written by Shri Rantideb Sengupta or Shri Mohit Ray, in the periodical journal “Deshbhokter Chithi” (“Letter from Patriot”) clearly demonstrate that Bengali Hindus are rising from their stupor. Hindus all over India have started to claim their civilization back. Bengali Hindus will not lag behind.