13. Hindutva and other peoples' nationalism
The BJP's subordination of
any and every ideological or religious conflict to questions of "national
unity and integrity", this most mindless form of territorial nationalism, is
also a worrying retreat from the historical Hindu conception of Indian
nationhood and its implications for the evaluation of foreign problems of
national unity. Along with Mahatma Gandhi and other Freedom Fighters, the
BJS used to be convinced that India was a self-conscious civilizational unit
since several thousands of years, strengthened in its realization of unity
by the Sanskrit language, the Brahmin caste, the pilgrimage cycles which
brought pilgrims from every part of India all around the country ("country"
rather than the "Subcontinent" or "South Asia", terms which intrinsically
question this unity), and other socio-cultural factors of national
integration. The notions that India was an artificial creation of the
British and a "nation in the making", were floated by the British themselves
and by Jawaharlal Nehru, respectively, and both are obvious cases of
unfounded self-flattery. Gandhi's and the BJS's viewpoint that India is an
ancient nation conscious of its own unity is historically more accurate.
In foreign policy, one can
expect two opposite attitudes to follow from these two conceptions of India,
the Gandhian one which derives India's political unity from a pre-existent
cultural unity, and the Nehruvian one which denies this cultural unity and
sees political unity as a baseless coincidence, an artificial creation of
external historical forces. In its own self-interest, an artificially
created state devoid of underlying legitimacy tends to support any and every
other state, regardless of whether that state is the political embodiment of
a popular will or a cultural coherence. The reason is that any successful
separatism at the expense of a fellow artificial state is a threat to the
state's own legitimacy. That is, for instance, why the founding member
states of the Organization of African Unity decided from the outset that the
ethnically absurd colonial borders were not to be altered. It is also why
countries like Great Britain and France, whose own legitimacy within their
present borders is questioned by their Irish, Corsican and other minorities,
were reluctant to give diplomatic recognition to Lithuania when it broke
away from the Soviet Union.
By contrast, those who believe
that states are merely political instruments in the service of existing
ethnic or cultural units, accept that state structures and borders are not
sacrosanct in themselves, and that they may consequently be altered. That
is why Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn proposed to allow the non-Slavic republics to
leave the Soviet Union, and why as a sterling Russian patriot he pleaded in
favour of Chechen independence from the Russian Federation: it is no use
trying to keep Turks and Slavs, or Chechens and Russians, under one roof
against their will. If Russia is meant to be the political expression of
the collective will of the Russian people, it is only harmful to include
other nations by force, as the Chechens and Turkic peoples once were.
To be sure, even partisans of
this concept of "meaningful" (as opposed to arbitrary) states will concede
that there may be limitations to this project of adjusting state structures
and state borders to existing ethnic and cultural realities, especially
where coherent communities have been ripped apart and relocated, as has
happened in Russia. Also, cultural and ethnic identities are not static
givens (e.g. the "Muslim" character of India's principal minority), so we
should not oversimplify the question to an idyllic picture of a permanent
division of the world in states allotted to God-given national entities.
But at least the general principle can be accepted: states should as much as
possible be the embodiment of coherent cultural units. That, at any rate,
is the Hindu-nationalist understanding of the Indian state: as the political
embodiment of Hindu civilization.
Now, what is the position of
the BJS/BJP regarding the right of a state to self-preservation as against
the aspirations of ethnic-cultural communities or nations? The BJS
originally had no problem supporting separatism in certain specific cases,
esp. the liberation of East Turkestan (Sinkiang/Xinjiang), Inner Mongolia
and Tibet from Chinese rule. At the time, the BJS still adhered to the
Gandhian position: India should be one independent state because it is one
culturally, and so should Tibet for the same reason. Meanwhile, however,
this plank in its platform has been quietly withdrawn.
As A.B. Vajpayee told the
Chinese when he was Janata Party Foreign Minister, and as Brijesh Mishra,
head of the BJP's Foreign Policy Cell, reconfirmed to me (February 1996):
India, including the BJP, considers Tibet and other ethnic territories in
the People's Republic as inalienable parts of China.
