The Need for an Indian National Identity

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.

5 thoughts on “The Need for an Indian National Identity

  1. sriks6711 Wednesday January 14, 2009 / 2:50 am

    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.

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  2. Sundar Sunday January 18, 2009 / 3:11 pm

    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

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  3. keshavbedi Monday July 23, 2018 / 1:44 am

    But sir, aren’t you fundamentally against nationalism and national identities?
    Do you not see that Rajiv Malhotra’s idea of India is ‘Hindu cultural'(Whatever that means) hegemony?
    His complain is not why secularism in India is asymmetrical but why such asymmetry is not in his own favor.
    He thinks secularism has something to do with interfaith relations and brings in pluralism of Hinduism to champion negation of secularism.
    It doesn’t occur to him that the justification of secularism lies in preventing vote bank politics or preventing formulation of laws discriminatory in nature based on religion.

    He despises ‘Western political theories’ , ‘Western Social Science’, and thinks we should reject all that and build everything on Indian ‘siddhant’. He says that Liberalism, Socialism, Democracy, Marxism, Post Modernism et cetera are western concepts and categories and that we should have our own.

    He doesn’t know of law as an instrument of coercion and thinks Dharmic duties should be incorporated in Indian laws.
    He advocates using the instrument of state, which enforces it’s decrees through violence or threat of violence, to champion Hinduism.

    He has a distaste for psychology and other disciplines[which aren’t natural sciences] because they are western.

    Leaving aside his project of contribution of India to science and tech in past, it seems to me, he stands for everything you oppose. Isn’t it so?

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    • Atanu Dey Saturday July 28, 2018 / 10:51 am

      But sir, aren’t you fundamentally against nationalism and national identities?

      No, you misunderstand me. I think that they are unhealthy as the defining characteristic of a people. An obsessive parochialism and xenophobic rejection of all that is not of one’s tribe is not good. That’s what I am against.

      Do you not see that Rajiv Malhotra’s idea of India is ‘Hindu cultural'(Whatever that means) hegemony?

      I don’t see it that way at all. Do you? What justifies your claim? Further, is Islamic hegemony fine with you and you only object to Hindu hegemony? Have you even heard of the concept called “pseudo-secular”? It’s properly illustrated where a person, often from a non-Muslim background, bending over backward to support the imagined oppression of Muslims by non-Muslims? Look it up.

      The rest of your comment is the position of a typical pseudo-secular Indian. Always the problem lies with Hindus. I suspect you will not be able to point out even one thing that the Muslims in India need to do. That would be not be pseudo-secular. Your criticism of Malhotra may be justified. But you will never have the intellectual integrity to hold the non-Hindus to the same standard. You, for example, believe that it is OK for Muslims when they are in the majority to impose their religion on others but Hindus cannot even in their own societies have rules consistent with their religious sentiments.

      Do you not see your double standard and hypocrisy?

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      • keshavbedi Sunday July 29, 2018 / 12:02 am

        I think that they are unhealthy as the defining characteristic of a people.

        What is the use of a national ‘identity’ if not a defining characteristic of a people?
        Speaking of xenophobic rejection of things not of one’s tribe, Malhotra rejects much of the literature of west which is not natural science, because he thinks it’s biased with western lens and not suitable for India. I can bet my shirt on the fact that he has no rigorous knowledge of the domains he so enthusiastically rejects but still have loud and vociferous opinions on them.
        The examples I have stated in my previous comment.
        He also says that Liberalism(Classical Liberalism, a school of thought you subscribe to) among other things, is a Western concept and is inapplicable to India. One wonders if you aren’t qualified to have opinions on India because you come from the tradition of classical liberalism, which is a western concept.

        What justifies your claim? Further, is Islamic hegemony fine with you and you only object to Hindu hegemony? Have you even heard of the concept called “pseudo-secular”? 

        The justification of my claim lies in the fact that nowhere in his writings or in his speeches he seeks for secularism. NOWHERE. Criticizing pseudo-secularism going in favor of certain communities, currently practised in India, doesn’t imply wanting secularism. His complain really is why such pseudo-secularism is not in his favor. His talks on the Indian Grand Narrative and other topics show clearly that he wants Hindu cultural hegemony.
        Also, Islamic hegemony is not fine with me. Not at all. But there is no Islamic cultural hegemony in India. Governments please Islamic communities by giving them doles and offering them other special benefits or treatments. I AM AGAINST THAT.
        The answer to pseudo-secularism lies not in fighting for one’s fair share of pseudo-secularism. The answer to that is Hayekian view which asks to make it mandatory provision that legislature must not pass any laws discriminating on the basis of religion, precisely what secularism means.(Not that people be irreligious but that state should have no religion)
        That takes away incentives from politicians to inflame and please communities on religious lines and also cuts vote-bank politics. But Malhotra is not for that. He is for a his idea of a Hindu India not realizing that denying secularism(or saying India doesn’t need secularism) means seeking votes then by dividing Hindus, by pleasing certain sections of them and promising them certain benefits, like reservation to Patels, Jats et cetera.
        He advocates state(the essence of which lies in enforcing one’s decrees through force or threat of force) intervention to champion Hinduism in a country where 80% population is Hindu, which seems weird to me.

        Always the problem lies with Hindus. I suspect you will not be able to point out even one thing that the Muslims in India need to do. 

        My criticism is nowhere that Hindus are problematic and that Muslims are not. I am arguing on the structure within which communities should coexist.

        You, for example, believe that it is OK for Muslims when they are in the majority to impose their religion on others but Hindus cannot even in their own societies have rules consistent with their religious sentiments.

        I don’t know what makes you think that it’s OK for me that Muslims impose their religion on others when they’re in majority. It’s thoroughly backward thing to do for me, and I abhor such ideas.
        Speaking of having rules consistent with religious sentiments, Malhotra complains why Dharmic duties aren’t incorporated in the laws of the country.
        It’s outrightly moronic considering that law is an instrument of coercion and is used where coercion is necessary.
        The error lies in confusing morality with law, which, as Bentham explained, have the same center but different circumferences. But Malhotra is ignorant of all the vast important literature which exists on the subject he speaks. He reminds me of Mark Pattison who said that “A man who doesn’t know what has been thought by those who have gone before him is sure to set an undue value upon his own ideas.”

        It’s astonishing that you claim yourself to be a classical liberal and still find nothing problematic with Malhotra who goes directly against various tenets of classical liberalism.

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