By Venkkat G
Nationalism refers to the political, cultural, or psychological construct of identifying oneself as belonging to a part of a nation. It is a contested concept and can assume various forms. It could mean political nationalism or cultural nationalism, liberal nationalism or conservative nationalism, territorial nationalism or sub-nationalism. It also depends upon whose nationalism is being referred to, like for example Indian nationalism, Pakistani nationalism, Kashmiri nationalism, etc.
Justice on the other hand refers to the philosophical, political, or legal principles guiding individual and social action towards virtue. Even justice is a contested concept and can assume multiple forms. Justice can be attributed at the individual level or at the societal level. It can be procedural or substantive. It can be distributive or retributive. It can be grounded upon deontological principles or teleological ones. It can also mean upholding moral principles or promoting peace and prosperity in general.
Justice and nationalism are closely related concepts. They are assumed to be mutually interdependent upon each other. Nationalism is often used as a tool to attain justice and justice is often used as the foundation upon which nationalism is built. This mutual co-relation between the two can be explicitly seen with the example of the Indian National Movement that was grounded upon the principle of attaining justice from colonial rule. But however, they are also seen as mutually antithetical concepts at times. While nationalism is state-oriented in general, justice is people-oriented. While nationalism is majoritarian in nature, justice seeks to protect the interests of minorities. While nationalism is national in scope, justice is international and universalistic.
This mutual relationship between ‘nationalism’ and ‘justice’ can be best analyzed comparatively through the example of abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, which we will be looking into in the upcoming section.
Convergence between Nationalism and Justice
Article 370 of the Indian Constitution has had a checkered history. It was introduced by the constituent assembly to provide for special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir with due regards to the extraordinary circumstance under which the state acceded to the Indian Union following independence. It was based on the mutual understanding arrived between Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdulla in crafting a unique ‘post-colonial nationalism’ grounded upon socialistic principles to establish ‘social justice’ in the traditional inegalitarian Kashmiri society. It can also be regarded as a dream project of Nehru in crafting a distinctive model of Indian Nationalism rooted in secularism to counter the ‘Two Nation Theory’ propagated by Pakistan and secure justice to its vast populace of religious minorities. Thus we can see how in the post-independence era there was a clear convergence between nationalism and justice in the Kashmiri context.
Even in modern times with the abrogation of Article 370 on the 5th of August 2019, the underlying rationale stated by the Government of India was its intention to uphold justice through strengthening nationalism, by dismantling the patronizing regime that has come in way of realizing both. They feel that the existence of a special status provision creates a psychological divide among its people obstructing the process of national integration. The Indian nationalists claim that Kashmiri nationalism is nothing but an ‘invented tradition’ (as coined by Eric Hobsbawm) by the political elites to bolster their power by ‘misguiding’ the youth into ‘anti-national’ activities. The right-wing party in power at the center also seeks to promote territorial nationalism by doing away with ‘two constitutions, two prime ministers and two flags in one nation’ as famously remarked by the Hindutva ideologue Shyama Prasad Mukherjee.
According to the government claims, abrogation of Article 370 seeks to uphold justice to the Kashmiri populace by undoing decades of ‘historical injustice’ brought about by isolating the valley from developments happening in the rest of the mainland. The removal of Article 35-A could pave way for greater economic activities in the region, thus promoting overall peace and prosperity to its people. Through this act, the government also intends to promote social justice to the marginalized sections like women, Dalits, and tribals by extending the constitutional protections available elsewhere in the country. The abrogation of Article 370 and the subsequent bifurcation of the state of J&K addresses the long-standing demands of people in the Jammu and Ladakh region for autonomy from the so-called ‘Kashmiri imperialism’ and the call for a greater association with the Union of India instead. Furthermore, in a limited sense, the act can also be seen in terms of execution of ‘retributive justice’ to address the decades-long peril of insurgency and terrorism, by enabling to implementation of effective security measures to contain the endless blood and tears.
Undermining of Justice for the sake of Nationalism: In a critique
However, according to most critics, the act resulted in a grave violation of the principles of justice for the sake of nationalism. The triumph of Indian nationalism was at the cost of serious undermining of justice to the Kashmiri people in particular. It went against the liberal nationalist principles of ‘national self-determination and the realization of ‘general will’ as put forth by Jean Jacques Rousseau. It was also followed by grave human rights violations, denial of political liberty, and ‘murder of democracy which the liberals hold dear. It even went against the de minims principle of ‘procedural justice’ as laid down by John Rawls by the violation of constitutional procedural norms in bringing about sweeping changes of this magnitude. Similarly, going by the Gandhian maxim of justice of ensuring ‘continuity between means and ends, the actions of the Indian government remains unacceptable irrespective of whatever the so-called ‘noble goals’ it sought to achieve, as in his words “you cannot get a rose through planting a noxious weed”
The action can be seen to be unjust from the perspective of ‘distributive justice’ also. There is visibly an inequitable distribution of primary social goods like justice, liberty, rights, democracy etc. between Kashmir and the rest of the Indian mainland. The Indian nationalism is visibly made to dominate over the Kashmiri nationalism undermining the principle of ‘equality of nations’ as famously remarked by Woodrow Wilson[ii]. Similarly, according to the Indo skeptic historians like Alastair Lamb, Kashmir’s accession into the Indian Union was itself founded upon injustice in the first place. The maharaja was coerced, imperial power misinformed and the Kashmiri people misguided to ultimately integrate the Muslim majority province by fair means or foul, going against the very logic of partition[iii]. Ever since then it has been a tale of diluted provisions and broken promises, with the recent abrogation of Article 370 altogether being the final nail in the coffin. This as per Kantian ethics is unjust as the duty to keep promises is a categorical imperative
This phenomenal triumph of nationalism over justice has negative impacts on nationalism itself. It points to the gradual degradation of Indian nationalism towards a more majoritarian model leading to the exclusion of India’s vast 200 million minorities. Similarly, it undermines the very principles upon which Indian nationalism is rooted upon by going against the sacrosanct values inscribed in the Indian Constitution. Furthermore, it is argued “the government’s Kashmir move exposes the fragility of India’s federalism”, which can potentially threaten the process of nation-building by reopening the old fault lines in J&K, South India, and North East[v]. Similarly, according to Rajeev Bhargava, the excessive tilt towards nationalism threatens to undo the long-standing consensus on a mutual compromise between nationalism and sub-nationalism that has led to the success of the ‘state nation model in India[vi]. The actions of the Indian government also go against the spirit of internationalism by undermining the promises made at the United Nations for a mutual and peaceful resolution of the conflict.
The author is a student of International Relations at the South Asian University, New Delhi