Roy 1 Dipanjali Roy Dr. Sandhya Devesan Nambiar Popular Fiction 7th April, 2014 "The arrival of nationalism in a distinctively modern sense was tied to the political baptism of the lower classes...although sometimes hostile to democracy; nationalist movements have been invariably populist in outlook and sought to induct lower classes into political life." Explicate this statement with illustrations from the texts in your syllabus. Nationalism as a political movement is one that is virtually impossible to define, and is even more complex to unravel in its motivations from a monogamous point of view afforded to the analyst such as the one provided in the statement above by Scottish political theorist Tom Nairn in his book The Break-Up of Britaini. There is a paradox to the equation of nationalism and the intent of nationalist movements that will be discussed in this essay, starting with the negotiation of the idea that there can ever actually be an ‘essential’ form of nationalism that leads to an ‘invariable’ anything, as a means of trying to understand what actually motivates nationalist sentiments in such a manner that they sometimes pose the behemoth pace of a mental pendulum propelling a singular unifying thought across classes and gendersii, and then sometimes become so isolated that they fail to resonate with more than a single minority groupiii. The essay will analyze and evaluate several criticisms – both positive and negative – of nationalism as a functioning mechanism, and will illustrate these positions of argument through two main texts: Durgabai and Subhash Vyam's graphic novel, Bhimayana, exploring the life of Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar and the experiences of growing up as an untouchable in his own country but being paradoxically treated better in the 'Empire', and through Shyam Selvadurai's debut novel, Funny Boy, which attempts to understand the sexual and communal politics and criminalisation of the body in 1980s Sri Lanka through the eyes of his young protagonist – Arjie. A plethora of divergent and convergent kinds of ideologies have invoked the ‘nationalist claim’ so many times and in so many different circumstances that it becomes equally difficult to think of nationalism in a theoretic abstract without intersecting into this one working theory, the lived experiences (Rancier, 19) of specific nationalisms and demarcating between the progressive and retrograde practices that distinguish them from one another and within themselves. However, criticism does not in any way symbolize a dismissal of the sheer force with which nationalist movements of all ilk traverses across the spaces of class, caste, gender, and race. Roy 2 There is a difference between democratic liberalism and a theoretically ‘true’ democracy. The latter, in so far, can only be established by first establishing a system that doesn’t thrive on hierarchal patterns of economic and cultural development and doesn’t allow a single position of criticism to ignore the fact that there is an enabling mechanism behind every position of perspective. Contrary to what nationalism in the Indian subcontinent would have one believe, liberation and enablement don’t always work in conjunction with development. This, then, leads to the two points of exploration that form the crux of this debate – is nationalism in application truly inductive of the lower classes into political life? For if the ‘state’ and the ‘people’ consciously become the ‘state’ (subject) and ‘its people’ (object), then what is the state mechanism and what does it mean for one to be baptised into political life? ‘...[An academic position that shoves aside] the narration of materialities as a ‘progressivist modes-of-production narrative’, historical agency itself as a ‘myth of origins’, classes a simply discursive constructs, and political parties themselves as fundamentally contaminated with collectivist illusions of a stable subject position – a theoretical position of that kind, from which no poststructuralism worth the name can escape, is, in the most accurate sense of these words, repressive and bourgeoisie.’ (Ahmad, 34) It restrains the very circumstances of lucidity inside which the elemental realities of history can be posited to theory. This it accomplishes by privileging the academic over the physical, where everything inevitably becomes – and therefore can be read as and, more importantly, ‘negotiated’ – as a text. It creates the Romantic ideal that an ethic of nonattachment is the only way and the only necessary condition of truly understanding any kind of social phenomenon. It makes the individual’s experience of reading all things as a narrative the focus of all the meaning one may attach to any kind of theorizing – almost as self-negating as the poststructuralist scepticism about the existence of rational knowledge impelling the very same individual to sustain his political, apolitical, and national existence through an ironic relation with the world and all its theorizing. The answer may be found through an achieved understanding of the idea that nationalism by itself is not so much an ‘ism’ as it is a concept that allows for ‘ismic’ divergence. By itself, ‘...nationalism is no unitary thing’ (Ahmad, 7) We are inhabitants of a country, a nation, an economic system – that, in its economy, also governs public health and legislature - where there is no difference between the elite, the state, and political influence. The elite have merged with the state to become a body politic that controls not only through military force, but also through economic manipulation, so that if one is compromised, the other may easily take over. In the two primary texts discussed in this essay, there is also the dominant question of ‘Third World’ nationalism that more