Constitutional Patriotism and a New Democratic Identity

By Yanis Iqbal

The ongoing Anti-CAA-NPR-NRC protests represent a polemical encounter with a statist nationalism. A broad-brush definitional framework of statist nationalism can be formulated by emphasizing its lifeblood which is the coercive imposition of allegiance to the state. This allegiance is gradually built by creating a seemingly indestructible ideological echo chamber in which a monochromatic picture of society is constructed. This hegemonic ideology becomes the organizational principle of normative socialization. The principles of a particular ideology come to signify the normative substantiality of the society as a whole. The political culture of the society becomes politically standardized which means that there is little scope for pluralism.

Statist nationalism employs scorched-earth counterattack in order to achieve a complete hegemonization of the political culture and it usually succeeds in institutionally fortifying its ideology. Benito Mussolini stands as a prime example of a statist nationalist who was triumphant in establishing his ideology. But the dogged determination which the pan-India protests are showing, belie that statist nationalism has actually successfully strangulated the dream of a democratic India. This indefatigability stems from the moral motivational force which the constitution has provided the citizens with. To be more precise, the Habermasian concept of constitutional patriotism has been materialized in the Indian democracy. Constitutional patriotism was seen as merely an abstract theory whose concretization was simply a pipe dream. This was because of the fact that constitutional patriotism was a post-nationalistic theory and it was believed that its lack of particularism or its unrealizable commitment to universal values would eventually stand out as a fatal flaw. India being a nation where cultural identities dominate the thinking, constitutional patriotism may surely seem as the most unlikely of phenomenon which can happen.

The explanation of this strange occurrence can be situated in the way in which constitutional patriotism has been used. Rather than a purely constitutional commitment, Indian citizens have actually used it as a catalyzing condition for critically deciphering their communitarian ethics. Constitution acted as the enabling factor which inaugurated a critical introspection through which, the citizen was able to fathom out the parochialism of his religio-cultural practices. The sectarianism of various religious practices was filtered through the non-sectarian sanity of the Indian constitution. After the dissociation of parochialism from cultural identities, the people espoused new democratic identities in which the cultural identities were democratized. A fundamental point to be noted here is that, the constitution occupied the mental imagination of the citizenry due to a specific issue whose brazenness was not able to go unnoticed. In this context, this issue was the triumvirate of CAA-NPR-NRC which seemed to endanger directly, the innards of our Indian democracy. It is only because of the existence of constitution that the critical protestations of Indian citizens has been channelized into a non-passive large scale protest which entails the reflective participation of protesters.

After the process of de-sectarianisation, civic republican values have irradiated the Indian public sphere. In examining how constitutional patriotism is redefining Indian society, Hanna Arendt’s theories prove to be extremely useful. Constitutional patriotism has created those ‘spaces of appearance’ where the Indian citizens are engaging themselves in the process of democratic humanization. In these spaces of appearances, ‘organized remembrance’ takes place in which, the Indian constitution is thematized. This thematization of constitution helps in collectively remembering the historicity of Indian democracy and which in turn creates common convictions in the spirit of democracy. The space of appearance is therefore, a deliberative domain where an individual constructively and creatively communicates with other humans and participates actively in the actualization of freedom. An empirical example of the space of appearance is Shaheen Bagh. At this place, various Indians from diverse religions assemble and read the preamble of the constitution and simultaneously, hold inter-faith ceremonies to categorically illustrate the ecumenical matrix of Indian culture. The contemporaneousness of the veneration of the constitution and religion shows how the structuring principle of the constitution has democratized religio-cultural identities. This also evinces that it is not a natural necessity for constitutional patriotism to be distantiated from the cultural climate of a particular society.

The spaces of appearance, apart from helping in the disclosure of a person’s individuality and the materialization of freedom, obliterate the quietism with which we accept the order of things. Normative socialization always teaches us to be covariant with reality which means we should change or adapt to the reality. This kind of passive acceptance of reality completely erases the probability of trying to change the reality and instead, builds up a daunting wall which invariably reminds us the spurious impossibility of altering the reality. The technocratic decisionism of contemporary democracies exists to fulfill this function of foisting the reality upon us by issuing communiques. The high-handed operation of today’s democracies makes it explicitly clear that participative politics is infinitely improbable. But when spaces of appearance start asserting their presence, the sacrality of the bureaucratic functioning of a democracy is desacralized. In India, we are witnessing the intellectual intensity of this anti-bureaucratic movement which challenges the mechanical methodology of governmentality.

About the Author:

Yanis Iqbal is a freelance writer based in Aligarh and writes analytical pieces on current affairs.

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