The BJP has decisively shifted towards the Nehruvian position: every state,
by virtue of its very existence, must be defended against separatist
tendencies, no matter how well-founded the latter may be in cultural, ethnic
or historical respects. That is, for example, why the BJP is not supporting
Kurdish sovereignty against Iraqi and Turkish imperialism.
Along with falling from cultural Hindu nationalism to empty
secular-territorial nationalism, the BJP has also fallen from solidarity
with other oppressed and colonized nations to a short-sighted Indocentrism.
When you ask why the BJP has
abandoned its support for the Tibetan freedom movement, the standard reply
is that this would justify other separatisms, including those in Kashmir and
Panjab. Exactly the same position is taken by non-BJP politicians and
diplomats. But from a Hindu and from an Indian nationalist viewpoint, this
position does injustice to India's claim on Kashmir and Panjab, which should
not be put on a par with all other anti-separatism positions in the world.
Firstly, while Tibet was never a part of China, and while Chechnya was only
recently (19th century) forcibly annexed to Russia, Kashmir and Panjab have
been part of the heartland of Hindu culture since at least 5,000 years.
Secondly, in contrast with the annexations of Chechnya and Tibet, the
accession of Panjab (including the nominally independent princedoms in it)
and the whole of the former princedom of Jammu & Kashmir to the Republic of
India were entirely legal, following procedures duly agreed upon by the
Therefore, Indian nationalists
are harming their own case by equating Kashmiri separatism with
independentism in Tibet, which did not accede to China of its own free will
and following due procedure, and which was not historically a part of
China. To equate Kashmir with Tibet or Chechnya is to deny the profound
historical and cultural Indianness of Kashmir, and to undermine India's case
against Kashmiri separatism. Here again, we see the harmful effect of the
BJP's intellectual sloppiness.
To be fair, we should mention
that the party considers its own compromising position on Tibet as very
clever and statesmanlike: now that it is preparing itself for Government, it
is now already removing any obstacles in the way of its acceptance by China
and the USA (who would both be irritated with the "destabilizing" impact of
a Government in Delhi which is serious about challenging Beijing's
annexation of Tibet). In reality, a clever statesman would reason the other
way around: possibly there is no realistic scope for support to Tibetan
independence, but then that can be conceded at the negotiation table, in
exchange for real Chinese concessions, quid pro quo.
If you swallow your own hard positions beforehand, you will have nothing
left to bargain with when you want to extract concessions on the other
party's hard positions, i.e., China's territorial claims on Ladakh, Sikkim
and Arunachal Pradesh, and its support to Burmese claims on the Andaman and
Nicobar islands. International diplomacy should teach the BJP what it
refuses to learn from its Indian experiences, viz. that being eager to
please your enemies doesn't pay.
If earlier BJP manifestoes still mentioned Sino-Indian cooperation "with
due safeguards for Tibet", meaningless enough, the 1996 manifesto does
not even mention Tibet. Nor does it unambiguously reclaim the
China-occupied Indian territories; it vaguely settles for "resolv[ing]
the border question in a fair and equitable manner".(p.32)
In October 1996, a handful of BJP men bravely demonstrated before the
American Embassy against the American retaliation to the Iraqi troops'
entry in the Kurdish zone from which it was barred by the UNO. There
was every reason to demonstrate: while punishing Iraq, the Americans
allow Turkish aggression against Iraqi Kurdistan, the so-called
"protected" zone, and fail to support Kurdish independence in deference
to Turkey's objections. But that was not the target of the BJP protest,
which merely opposed any and every threat against the "unity and
integrity" of Iraq, a totally artificial state with artificial and
unjustifiable borders (as Saddam Hussain himself argued during the Gulf
War, pointing to the artificial British-imposed border between the
Mesopotamian population centre and the Kuwaiti oil fields).
This is not to suggest that demanding freedom for Tibet should only be
done to have bargaining chip, merely to illustrate the principle that
concessions, even if unavoidable under the circumstances, should still
be made known as such, i.e. in exchange for concessions from the other
party, and not made beforehand in exchange for nothing. But Beijing
politics may develop in such a way that Tibetan sovereignty becomes a
realistic proposition again.