often than not gets hitched to the same cattle that drive ‘cultural nationalism’. Cultural domination is a key feature of imperialist dominion and is a major site of struggle however cultural negations within the imperialized configurations can be so diverse – sometimes along class lines but also in cross-class configurations, as in Roy 3 the case of caste forms (religious means of social sanction) – that the entirety of indigenous ethnicity can in no way be posited as a unified, see-through position of anti-imperialist resistance. These are identities that have been historically comprised. They have, therefore, been blessed with an inherent leaning towards ‘civilisational’ singularising. The theory of this is based unequivocally on this tendency and lends itself in more ways than not to parochialism and indigenous obscurantism. It becomes also an instrument for the professional bourgeoisie – not excluding oneself – to represent its own ‘cultural practices’ by exemplifying them as symbols of an amalgamated national culture. When used in conjunction with the equally controversial category of ‘Third World’, cultural nationalism resonates equally frequently with ‘tradition’ instead of with populism, only inverting the tradition versus modernity twofold of the modernization theorists in an indigenist path. As a result, ‘tradition’ becomes, for the ‘Third World’, forever superior to ‘modernity’, which provides the space for justification of the most unintelligible locations of argument in the name of cultural nationalism. There appears to be a pervasive connotation in the philosophy of cultural nationalism that each ‘nation’ of the ‘Third World’ has a ‘culture’ and a ‘tradition’, and that to articulate from inside that culture and that tradition is itself an action of antiimperialist confrontation. By contrast, the chief directions of a number of people’s resistance movements – in the Indian subcontinent and beyond – that have evolved in the imperialist formations have always resisted against both the equation of nation to cultureiv and the tradition versus modernity binaryv. In the post-colonial states where the nationalism of the national bourgeoisie dreamed of performing social miracles, there was a witnessing of two things: firstly, massive consolidation of the national bourgeoisie itself, with its capacity to latch onto the NonAligned movement and the North-South dialogue regarding trading terms; secondly, the stagnation, mounting reliance, dictatorial violence, pious millenarianism and sanctioning, and broad rupture of polity and the public – notwithstanding, and frequently owing to, imperialist aid, investment and benefaction. The anti-colonial content had been put into motion; the remainder of this nationalism seemed either to disperse, or to translate to chaos. It did not remain a form of political baptism for any form of the lower classes, let alone a phenomenon that strove to recognize the realities of these cross-class intersections that were fed by imperialist struggle and a rigid patriarchal control. In that sense, it became (and does become still) one form of control that replaces the other, but with no less brutality. The colonial British Raj enforcing the constitutional compartmentalization of the ‘lower castes’ into the Indian legislative system, for one, is a phenomenon that illustrates best the paradox of nationalism and nationalist uprisings. The concretization into legislature became both a threat and an advantage, for it demanded an austere controlling of the insurrection this caused within the lower castes – a part of society that was, and continues to be, synonymous more often than not to lower classes. Nationalism, in this instance, becomes not so much a threat to democracy itself as it does to a liberal democracy which ultimately privileges the elite. Roy 4 ‘Increasingly, Indian Nationalism has come to mean Hindu Nationalism, which defines itself not through a respect or regard for itself, but through a hatred of the Other’ (Roy, 284). Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s backlash to the traditional approaches to anti-imperialist activism and his take on the ideas departed to the Indian polity through colonialism further adds to this equation of whether nationalism is a Unitarian force or simply a force of convenience. The Gandhi-Ambedkar round table debates brought this to light more starkly than anything else: both leaders with markedly nationalist sentiments yet entirely divergent philosophies and approaches to the concept of ‘caste’ and its repercussions on the people labelled as such. One notes in Bhimayana that the issue of caste permeates not only through class but also through gender and education, to the point where it is a dream for some – in certain geographical locations – to even conceive a daily, effortless access to the basest of civic amenities and healthcare, let alone education and legal representation. The degenerative, performative theatre of caste is one that every politician, every critic, every lawyer, every constitutionalist is privy to and participates in, no matter what their position in society, no matter what their take on nationalism and its inevitable linkage to an area of revolutionary thought that best justifies it under a given set of circumstances. There is a synchronicity within the chaos of Bhimayana’s graphic textual format that resonates with Dr. Ambedkar’s role in the ultimate power structure of ‘Indian’ political centralization and the postIndependence administration. Ambedkar’s seminal work remains seminal because his brand of nationalism was a decidedly non-Republican, non-liberalizing one. Nationalism as promoting populism, though it can be severely critiqued on all counts, however, cannot be dismissed. There is an imperative to nationalist