Mona Ozouf, a French historian described the trend for formation of nation states in terms of how the concept of what was sacrosanct in terms of social contract was changing. She calls it – “transference of sacrality” from the strict religious domain to the nation. This is in line with how the basis of nation state was discussed by John Locke, English politicalphilosopher who backed the need for making individual conscience central to the interaction in a society as opposed to state or religious control. Locke was the product of what is known in Europe as the “Age of Enlightenment”.
The need for separation of State and Church was obvious. When the individual belief came bundled with the covenant to enforce it on others to make it a mass belief (thus providing sanctity to its “correctness”) – then a nation was basically going to be reduced to a mass of herded cattle. Nation State, an idea that grew out of the fight against the “Dark Ages”, was founded in minds which valued individual consciousness and not herd beliefs. Even in the US, when the Americans revolted against King George III of Britain, and the founding fathers created the Constitution – it was specifically amended by the Congress to ban the establishment of a state religion!
If religion was indeed about bringing man closer to God and priests/Popes “men of God”, then didn’t it make it even more important that religion should have been the guiding force for the rulers? But a look at the history of religion and the genocides that happened in the name of Christianity in Europe can be one of the darkest hour of humanity.
Between 1560 and 1715, Europe witnessed only thirty years of international peace. The greatest “international” conflict of the period was the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), a war that had its origins in the complicated religious and political environment of the period. In 1555, the Peace of Augsburg brought an end to religious wars in Central Europe by dividing the numerous German states between Catholic and Lutheran authority. Although each prince had the right to determine the religion of his subjects, it happened that Lutheranism continued to spread into catholic-held lands. The spread of Calvinism, not recognized at Augsburg, also increased tensions. By 1609, the Holy Roman Empire had fragmented into two hostile alliances — the Protestant Union and the Catholic League.
The truth is that Abrahamic belief systems were never about God or Divine at all. They were about ideological prejudices and the use of force to thrust it down on others as a mark of supremacy. The battle between Protestants and Catholics was never about the legitimacy of Jesus or any spiritual understanding of things. But about how to go about it. Just one small difference that someone would come up with was enough to justify the killings of perfectly nice men and women in the most gruesome ways. All in the name of ONE book, ONE man, and ONE path. And, this is important to understand. Religion had nothing whatsoever to with the divine or God! It was and is about supremacy of ideological prejudices.
And, this is what the constructors of democracies and nation states wanted to avoid. They wanted to leave the internecine battles in Europe – and Europe’s past post-Renaissance – and move to a Secular future. Where Secularism was defined as being anti-thesis or denial of God. Secularism was an atheistic answer to theological states. And, a promise for sanity itself!
This was the backdrop of the need for nation states.
India’s spiritual backdrop was never religious. It was based upon seeking. There are FOUR Vedas, 200 known Upanishads, 18 Maha Puranas & 18 Upa Puranas, and numerous authoritative texts of high spiritual value (Ashtavakara Samhita, Yoga Vasistha, Bhagwad Gita, etc). And yet, there was no internecine battles, barring few unfortunate exceptions – Kolathunga Chola (the ideological Shaivite) being the worst example of how belief sans any spiritual understanding starts a prejudicial conflict (Shaivites vs Vaishnavites). But these battles between Shaivites and Vaishanavites – mostly philosophical except in times of upstarts like Kolathunga, were confined to one area of India for a brief period. It represented the breakdown of spiritual work in that time. For, Bhishma is known to have recited Vishnu sahasranama to Yudhister during Mahabharat whereas Krishna recited Shiva sahasranama. In Ramayana, Ram is shown to have invoked Shiva and worshipped him, while Shiva has been shown to have glorified Ram by reciting Srirama rama ramethi rame raame manorame sahasranaama tathwalyam rama nama varanane!
Barring that exception, the diversity of philosophies, paths and ways was embraced across the land. Spiritual texts and example abound on how Spiritual work begins where mental constructs stop.
How is it that One book and one conception of God took people to the depths of demonic behavior, while so many texts/ways/articulations prodded another set of people to the height of Spiritual expression?
The answer lies in the question itself. The diversity of paths was the best insurance for diversity. Despite diversity of ways, there was one unmistakable ethos that underpinned the very basis of social existence. In such societies you don’t need pretenses like Morality or formal rejection of belief by creating Nation states. There is a national ethos. Nation or the thread that ties all the different flowers is the Ethos of Seeking and Urge for Truth. When one is working to find the existential truth, social differences are the first casualties. They are rendered meaningless not as a favor to others, but as the foundational preparation for the journey within.
There are two ways to exist – Enforced Moral Edicts or Natural Outpouring of Humanity. Belief systems necessitate the former, while Spiritual paths result in the latter.
Those who have to be forced to behave as humans under the pressure of legal edicts and punishment can never understand the paradigm of free expression of humanity. Those who have evaluated the entire cosmic existence from the viewpoint of the worst human traits (jealousy, vanity, anger) cannot come to terms with the calm splendour of human bliss. To them it is fishy and even non-existent.
And, this is where one needs to look at the conception of Bharat or India as a natural, diverse, ethos-based “Nation”. Many brought up on the Western narrative of nation states as the greatest social invention look for a neat-nice creation of India as a political unit. So they go around spreading the falsehoods of how India was made into a nation by the British. Quite like someone saying that before the 10 commandments of Moses, humans had no humanity in them and post that everyone was moral!
The fact is that constitutions or a piece of paper does not make a nation. Even laws do not keep nations together. It is the ethos that binds people. You divide and corrupt the ethos, you let others undermine that ethos – and the nation is no more. You cultivate the ethos, irrespective of who the ruler is and how many states, provinces, fiefdoms or kingdoms you are divided into politically – and you are still a nation of people.
That is why Christopher Columbus in 1492, Vasco Da Gama in 1497, and Alexander before them were not undertaking expeditions to conquer the Cholas or the Cheras or the Mughals or Marathas or Magadha. They all went looking for India. In fact, even in the theological commentaries and texts, the Christian theologians as early as 313 AD looked at this land as India!
If India as a nation was indeed a “gift by the British” as many – brought up on fictional account of past written by the likes of Romilla Thapars and Ramachandra Guhas peddled as History – would have us believe, then how was it that everyone through centuries and indeed millennia – before the advent of Islam or Christianity even, saw the people and land as India and Indians as ONE people? That courtesy was never extended to the Europeans ever.
Just like, despite (rather because of) so many texts, ways and paths Sanatana Dharma was always seen as one large ethos WITHOUT any Pope or authority to enforce adherence, unlike Abrahamic belief systems, India – despite of many kingdoms – was always known, seen and understood by those within and without as ONE people.
For, ethos does not need enforcement. Just as expression of humanity does not need edicts. Either it is there or not. The fundamental prerequisite of Dharmic way is the inclusivity that comes from embrace of diversity. Corrupt and dilute that, and you banish Dharma. Ditto for India as an ethos. You push in the primacy of belief into the culture and contaminate the urge for Moksha or Liberation with the belief in a make-believe god, and you use the diversity of India against it.
That is why Secularism – a reaction to religion in the West – when imported mindlessly into India has failed so spectacularly. In fact, Secularism itself is the biggest expression of bigotry in India!
India is a nation. India was a nation. And it will remain a nation. Not because of laws or word on paper. But because it nurtures the waves of diversity on the foundation ocean of one ethos. As long as one lets the freedom of the waves to take shape buoyed and held by one ethos of seeking, the nation remains intact. We cannot be defined and defiled by the narratives of those who needed pretense and enforcement to remain together!