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Tuesday, 26 November 2013


Rethinking Nationalism with the Poor

             Religious nationalism is spreading fast in several parts of the world. In each context, there are specific reasons for the ascendancy of this brand of nationalism. It has engendered serious conflicts and violence. It is a permanent threat to the survival of the poor and the marginalised, their identity and dignity. The new avatar of nationalism creates serious polarisation in terms of insider/outsider, we/they. Furthermore, it has a dangerous homogenising tendency that does not allow for difference and pluralism. It functions by exploiting religious symbols, rites and myths. In the process, it violently co-opts or suppresses other identities. On the other hand, secular nationalism is supposed to transcend the sphere of religion and religious identities. It is centred on a separation of religion and politics in its strict interpretation, and equi-distance of the state from religion in its more liberal version. It relies on the basic equality of all citizens. The crucial question is whether secular nationalism could be a response to religious nationalism and can stem its tide. 

While secular nationalism has its own points of strength, it seems to be inadequate to face up to the challenge posed by religious nationalism. Specifically, there are many doubts about its capacity to defend the cause of the poor and the oppressed. There is, in the first place, a general opinion that “secular” is a Western concept that is ill at ease in our Indian context. The conception of neutrality implied in the understanding of secular is formal in nature. We need a substantive conception of equality that would take into account the incontestable fact of plurality of groups and identities, especially the vulnerable groups. Granting that this is possible within the frame of secular nationalism, we cannot, however, ignore the fact that the “secular” has become a highly debated question when it comes to interpretation. As a result, strangely though, the religious nationalists themselves could claim to be true secularists and brand others as “pseudo-secularists”. I mean to say that the secular approach is preoccupied so much with the negativities of religion that it is not able to tap the humanistic message religions have to offer.
We need to move in the direction of an inclusive humanistic nationalism that would uphold the cause of the poor and the marginalised. It will create the space for religious insights to play their humanising role in society. Humanistic nationalism suggests the particularity of nation and fuses it with the universalistic vision which is very important for the encounter of people and culture. It will ensure, within the nation itself, that no group of people is neglected or left out. It will be particularly attentive to the marginalised and vulnerable groups by setting in operation social equity.
Finally, one of the avenues open for a religion’s involvement is the collaboration with new social movements, which go in the direction of secularity and social equity. These movements try to bring ethics in action and transcend the narrow boundaries of caste and creed. Its support to humanistic nationalism would be in the form of fostering pluralism that is very crucial for harmonious and just inter-relationship among the groups and identities subsumed under the nation. 

Collected & Contributed By- 

Agriti Shrivastava,
Article Analyst, FSA
CNLU, Patna


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