movements that creates mobility towards a cause in a way that no other instrument of populist conduct can achieve. The lower classes cannot be seen simply as one structure of discursive political construct rather than a reality that must be faced with an understanding of the intersections it has with caste and gender in a world which is not privy to cultural studies or social theory. The populist nature of nationalist movements, then, must be defined in a way that provides space for the negotiation of its progressivity or regression. Most commonly, and as is seen through Shyam Selvadurai’s novel, Funny Boy, nationalism is only conducive to populist polity and politics if it is a nationalism that clubs the indigenous and the minority into two clearly marked, homogenized groups of the indigenous and the minority, whereby the ‘other’ of both is not an ‘other’ that is too different for the majority to be comfortable tolerating. Funny Boy, at its core, is a book that negotiates the idea of being different not only from the majority but also different in a way that is ‘offensive’ to both the minority and the majority. Arjun, the narrator and protagonist of the novel, is well aware of the fact that he is ‘funny’ in a way. His father’s disapproval and the everyday ridicule hurled at him is incomprehensible to him, and the narrative – tracing Arjie’s bildungsroman – starting from the first short story, ‘Bride-bride’, follows his slow understanding of the ‘wrong’ that is in Roy 5 him and his understanding of his own sexuality in practice, leading first to self-hatred, and then to a defiance that has strong, difficult repercussions on his personal freedoms and existence as an individual in possession of (and so demanding to be given) the civic rights that are offered to every other individual in the nation, be they Tamil or Sinhalese. Arjie’s bildungsroman itself, in retrospect, provides a violent illustration of the regressive yet progressive nature of nationalisms in their very manifestations. His development from a child into an individual that understands his difference from the majority within the minority, and the difficulty he faces in becoming ‘himself’ while living in the middle of a community that punishes this ‘self’ is explored in Funny Boy, through the change in Arjie’s tone through the novel, and through the many politically fraught short stories the reader is witness to across the text. Not only is he living in a society that is fragmented to the extent that his family is forced to negotiate their politics with their ethnicity, he is also constantly forced to personally negotiate his sexuality in combination with the conflict surrounding him. Here, the two nationalist movements in collision – the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam movement, and the Sinhalese movement – actually collide together and form a collusive force against Arjie’s existence as an individual, turning his physical body into a criminal site that will not be tolerated in the creation of the final Sri Lanka. Tolerance, also, plays a role in the most widespread of nationalist movements. The anti-imperialist Indian ‘freedom movement’ survived well into the 1980s for the same reason that it took motion as an amalgamation of thousands of oppressed personal freedoms and rights: It preached tolerance of one kind, and a lack of tolerance of another kind. There is a definitive turn in most South-Asian nationalist movements that lean towards the revolutionary whereby it becomes a question of ‘no longer tolerating’ the invasive force. One cannot – and must not – dismiss any nationalist movement because of the critique one harbours towards it, however the criticism is an imperative path towards understanding the forces that drive certain kinds of populism and step down on certain others. Wendy Brown speaks of tolerance in terms that elucidate this idea: ‘If you actually look closely at the etymology of tolerance what do you see? Tolerance is, across every disciplinary field in which it is used, from mining to minting to engineering to pharmaceutical research to social life, always tolerance is about the management of some undesirable element or foreign body invading or taking up residence within the host. That, in fact, one, whether the one is a scientist or a social theorist or a political actor, one would rather not have to deal with. Tolerance is always about managing some object of aversion that is, as you say, different, but also different with a stigma, different as a problem. The host is neutral, the host is normal, the host is regular and the tolerated object is always in some ways problematic’ (Brown, podcast). There is a tendency in the discourse of Sri Lankan nationalism and its communal conflict to represent it is a conflict of two distinct sides rather than noting that the conflict has arisen through the culmination of a number of slow-boiling issues in the structure of the governing body. The most common of them is these: Victimization is painted as a universal and equal experience in Sri Lanka. This is simply not the case. Hence, the statement ignores Roy 6 how nationalism based on a Sinhalese Buddhist identity is built into the Sri Lankan state and has been systematically benefiting the Sinhalese. Moreover, the generalization that all Tamils are Tigers is also a prevalent one. It is an interesting question to pose to this representation as to why the diaspora was forced to migrate in the first place, and what level of conflict could have been so severe as to see a wave of migration towards a singular part of the geographical world that is so removed from South Asian politics. Never mind that waves of migration took place after the disenfranchisement of Indian Tamils, the ‘Sinhala Only’ policy, the Ethnic Riots of the 1980s and the