This semester, I was able to attend an amazing talk given by Professor Deonnie Mootie, an assistant professor in the Religious Studies Department here at OU. The talk revolved around the history of nationalism in India, comparing the legacy of Gandhi with his nationalist counterparts.
Gandhi is a well-known international icon known for his nonviolent protest and peaceful demeanor. A lesser known fact about Gandhi is that he was a part of the Indian Nationalist Movement, a movement to establish Indian independence from British rule. Professor Mootie gave a brief overview of Gandhi’s rise and his involvement in the Nationalist Movement, situated in the context of the political and social atmosphere of the time. Once the British colonized India, there was a nostalgic romanticization of the time before British rule. Indians began to desire a return to their pre-British golden age, when Indians were in charge of India; out of this desire grew the Nationalism Movement. Gandhi eventually became the leader of the Indian National Congress, and his opponent, Savarkar, became the leader of the Hindu Mahasabha, another nationalist camp. Whereas Gandhi was inclusive toward all religions, Savarkar believed that Hindi identity is inseparable from Indian identity, thus alienating Muslims and Christians. Although Gandhi’s camp is more widely recognized, the pattern of thought driven by Savarkar is the one that has remained dominant in Indian politics, leading toward the current resurgence of the Hindu right and clashes with the Muslim demographic.
Nationalism in the context of Indian independence is a complex issue, especially when considered in light of the current global political climate. Nationalism was used as a tool for the Indian people to regain autonomy over their own land and persons, but it was also used as a tool to be exclusionary and perpetuate an “us vs them” mentality. In both the case of the Indian Nationalist Movement and in today’s widespread renewal of nationalist sentiment across the globe, it’s important to balance the importance of cohesive identity with the importance of inclusion, a balance that is still being actively sought.