A Study of Hindu Nationalism – Lala Lajpat Rai-1902

Again we find enough traces of the sentiment of nationality in the passages in which the Rishis ordained all Aryas to combine against the attacks of Dasyus, Chandalas and Mlechhas. Gods are often invoked for protection against the latter. As for indications of an imperial spirit amongst the Hindus, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are full of evidences of the same.

Hindustan Review, September-October 1902


Lala Lajpat Rai

I have read with considerable interest the article by a “Hindu Nationalist’ on the Creation of a Hindu Nationality, in the June number of the Samachar as also the contribution on the same subject, in the last number of this Journal, by my friend Pandit Madho Ram. While I heartily join in the “Hindu Nationalist’s” appeal to the educated Hindus, yet I do not share his opinion that “the idea of Nationality is an essentially European and modern idea,” nor can I agree with his reading of the facts of history relied upon by him in support of his assertion.

In my humble opinion the ideas of “nationality” and “patriotism” are as old as the different countries into which the earth is divided, as ancient as the distinctions of race and religion that have been existing in this world from times immemorial and pre-historic. They may have been more phenomenal in one epoch than in another. Their hold on different races and nations may have varied in intensity or extent, but that the ideas have always been there, as fixed and immutable as those of truth and falsehood, is my firm belief. It is not, however, my intention to enter into a speculative or an historical controversy with the “Hindu Nationalist” on the origin of the sentiments of nationality and patriotism. Suffice it to say that I agree with most of his conclusions and am prepared to generally endorse the remedies suggested. In fact some of the thoughts expressed in his article were, as if, foreshadowed by me in my article on the Congress published in the Samachar for October 1901. This reference has been made not to suggest any borrowing on the part of the “Hindu Nationalist,” but to show that these thoughts are just now uppermost in the minds of all such Hindus as claim to love their people and to think of the means of their progress.

The “Nationalist” begins by bemoaning the absence of the idea of nationality amongst Hindus, and ascribes all our misfortunes past and present to the same fact. “The Hindus,” he says, ‘‘offer a curious instance of a people without any feeling of nationality.” Having thus laid down the proposition he appeals to the pages of history to support his conclusion and apparently seems to have made out a strong case. But he has evidently missed the fact that his own proposition assumes the existence of a people having a common name, who have made history by that name. Quite unconsciously he assumes the existence of a Hindu nationality when he talks of the unsuccessful efforts of the Rajputs and the Mahrattas to throw off the foreign yoke and to found a Hindu empire. What he complains of is that these efforts were spasmodic, not supported by the general body of the people and therefore not quite national, but all the time he admits by implication that there was a nation which could and should have made a combined effort. Otherwise what can he possibly mean by saying that “the Mahrattas were left to fight the last battle of the Hindus alone, unaided by the Sesodia or the Rathore?” He admits that “if allowed to grow unchecked the Mahratta confederacy might have developed into a national empire.”

In the face of these facts we cannot deny the existence of a nation simply because all the members of that nation did not join in the struggle for defence, or that some of them seceded or proved traitors, or joined the enemy’s camp. Nor can we deny the existence of the sentiment of nationality, because that sentiment was not sufficiently strong and marked to overcome all differences among the different members of that nation, to enable them to stand as one man in defence of national interests. In the next place, why ignore the united front presented by the Hindus of all classes to repel the fourth invasion of Mahmud of Ghazni, and why forget the empires of the Pandavas, of Asoka, of Siladittya, Vikram, Bhoja, and others? Even the ill-fated Prithvi Raj, the last of the Hindu Emperors, who paid the penalty of the empire in the battle of Thaneswar, could twice command the united services of almost the whole nation in his noble and valiant defence of the empire and the fatherland. Who knows that but for the treachery of that fratricide of a Jai Chand, history would have been made otherwise?

But the treachery of Jai Chand and the defeat of Prithvi Raj do not detract from the character of the heroic stand which the nation made against the foreigner. Victories and defeats are not solely made by man but are regulated by many a cause some of which may be quite outside the control of the parties at war. If in 1193 providence decreed the fall of the Hindus, that alone is not sufficient to justify us in damning the Hindus of that period as men who were totally bereft of the sentiment of nationality. Then, as I have already hinted, the very fact of our people being known to other peoples by a distinctive name, is a proof of the existence of Hindu nationality.

I am too old now to continue to believe that the name Hindu was for the first time given to us as one involving abuse, contempt and reproach by our Mohammedan invaders. Rather, I believe that our fall and degradation helped the fall of the word also, and perhaps a peep into the philological history of the word might prove that all the bad meanings that are now assigned to the word in the Persian lexicon were of a comparatively later origin, and an outcome of the fall of the Hindu nation. Long before the Mohammedan invasion, and perhaps long before the advent of the Prophet of Islam, we were known to the people of other countries as Hindus. If so, what did this name signify? Was it a tribal distinction? I say, no, because the Hindus were of many tribes. Was it a racial name? I again say, no, because the Persians of Iran too, belonged to the same race. Was it then a religious designation? Yes, partly religious no doubt, but mainly national, and in evidence I can produce a number of quotations from the productions of early Greek historians and Mohammedan writers. For example, in what other sense does the Homer of Persia, the gifted Firdousi, who has immortalised the struggle for supremacy between the Iranians and the Turanians, use the expression Hindu in the following verses, which I pick at random from his great work, the Shahnama.

