Friday, May 4, 2007

Random Musings- Rethinking Nationalism

Attaining adulthood within the confines of an institution with a strong and vocal liberal arts community, I learned my lessons well. Nationalism was not a good word but a problematic one. It was problematic because its act of creating a national patriotic community, necessarily required the creation of an alien and enemy. To be Indian, you had to have a Pakistani to validate your existence and give a meaning to your identity. The national project does not limit itself to creating external outsiders though. The national project invariably in the hands of a dominant group within society identifies a definite agenda and then commits the rest of the population, with or without their consent to this project. Opposition to this project, even if it be on valid grounds of the destruction of your bases for leading a basic human existence brands you anti-national. And so we have the dam building and other developmental projects in India and the branding of groups that oppose them. Further the national project also needs to create a national community, and similarly identifies the cultural markers of the national citizen. It does not matter if the identified culture is something you don’t identify with, or following it would destroy your own culture. Comply with it you must, or face the wrath of the angered nation-state. And therefore you have the suffocation of Urdu, of Romi Konkani, the murdering of Muslims and the persecution of tribals.

For those of us committed to a utopian ideal, of fraternity, equity and equality therefore, recourse to any rhetoric that even vaguely invokes nationalist sentiments is a strict no-no. For we know, from such places as India, Pakistan, the Balkans and other parts of Europe, the violence and bloodshed that necessarily accompanies the appeal to nationalistic sentiments.

It is for this reason that I faced a moral dilemma when contemplating the calls of the Goa Bachao Abhiyan. The Save Goa Movement was validly concerned with the destruction of the Goan environment and the livelihoods connected with this environment. This was a worthy and an important cause to support. And yet, all too often the call to ‘Save Goa’ was heavily couched in the resentment of and toward the ‘outsiders’. And this was not a lone phenomena but one that recurs frequently in a variety of places- be it the call to open up the GMC for public use, the protection of khazans, the building over of fields. As valid as the environmental cause may be, how can one support the nationalist project implicit in it? And how does one deal with this unholy twining of liberatory and exclusionary ideologies?

It was in this context that the words of Aijaz Ahmad proved useful. For the population of the “backward zones of capital” he argues “all relationships with imperialism pass through their own nation states, and there is simply no way of breaking out of that imperial dominance without struggling for different kinds of national projects and for a revolutionary restructuring of one’s own nation-state”. Ahmad then suggests to earnest students like me who have learned their lessons well, that nationalism while a deeply problematic ideology is the reality within which we live our lives. But this is not necessarily an argument to remain with the nation-state. On the contrary Ahmad’s formulation shows us a possible way out of the dilemma. The way out requires our recognition of our location as a ‘backward zone of capital’. A zone that by and large is constituted not by the owners of capital, but a zone that is one of speculation for persons not ordinarily resident in this zone or emotionally invested in it - in other words the wielders of imperial power. It may be difficult for now to think of ourselves as ‘beyond the nation’, but this does not preclude us from identifying the problem as one of the operation of capital within a space (the nation-state) that ostensibly portrays itself as for the protector of the people. My problem with politics in Goa, is that while it constantly identifies a host of appropriate issues to battle, there is by and large a failure to locate its existence in the operation of capital. This holds true for the heritage movement, the language(s) movement, the environmental movement or the cultural movement. To understand the operation of capital within the backward zone of capital that is Goa is not difficult and often recognized conversationally. And yet we fail to raise this intuition (most of the time deliberately I suspect) to a central place in our agendas for change allowing for nationalist rhetoric to gain a firm foothold within our state

Given that our immediate goal is to restructure the nation-state in favour of those people who thanks to their control of capital currently maneuver the state outside of the legitimate democratic space, it seems unlikely that our reliance on nationalist rhetoric will miraculously subside. However, the conscious articulation of relations of capital within this state in the public sphere would without doubt reformulate agendas, moving it away from the current Goenkarponn obsessions that in fact serve only to further divide us and separate us from the humanity we are in fact fighting for.
(Published in the Gomantak Times, 2nd May 2007)