The question of national identity
In a recent address at the 75th session of Indian History Congress, Vice President Hamid Ansari issued a stern warning to his audience about articulating the idea of a homogenous nation state. Ansari referred to the presence 4,635 communities listed by the Anthropological Survey of India and said that putting together the profile of a national identity must be handled with the utmost care. Ansari’s warning flies in the face of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its affiliates, who claim that India is a Hindu nation and Hindutva is its identity. Hindutva’s key goal is to forge a unified Hindu identity. Consequently, vitriolic rhetoric and acts of violence against Muslims and other religious minorities are instruments that are used towards establishing a single Hindu identity. Besides pushing for a homogenous Indian identity, controversial reconversion ceremonies in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat pertains to the proliferation of communal politics in an environment of fear for religious minorities. Ansari’s address comes at an interesting time, as he presides over the upper house of Parliament, which did not function for a larger part of the winter session demanding a statement from Prime Minister on the issue of religious conversions. The Prime Minister had chosen to remain silent. In times such as these, it is imperative to look back in history. In 1949, the much-maligned former Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru, overruled members of the Hindu right in the Congress, led by Sardar Patel and SP Mukherjee, who wanted a forced communal exchange of populations to bring closure to communal violence that broke out in West Bengal. In overruling members of his own party, Nehru took steps to ensure that Muslims in Bengal were not denied natural citizenship based on their religion. Unfortunately, the present establishment does not seem to respect such ideas.