Then we find many references to our people as Hindus in the sacred books of the Parsis, the Vendidad and others. So far as the name is concerned, our only difficulty arises when we fail to find any trace of it in our own literature where our people are invariably styled as Aryas. But here again we find enough traces of the sentiment of nationality in the passages in which the Rishis ordained all Aryas to combine against the attacks of Dasyus, Chandalas and Mlechhas. Gods are often invoked for protection against the latter. As for indications of an imperial spirit amongst the Hindus, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are full of evidences of the same. What was King Yudhishthra’s Rajsuya Yajna and by what name would you style the ambitious scheme of Jarasindhu?

The fact is that the best and the most glorious period of Aryan supremacy is yet a closed chapter to us. Almost the whole of the pre-Buddhistic period is shrouded in mystery. Even the literature that has reached us is so full of allusions, enigmas, signs, and names and is written in such an archaic language that the whole thing seems to be a mystery. According to the best of European authorities, the language of the Vedas is so full of obsolete and archaic forms and expressions that the whole seems to be a cipher which with the best of efforts might yet cake years to decipher. Still we know and understand enough to be proud of, and to glory in the heritage which has descended to us from our “barbarian”(?) ancestors in the shape of national literature. And this must be the fulcrum of the lever with which we are to rise as a nation. It will not do to be unjust to our forefathers and to deny the idea of national love in them. No, they were patriots according to the best of their own light.

The history of our country, from the standpoint of a Hindu has yet to be written and till that is done, let us suspend judgement, remembering that the men whom we desire to judge and whom we are sometimes inclined to hastily condemn (often unheard) were master minds, whose productions and teachings are the loftiest in the whole range of written or known thoughts. We the English educated Hindus of the present day, who claim to have imbibed the new spirit of nationality and patriotism from the West would really do well to study a few chapters of the Vedic literature with care and thought, and I am confident that this study will open a panorama of new ideas to our view. Such a study will, I am sure, enable us to see that the key-note of the pre-Buddhistic Vedic religion was the sacrifice of all for all.

True, that the genius of a jealous and perverted, sometimes corrupt and selfish, priesthood built such a vast and stupendous superstructure of conventionalities, and formalities, with an almost interminable labyrinth of rituals and ceremonials obscured by which the true spirit of the religion was practically lost and could no longer be the stay of the nation.

It is this submergence of the true spirit of the ancient Hindu faith under the load of conventional rituals and formal ceremonials, that has since been the bane of the Hindus and not the entire absence of the idea of nationality. But you might say, that we have been producing martyrs and no one can be a martyr except by the strength of faith. How can a nation destitute of faith produce martyrs? Is there a nation who have shown more of faith in their religion, in their individuality, in their sacred laws than the Hindus? How can you otherwise explain their tenacity in clinging to their forms of religion, their pertinacity to stick to their customs? I purposely say forms of religion because real religion, the religion that guides and moulds a man, or a nation, and that elevates and ennobles them, that raises them to high ideals, that evokes the highest of sacrifices, has long ago disappeared from us. In fact it was never in the post-Buddhistic period restored to its altar in the temple of hearts. True, martyrs we have certainly been producing, ever and anon, and sometimes in numbers, but when I accuse the Hindus of want of faith, I do not mean individual faith, but that social faith which is the parent of victory; the faith that arouses the multitudes; faith in their own destiny, in their own mission and in the mission of the epoch; the faith that leads on to struggle; the faith that enlightens and bids men advance fearlessly in the ways of God and Humanity, with their religion in their heart and their future progress as their goal. It is such a faith that we have been wanting since the time of Buddha and it is such a faith that we require to become a nation again.

I shall now discuss the observations of Mr. Madho Ram and I shall remark at the outset that even admitting for argument’s sake the absolute accuracy of all his statements and facts, and also the correctness of the inferences he draws therefrom I would beg to differ from him in a matter of principle. My esteemed friend seems to think that all these internecine quarrels, strifes and sectarian struggles which he records at such great length in the course of his article largely take away “the chance for the progress of Hindu Nationalism in our country” or to be more accurate in quoting his words, he questions the Hindu Nationalist, if in the face of circumstances stated by him “there is much chance for the progress of Hindu Nationalism in our country.”

I answer the question in the affirmative. What I am anxious to point out is, that the existence of these quarrels and strifes is neither a bar to the progress of Hindu Nationalism nor is it sufficient proof of the absence of the idea of Nationality amongst the Hindus. And this, for the simple reason that the idea of nationality does not necessarily imply a complete union amongst all its members on all matters, social, religious or political; nor does it suggest the existence of a state of perfect concord and harmony among its members or leaders, or the freedom of the latter from all human weaknesses such as to personalities or indulgences in strong or even abusive language amongst, and towards each other. Has there been any nation in the past, or is there any nation now living, which has been or is free from these differences or quarrels?

