Atanu Dey On India's Development

The Need for an Indian National Identity

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I have long been an admirer of Rajiv Malhotra, the founder and president of the Infinity Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Princeton, New Jersey. He is an Indian nationalist and is indefatigable in his goal of educating people about the Indic traditions — particularly to Americans and Indians in America. Given his strong Indian nationalism and his love of the Indic traditions, I would not have expected Tehelka to publish one of his opinion pieces. Still, it is good to see Malhotra’s piece in Tehelka, “We, the Nation(s) of India.” One is thankful for small mercies.

He makes a cogent case that while India rightly celebrates diversity, that plurality must not prevent the nation from having a collective identity that transcends all narrow distinctions. Indians needs to have a national identity.

Today, many Indians erase their distinctiveness by glamorising white identity as the gold standard. Skin lighteners are literal whiteners. Media and pop culture incorporate white aesthetics, body language and attire for social status, careers and marriage. The venerable “namaste” is becoming a marker of the older generations and the servants. Pop Hindu gurus peddle the “everything is the same” mumbojumbo, ignoring even the distinctions between the dharmic and the un-dharmic. Intellectuals adopt white categories of discourse as “universal”.

Difference eradicating ideologies are hegemonic. Either you (i) assimilate, (ii) oppose and suffer, or (iii) get contained and marginalised.

But Indian philosophy is built on celebrating diversity — in trees, flowers, matter, human bodies, minds, languages and cultures, spiritualities and traditions — and does not see it as a problem to be dealt with.

He clearly articulates the threat of fragmentation that India faces from foreign sources.

Globalisation has opened the floodgates for minority leaders to tie-up with western churches and NGOs, Saudis, Chinese and just about anyone wanting to carve out a slice of the Indian elephant. Such minorities include the Nagas, now serving as a foreign subsidiary of the Texas Southern Baptist Church; Tamils who first got Dravidianised and are now being Christianised through identity engineering; Maoists in over 30 percent of India’s districts; and Saudifunded Pan-Islamists expanding across India. These fragmented identities weaken Indianness due to their loyalty to foreign alliances. The leaders depend on foreign headquarters for ideological and financial support.

Such groups are no longer minorities, but are agents of dominant world majorities. They are franchisees of the global nexuses they serve. They are adversaries of the Indian identity formation. Do they truly help India’s under classes? These global nexuses have a disappointing track record of solving problems in countries where they have operated for generations, including Latin America, Philippines and Africa where most natives have become converted. The imported religion has failed to bring human rights and has often exacerbated problems. Yet, Indian middlemen have mastered the art of begging foreign patronage in exchange for selling the souls of fellow Indians.

It’s a long piece and well worth the time. He points to a lesson that Indians can learn from the Americans. “America celebrates its tapestry of hyphenated identities (Indian-American, Irish-American, etc.) but “American” supersedes every sub-identity. Being un-American is a death knell for American leaders.”

He concludes with a few paragraphs on what we — or at least the really wealthy among us — must do.

India can learn from American mechanisms. Indian billionaires must become major stakeholders in constructing positive discourse on the nation. They must make strategic commitments like those made by the Carnegies, Rockefellers and Fords in building American identity, its sense of history, and in projecting American ideals. American meritocracy in politics, implemented through internal primaries, is vastly superior to the cronyism in Indian politics.

The area studies programmes in American universities have close links to the government, think tanks and churches, and they examine nations and civilisations from the American perspective. India should establish a network of area studies to study neighboring countries and other regions from India’s viewpoint. India should study China’s establishment of 100 Confucian Studies Chairs worldwide and the civilisational grand narrative of other nations.

Ideological “camps” with pre-packaged solutions are obsolete. The Indian genius must improvise, innovate, and create a national identity worthy of its name.

I do think that the time is ripe and soon enough we will have wealthy Indians emulating the Americans in helping build the Indian national identity.

  • sriks6711

    Pop guru’s peddle a lot more than mumbo-jumbo. But then, they are everywhere albiet under different names – ministers, ayotullas, priests etc. However, I think, that it is the people who are the bigger fools and there are no solutions to un-fool mobs…
    http://cworks.blogspot.com/2007/02/humour-sketch-spiritualistic.html
    As the ending of that story reveals, thank god (oops!) that fairly none really takes the preachings to the heart.

  • http://www.sundarmail.com Sundar

    Gurumurthy has been trying to advocate this for a long in different ways and forms. Many of his writings are in http://www.gurumurthy.net