It promises to open a Pandora’s Box and spark off several debates
Kolkata: Call it historical interpretations and assessments of literary and sociological narratives or something else, it promises to open a Pandora’s Box and spark off several debates. A professional historian and a research fellow at Ludwig-Maximilians Universitrat Munich, Germany, in a thoroughly researched book, has used several political theologies to drive home the need for decolonising and subalternising sovereignty, going beyond Hobbes’ notion of the state as the “mortal god”.
The triggers possibly were three famous lines from three great philosophers and poets. First, Thomas Hobbes, the founder of modern political philosophy, who in his most famous book Leviathan published in 1651, wrote: “This done, the Multitude so united in one person, is called a Common Wealth, in Latine CIVITAS. This is the generation of that great Leviathon, or rather (to speake more reverently) of that Mortall God, to which we owe under the Immoral God, our peace and defence.” The second one by Rabindranath Tagore, who, in his poem Raja (1910) wrote: “Amra sabai raja amader ei rajar rajatve, naile moder rajar sane milbe ki svartve! (We are all kings in this kingdom of our king, otherwise by what proprietary right shall we unite with our king!” And the third one by Kazi Nazrul Islam, who in an editorial in Dhumketu (1922) wrote: “Swaraj mane ki? Swaraj mane nijei raja ba sabai raja (What does self-rule mean? Self-rule means, one is oneself king or everyone is king).”
Young historian Milinda Banerjee, who also teaches at Kolkata’s Presidency University, in his book The Mortal God-Imagining the Sovereign in Colonial India, recently published by Cambridge University Press, offered examples after examples to underscore his point. Consider this. “Rabindranath Tagore, in a famous song (the first stanza of which has been accepted as the national anthem of independent India), embedded the unity of the Indian nation in the acclaim offered by all Indians to the divine monarch of the country. In interwar Bengal, acclamations to Pranavananda, conceptualised as an ascetic-divine ruler and avatara, were critical to the emergence of a militant notion of Hindu nationhood, one which also aspired to integrate peasants into its orbit of politics.”
In another context, Banerjee, writes, “Vivekananda and Bal Gangadhar Tilak, among others, experienced ambivalences about monotheistic political rulership. Rabindranath Tagore may have been enamoured of reformist rulership, but he was also one of the most creative exponents of a democratic political theology that identified divinity and regality in ordinary human beings and affirmed a non-sectarian politics of messianic hope. In a celebrated song, he articulated this ethos by making the commoner say: we are all kings in this kingdom of our king……….We are not bound in the slavery of terror of a king of slaves.”
Banerjee argues that for Kazi Nazrul Islam divinity and the messianic mantle were imminent in all human beings, hence everyone deserved basic democratic rights and could rebel against unjust authority.
In another context, Banerjee says, “It may be asked whether critiquing state sovereignty serves any purpose in an age when the greatest menace to social equity is posed by the transnational aggression of capital and when nation-states sometimes resist such predatory capital to promote and patronize the interests of their electorates, including of less privileged social strata. However, it needs to be remembered that nation-state sovereignty still underwrites the basic formats of power which allow transnational capital to thrive today and which also maintain and reproduce class differences. Frequently, such sovereignty regimes produce violent chauvinism which discriminate against minority groups and disempowered immigrants”.
Lots of food for thought, for sure.