Of late, some thinkers of the Sikhs, a minority constituting less than two per cent of India’s population, are praising and advocating for a separate ‘nation-state’ as the best political solution for the emancipation of the besieged community. Such thinkers go to the extent of harrying and hounding those Sikh intellectuals who oppose the concept of ‘nation-state’, a Western construct.
The latter category of intellectuals suggest that a lot of water has flowed down the rivers since Western educated and influenced leaders of Indian independence struggle succeeded in setting up two ‘nation-states ‘in 1947—India and Pakistan,. Six decades old ‘nation-states’ set-up in Indian sub-continent, have been the cause of untold miseries, internal-external conflicts ,bloodshed and further fragmentation in form of Bangladesh, which the founding fathers could never fathom in their dreams even.
Critics of ‘nation-state’ also argue that the unprecedented bloodshed and the forced migration of millions of people, witnessed during the Partition days was the direct consequence of Nehru and Jinnah’s insistence on establishing their separate ‘nation-states’. The large scale humiliation of women folk, near one million communal killings and mayhem that flowed during Partition was NOT the outcome of RELIGIOUS ENIMITY amongst the population that had lived peacefully since times immemorial but was the outcome of the DIRTY POLITICS of whipping up communal and nationalistic frenzy, played up blatantly by Congress (read RSS) and Muslim League on the both sides of the Radcliffe Line, dividing these regions.
On other hand the proponents of ‘nation-state’ amongst Sikhs are promoting a model of state which created India for Hindu-dominated Congress and Pakistan for the Muslims. They are fantasising that nation-state politics of 1940s is still the best suited political alternative for the Sikhs.
Contrary to them, the critics of nation-state model argue that the Sikhs have their own concept of governance known as ‘halimee raj’, a benevolent state (not welfare state in modern parlance). Such governance vouchsafes for peaceful and honourable co-existence of distinct cultural and religious identities and corporate living of the citizens as against nation-state set-up which eliminates or assimilates the distinct entities, diversities or minorities thus crushing the pluralistic society and manufacturing a homogenous society of mono-cultured citizens.
Some reflections of ‘halimee raj’ visible in regime of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, a native who succeeded in establishing a powerful , sovereign State of Punjab almost 800 years after the foreign Muslim invaders dethroned native rulers in eleventh century. His’ home-grown-rule’ Khalsa Raj’ was not a ‘nation state’ in the modern sense as the Maharaja never gave predominance to the Sikhs over Muslims and Hindus and gave prominent positions in his ’Durbar’ to eminent persons from non-Sikh communities, purely on basis of merit. The benevolent State governed by a Sikh ruler did not take even a single life in cold blood for any crime, what to say of political dissidents.
Nation-State: The ‘nation-state’ concept was tailored and practiced by the imperial powers to impose the Western political and cultural ethos over native cultures and indigenous communities and to destroy their home-grown forms of governance. As a result of that, the world got transformed beyond recognition. Now ,both the Western intelligentsia and their political class seem to be at loss in devising ways and means on ‘how to extricate the globalized world from deepening financial and political crises being exacerbated day-by –day with accumulating nuclear arsenal threatening whole-sale destruction’.
The nation-state model of governance, a progeny of the European ‘Enlightenment had originated in the West with the dawn of rational thinking and reason. But the rise of rationalism questioned the God’s existence and human beings’ faith in the Absolute Providence or divine intervention.
‘Rationalism’ thus emerged, no doubt, furnished a base for scientific inventions and industrialization but it crucified the God at the altar of ‘DOUBT’ with slogans like—‘doubt, doubt and doubt every development before scientifically proving it otherwise’. So FAITH, a central to every religion and religious person came into a direct conflict with rational thinking in public domain. The ‘scientific thinking or rational thinking’ rejected FAITH and religion as an unscientific abstraction and became the bedrock of ‘materialism, modernism and Marxism.
As a related historical development, the rapture was caused between the Church (Christianity) and the monarch (king), hitherto, functioning virtually in tandem in Europe and created a ‘civic space’ for the elite in affairs of the state. That ‘civic space’ paved way for the development of a non-monarchical ‘modern state’.
The modern state, soon to take the shape of ‘modern nation-state’ practically began consolidating itself after the Westphalia treaty of 1648 in Europe and it symbolized a contract between the ‘apparatus of power’ (state establishment) and the general public.
And the ‘French Revolution’ of 1789 gave a boost to that by ‘linking State or Statehood with Nationalism’.
