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Prof Prabhat Patnaik on ‘The Different Types of Nationalism’

9 March 2016: Prof Prabhat Patnaik, who holds the record of delivering the most number of lectures delivered in JNU, commenced his class on nationalism by stating that nationalism is not a homogenous concept. He developed his arguments by outlining the difference between nationalism in Europe and in the Third World countries developed at the eve of the anti-colonial struggle, a difference neither recognized nor understood by many.

In Europe, nationalism came into being during Britain’s 100 years war in the 17th century. This, according to him was an aggrandizing nationalism motivated by financial interest and finance capital. It had three main characteristics. First, it searched for the enemy within like the Jews, Catholics in northern Europe, etc and was not inclusive. Secondly, it was imperialist in nature. Ireland became the first colony acquired in the struggle for power. Lastly, this nationalism put the nation above people. It was not about the people living there but the power and the prestige of the nation. Adam Smith in his book enquires into the wealth of nations but there is no mention of the benefit for the people at large.

Consequently, Germany which became a nation later on felt excluded and later adopted a particularly different form of aggressive nationalism which manifested itself in the world war. Due to cultural myopia, today in Europe nationalism is associated only with the right-wing politics.

On the contrary, the Indian nationalism (along with that of other colonized countries) came into being as a part of the anti-colonial struggle. Hence, it had to be inclusive as it had to take on the might of the people in power. And that could be done only when the people were united and everybody was to be a part of the conceived nationalism. This nationalism did not put the nation above the people but was about the people. An important feature of this nationalism was the social contract like Karachi Congress resolution, freedom charter in South Africa, etc. There was an agenda of inclusion, agenda of egalitarianism and of democracy. It promised universal adult suffrage, the abolition of capital punishment, etc.

However, this nationalism had its own internal enemies. One was the caste structure as it purported to put people belonging to different castes at the same equal level. The second enemy was capitalism and the inequalities inherent in capitalism —capitalism was considered inevitable for the growth of the economy which the Nehruvian socialism tried to control through licensing, policies and regulations. However, over time a new threat emerged which was the rising corporate oligarchy that aimed to limit the government control by
privatization.

The classes ended by Prof Patnaik asking then how can we ensure that this social contract gets acknowledged and respected? Earlier there was a right to succession inherent in the Left’s mandate but it was later removed on account of it being invoked for diverse reasons, not all for salubrious reasons. Since it has been removed all violations of the social contract must be freely discussed and debated in the form of dissent whether it is Kashmir, Nagaland or JNU.

Prof Patnaik’s lecture was delayed on account of the announcements, but that did not dissuade the crowd from engaging in discussions with the Prof at the end of his lecture. The lecture which outlined the need to understand the different kinds of ‘nationalisms’ operative in the society and the need to discard the ‘aggrandizing’ nationalism which inhibits diversity and inclusivity, promoted by the forces of neo-liberalism world-wide over drew a number of queries and comments from the audience.

The lecture was followed by an address by Seram Rojesh from the Manipur Students’ Association of Delhi, who voiced his opinions on the need to not let the students’ movement be sabotaged by political organizations and the significance of students’ solidarity against the interventions of the Centre. Referring to the ‘militarization’ of the Manipur University campus, he urged the students to recognize and support the brutalities inflicted by the Centre in Manipur, the latter who he said was forcefully married to the Indian state in 1948.

His passionate address was followed by an address by Shri Kumar Prashant, the Chairman of Gandhi Peace Foundation who narrated events from Gandhi’s life, specially referring to the Champaran incident where he fought for the rights of the peasants through civil disobedience.

Professors from IIT Delhi and the noted writer, literary critic and retired Prof Alok Rai, were also present at the venue to affirm their solidarity.

Gargi Binju is a research scholar at CFFS and works in the News Pool at The Informer.

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