massive flow of refugees during the peak of the Civil War. By extension, it is not so much that nationalism is a political baptism for the lower classes as it is a form of temporary political pacifism and induction into political life in a way that is morally benevolent for the upper classes or the powers that be. Conclusively, it may be argued that nationalism in its most basic spirit attempts to be ‘invariably populist in outlook’, however, it is a neglecting ideology to believe that nationalism is the only determinate, dialectical opposite of imperialism and empire. A movement that is neither inspirational to nor degrading of new political thought, but is instead an instrument by itself that inspires one to interrogate it in its various forms – such as minority nationalisms, religious nationalisms, regional and transnational nationalisms, etc – must be interrogated as an instrument instead of a power source. Neither is nationalism cohesively always progressive, nor is it retrograde, and as a result, the ‘political baptism’ of the lower classes into nationalism – as illustrated through the primary texts under discussion, Durgabai and Subhash Vyam’s Bhimayana and Shyam Selvadurai’s Funny Boy – is dependent entirely on the configuration of class forces that lead to a nationalist revolution, and the socio-political customs which systematize superstructures within which a given nationalist programme becomes historically effective. Roy 7 Works Cited Ahmad, Aijaz. In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures. London: Verso, 1992. Print. Al-Katatsheh, Mohammad Hamad. "The Future of North-South Dialogue in the Context of Globalization." Canadian Center of Science and Education: Journal of Politics and Law 4.2 (2011): 108-19. Web. Althusser, Louis. Essays on Ideology. London: Verso, 1984. Print. Ambedkar, Bhimrao Ramji. Annihilation of Caste: With a Reply to Mahatma Gandhi. Bombay, India: B.R. 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Nationalism and After. London: Macmillan, 1945. Print. Doniger, Wendy. The Hindus: An Alternative History. New York: Penguin, 2009. Print. D'Souza, Radha. "Revolt and Reform in South Asia: Ghadar Movement to 9/11 and After." Economic and Political Weekly 49.8 (February, 2014): 59-73. Web. <http://knrajlibrary.wordpress.com/2014/02/26/8at/>. Dube, Reena. Satyajit Ray’s The Chess Players and Postcolonial Theory. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. Print. Elliott, Gregory. Althusser: A Critical Reader. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1994. Print. García, Margarita Díaz-Andreu. A World History of Nineteenth-Century Archaeology: Nationalism, Colonialism, and the Past. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. Print. Kovalenko, I. I., and R. A. Tuzmukhamedov. The Non-Aligned Movement. Moscow: Progress, 1988. Print. Leonard, Philip. Nationality Between Poststructuralism and Postcolonial Theory. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. Print. Roy 9 McLeod, John. The Routledge Companion to Postcolonial Studies. London: Routledge, 2007. Print. Nairn, Tom. The Break-up of Britain: Crisis and Neo-nationalism. London: NLB, 1977. Print. Nairn, Tom. Faces of Nationalism: Janus Revisited. London: Verso, 1997. Print. Omvedt, Gail. "The Part That Parted." Editorial. 20 Aug. 2012: n. pag. Print. Rajagopal, Arvind. Politics after Television: Hindu Nationalism and the Reshaping of the Indian Public. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001. Print. Rancier, Jacques. On The Theory of Ideology: The Politics of Althusser. N.p.: n.p., February, 1973. N. pag. Print. Roy, Arundhati. "Democracy: Who's She When She's At Home?" The Algebra of Infinite Justice. London: Flamingo, 2002. 265-94. Print. Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New York: Vintage, 1979. Print. Selvadurai, Shyam. Funny Boy. N.p.: Penguin, 1994. Print. Storey, John. Cultural Theory and Popular Culture A Reader. Athens: University of Georgia, 1998. Print. Thapar, Romila. Syndicated Hinduism. New Delhi: Critical Quest, 2010. Print. Vyam, Durgabai, Subhash Vyam, Srividya Natarajan, and S. Anand. Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability - Incidents in the Life of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. New Delhi: Navayana Pub., 2011. Print. Willetts, Peter. The Non-Aligned Movement: The Origins of a Third World Alliance. London: F. Pinter, 1978. Print. Williams, Raymond. The Country and the City. New York: Oxford UP, 1973. Print. Roy 10 Endnotes i It is, in fact, a problem that is analyzed in a plenitude of historical placements and contexts by Nairn himself, especially in his 1997 book, The Faces of Nationalism. ii Think here to the Indian Freedom Struggle, the on-going Dalit movement, the on-going struggle of the Native Americans in the United States of America, the Creole quest for recognition and identity in Venezuelan politics, etc. iii Ideally, one would begin with an attempt to rationalize the creation of minority groups to explain the resonance of nationalism and lower classes. however, since that would take the essay a few hundred years back into the chronology of civilization, one regrets not having the space to discuss the anthropological negotiations of the history of all creation and makes a parting nod to the construction of imperialism, the nationalist movement beginning with the concretization of ‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, laissez-faire capitalism, liberalism, and democratic thought. Roy 11 iv Wherein everything indigenous comes under the singular formation presumed to be necessarily superior to the capitalist culture (which is identified directly with the ‘Western influence’. v Wherein each has its own isolated space and only one is allowed to be adopted or cast away.