Surely, Roman, Grecian, and Mohammedan histories must be admitted to present splendid and noble types of nationality and nationalism, and the present times cannot furnish better and nobler types of nationality than the English, the German, and the American and the French, not to speak of others equally noble though not so influential and powerful, such as the Swiss, the Italian, and the Dutch. Religious and social differences have played a prominent part in the histories of these nations and even now they are not free from the same. A mere glance at the English and Irish papers, a perusal of the speeches in Parliament and out of Parliament by political men, a study of the literature of different religious sects in the West and a perusal of the biographies of the public men in these countries, will show that the incidents narrated by my friend, altogether lose in significance and weight in the presence of the more vituperative and sometimes highly abusive differences and quarrels of these magnates of the European world.

The truth is that honest differences, controversial discussions, and criticisms of public men by public men, are absolutely necessary for the healthy growth and progress of nationality. Then we must be prepared to meet with human weaknesses, partialities, jealousies, personalities, insinuations, innuendos, use of strong language etc., in these discussions, and controversies. Carried beyond a certain degree and limit, they might retard the growth of nationalism, or might bring down an already completed edifice of nationality. I am not, however, prepared to admit that the differences and the disputes amongst the different classes of educated Hindus at the present moment exceed that limit. It is wrong to suppose that the idea of nationalism or nationality requires a complete union in all details of religious, social, economical, or political life or that it requires a complete freedom from sectarian quarrels or disputes or jealousies. To expect so is to expect what is an impossibility and what entirely ignores human nature. In my humble opinion it is sufficient for the growth of nationality if the different parts that claim the shelter of its way have a sense of unity, which is sufficient to make them combine against a common enemy and a common danger. Run on a few basal principles in religion, on the community of a sacred language, and on the community of interests, the Hindus ought to foster the growth of a national sentiment which should be sufficiently strong to enable them to work for the common good in the different ways and according to the lights vouchsafed to each. Let us keep one ideal before us. Let our ideal be sufficiently high to cover all, sufficiently broad and extensive to include all, who take pride in one common name, a common ancestry, a common history, a common religion, a common language and a common future.

We will not advance the cause of nationality by one inch if we decide to preserve an attitude of silent quietude and non-disturbing peace in all matters, religious and social. Such an attitude can only mean stagnation and gradual extinction. Struggle, hard struggle, is the law of progress. Yes struggle we must, both inter se as well others. There must be a struggle between truth and untruth, between vice and virtue, between honesty and dishonesty, between expediency and righteousness, between indolence and energy, between enterprise and a spirit of lethargy and between time-seeing selfishness and noble disinterestedness. Without this struggle no nation can ever aspire to be great and influential. This struggle we have just entered upon. We have just emerged out of stagnation, and it is no wonder that we are sometimes apt to exceed the limits of propriety or to irresistibly throw in more of sectarianism and personality, where more or much less is needed. But national delinquencies or faults are not made up or remedied in a day. Let us not be impatient of what in my humble opinion seems to be a healthy sign of growth. Let us not strangle it by drawing its undesirable concomitants in high colours or by attaching undue importance to the same.

Then there are men and men in all public bodies, religious and social. Because there are some violent men, some bad tempered, some dishonest men, some traitors and time-servers in our public associations, it is no reason to record a wholesale condemnation of the same or to be disappointed with them. Public opinion in this country has yet to grow. It is a very feeble plant yet. Its growth must cause some unpleasant friction and struggle. Let us not be impatient of it. The country has yet to foster a bold spirit of disinterested, fearless criticism. Few people in this country are guided by purely public interests. Fewer still are those who can be moved to take interest in things which do not concern them exclusively and in which they have little at stake. The interests of others do not move them. What little criticism exists in the country, is at once dubbed as sectarian as interested, or as the outcome of jealousy or personal animosity. This criticism, that potent weapon, which alone can effectually check the vicious or selfish tendencies of great and powerful men, is discouraged and strangled. What we should aim at is not the silencing of criticism but the purging it out of personalities, jealousies, abuse and vituperation.

This will take time, but so long as this is not achieved, let us not discourage, run down and do away with criticism altogether. At any rate, in my humble opinion impatience at, or silencing of mutual criticism, or absence of all controversy will not necessarily mean unity, or a healthy progress of nationalism. Having thus disposed to the best of my power the objections of the “Hindu Nationalist” based — to my mind— on a wrong view of our ancient history, and that of Pandit Madho Ram who has, in my opinion, drawn erroneous inferences from the facts detailed by him and the accuracy of which I have assumed for the sake of argument, I conclude this article with a hope that I may be able to return to the subject in a later issue and discuss the present condition and prospects of Hindu Nationalism, the evidence of its progress and the chances of its future growth.

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