Reading Ramchandra guha on Benedict Anderson:
Anderson in Imagined Communities demystifies the idea of nationalism. It is not an idea borne out of religious scriptures, or centuries old culture; nationalism, for Anderson, is a modern idea. a young idea born in countries where people had to come together in resistance to colonial exploiter.
And more interestingly, Anderson upheld the idea of nationalism (less shocking to know why Guha likes him so much). Nationalism has it imaginative, utopic characteristics. Americans either believe in the spirit of American nationalism that has imaginative, religious roots; or in the historically motivated secular American spirit which allowed Asians, Africans, Mexicans, Europeans, natives to live together. Both these definitions ultimately allowed for belief in American ethos, and prevented people from buying guns and kill each other in five minutes’ time. Nationalism then has a positive ring to it but only when it is secularised and demystified in order to understand its urgency and immediacy and not ascribe any symbolic responsibilities to it.
On the issue of Dalits, Muslims and tribals, Guha has another interesting point to make. The intention is not to further divide the subaltern into different identity groups and prioritise one over the other. It is true that there are common sources of exploitation for the subaltern, that the Dalits, muslims and tribals are dispossessed of their property, cattle, land, jobs, access to education, medical healthcare, their culture, their languages, literature, by the same capitalist-state sponsored-nationalist-conservative policies.
Yet to completely simplify the historical exploitation of these varying communities does not bode well. It is an erasure of the specificity of each mode of exploitation. While it is important to critique the exploitation of Dalits and muslims, it is more important to recognise the source of this sympathy.
Dalits and muslims (comprising 14% and 16% of our total population respectively) offer themselves as ready to exploit vote banks for electoral politics. They have, over the years, formed themselves into coherent assertive political groups and are politically represented (though this representation is equally flawed).
But this is not the case with tribals. Tribals in india, especially mainland tribals, are isolated to the hilly regions of chattisgarh, odhisha, jharkhand among other states. They live in strong cohesion with each other, unlike the diluted, sparsely located communities of dalits and muslims in india; because of which the cost benefit of wooing tribals for elections is very less.
Our media obviously has a role to play. National mainstream media is owned by corporates who also have vested political interests. Tribal issues do not offer ready readership in a country where people are more interested to know the reply Indian governemnt has given to its Chinese counterparts, before they kick start their day. The consumers of this kind of media also do not have contact with the tribals because of their isolation and absence from political fronts. Guha raises an important concern, how many pms, presidents, chief justices, solicitor generals etc have been tribals?