AN ALTERNATIVE NARRATIVE OF NATIONALISM



Response to a debate: Hindus and Muslims did participate in the freedom movement under Gandhi and fought under one flag in post-independence wars. But never, never did they unite with reverence and respect for each other's religions as in 1857.

The concept of religion in 1857 worked as a uniting, and not a divisive, force. Secondly, 1857 was the uprising of the peasantry. Even sepoys were all peasants. This is different from the Congress led freedom movement. Middle class, a product of the British education system, dominated the latter. 0
The men and women who fought in 1857 had roots in pre-British India of indigenous categories and practices. The same cannot be said of those who fought in the post-1857 phase. Where else but in 1857 will you find the Hindu religious peasantry going to Delhi to install a Muslim king? Where else will you find Muslim cavalry placing Nana Sahab Peshwa, a kattar Brahmin, on the throne of Kanpur?

Apart from a brief period during the 1921 non-cooperation movement, Hindus and Muslims never fought as one the way they fought in 1857.

Post-1921 freedom movement was a fractured entity. 1857 invoked both Islam and Sanatan Dharma, Lord Krishna and Prophet Mohammad, in the same breath. There was a sense in 1857 that though the rituals of worship might differ, Hindus and Muslims are united by a common deen (a mystical, Sufi term implying higher, soul driven, indigenous belief in God). Gandhi invoked Ram but did not invoke Prophet Mohammad in the same breath. Gandhi did not invoke 1857.
Gandhi did not invoke a common deen for Hindus and Muslims. Despite his greatness, Gandhi failed in creating a common ideological and cultural narrative for Hindus and Muslims in the freedom struggle. That's why Muslims stood aloof and ultimately, Jinnah became their leader. That's why Partition happened...that is why communal forces despite killing Gandhi could were never rooted out. And today, after overthrowing Gandhi, they are ruling us.

Nehru who tried introducing a secular, scientific temper in the western sense to the Gandhian liberal Hindu narrative too failed. Because Nehru was unable to address the basic problem: that of invoking a common Deen while uniting Hindus and Muslims. You say my language and rhetoric would push ordinary citizenry away. We will not be able to fight against Hindutva. On the contrary, both my intellectual work, the books on 1857, and my political work in UP, has brought Hindus and Muslims together. Hindu and Muslim peasants understand 1857...there is no village in UP where a Hindu and a Muslim did not die together fighting the British in 1857.

Hindu-Muslim unity of 1857 was forged by ideology and blood. The same unity was forged at a pan India level. My 1857 books narrate how Gujratis, Marathis, Keralites, Tamils, Telugus, Kannadas, Assamese, Sikhs, Punjabis, Jats, Bengalis, adivasis, OBCs, Dalits, Oriyas, Hyderabadis, Manipuris, Nagas, Khasis, Mizos, Nagas, Kashmiris fought alongside the Hindi-Urdu belt. This narrative implied a modern concept of nation building far more extensive than the narrative of Gandhi, Nehru or RSS.
The line of 1857 would have avoided partition and taken India towards an anti-Imperialist, peasant path of capitalist development. The model followed by Congress led India towards a dependant, distorted landlord path of development. Basic structural issues of Indian economy and society lie unresolved. And we are in the 21st century. You talk in abstract about an alternative vision that people can relate to; well, people tried the Gandhian-Nehruvian vision...they are giving the RSS 'vision' a chance. But both are unable to reflect peoples aspirations. Only the 1857 vision applied to contemporary times can do that.

The language and rhetoric attracts both Muslims and BJP members. So the 1857 vision is a whole, alternative platform of economic, social, cultural and political policies. It is our only hope.

- Amaresh Misra
Author

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