Thus, godly charisma previously concentrated in the person of the king– mediating between the sacred and the secular order—was replaced by ‘nationalism’ which came handy for promoting the legitimacy of the non-monarchical states in Europe.
Since the beginning, the nationalism as an ideology of the ‘nation-state’ frequently whipped up populism to secure stability for the state. The impersonal nationalism, generally touted as ‘secularism’ was used by the elite for raising a bogey of ultra-nationalism, not only for attaining stability of the state but also for creating an illusion of ‘a pure or great nation’.
For acquiring stability, sustainability and legitimacy for the state, the European elite went for a wider participation of the general public and devised an electoral system which began its journey from limited suffrage to the universal. Thus, the extended people’s participation came to be known as ‘a democracy’, later to be touted as the best system of governance. The democratic system though guaranteed upper-hand and security to the elite but it has never been free from internal conflicts and tends to throw up electoral dictatorship off and on.
The modern ‘nation-state’ and its attendant democratic governance always necessitated the building of a ‘Nation’ at the first stage. To achieve that goal, the state kicked up the entry of ‘nationalism’ into the cultural domain of the general public and prepared a conducive ground for that by romanticizing the majority’s culture and history. That process also homogenized distinct and diverse cultures within state’s territory to achieve a ‘uniform citizenry of the nation’. In that silent, sublime and secret operation, distinct cultures and minorities got demolished along with their identity, history, tradition and way of life.
The world has already witnessed such crusade on a larger scale when six million Jews were massacred and gas-chambered in Germany by the Nazis for ‘purifying the Great German nation’. Ironically, the Nazis came to power through election, thus, affirming their faith in democracy.
Most visible side of the nation-state model of governance is that it helped European nations in colonizing the world. Colonization brought in its wake unfathomable massacres, subjugation of millions of helpless indigenous people and uprooting their home, hearth and culture.
Before wrapping up their empires, the colonizers gifted this Frankenstein monster of ‘nation state’ and democratic system to the regions they had once ruled.
Focusing on Indian sub-continent, it has acquired ultra-nationalism or nation-states, a malaise just after the British Empire’s exit from the region after the World War two. Nation-state was established by the power elite active in respective capitals in the sub-continent. The elite was comprised of political and corporate top rung, which was backed– discreetly in India and blatantly in Pakistan– by the security forces. They resorted to whipping up ultra-nationalism among masses to remain themselves in power and earning.
Now the Hindu right wing represented by the RSS has succeeded in capturing the power in New Delhi with their cadre’s elevation to the office of Prime Minister. Mr Narendra Modi represents the rule of the majority, a pre-requisite to the establishment of ‘Hindu Rashtra’, a version of ‘nation-state’.
In fact, the foundation for ‘Hindu Rashtra’ was laid with Partition and with creation of Pakistan. Later it got concretized with systematic repression unleashed by New Delhi on the Sikh minority in Punjab, on Kashmiris, on Nagas and on other tribes in north east. And genocide of the Sikhs in November 1984 and massacre of the Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 with explicit complicity of the Indian state have further strengthened ‘Hindutva’ ideology as a political concept of ‘Hindu ethnic majority’.
At global scale, the events of recent past confirm, that ‘nation-state’ and its much acclaimed democratic system are being used as an instrument for killing, subjugation and repression of thousand millions and they are still carrying on mayhem against the humanity. Conservative estimates show that at least 60 millions– more than number of killed in two world wars put together– have been killed around the globe in name of ‘nation-state’ and democracy.
Should such notorious concept be lapped up by the Sikhs whose faith advocates higher human values as equality, universalism and co-existence and abhors religious conversion and persecution?
So ‘nation-state’ is ALIEN concept for the Sikhs and is an anathema (a curse) to them as their faith mandates pluralism and celebration of the diversity as found in nature.
The need of the hour is that the Sikh thinkers like political analyst Ajmer Singh should expose notoriety and havoc wreaked by the practice and percept of ‘nation-state’.
Moreover, the Sikh thinkers should not confuse the concept of ‘sovereignty’. The Sikh concept of ‘sovereignty’ as embodied in the Sikh notion of ‘paatshaahi’, is entirely different from the modern idea of sovereignty which has been derived from Western nation-state practice. Instead of playing with jargon of Western political terms and thoughts, the Sikh intellectuals should fine-tune their own political concepts as propounded and practiced by the Sikh gurus over a period of 200 years.
Jaspal Singh Sidhu retired as a Special Correspondent with United News of India (UNI) at its New Delhi Headquarters in 2008. Since then, have been working as free-lance journalist and writing on Agriculture, Human rights and political affairs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org