Reimagining the state ideology

Recently, Sanata Dharma University in Yogyakarta hosted the 2nd International Yale Indonesia Forum, the title of which was "Pancasila's Contemporary Appeal: Re-Legitimizing Indonesia's Founding Ethos".

The central questions of this conference implied that the degree to which Pancasila remained relevant in contemporary Indonesia largely hinged upon its continuing ability to counter the effects of potentially centrifugal forces, such as religion and ethnicity.

However, is this enough? Can such an instrumental relationship suffice in order for Pancasila to assume its place as one of the primary foundations of what it means to be an Indonesian?

In short, what is, or rather, what can be the relationship between Pancasila and national identity in contemporary Indonesia?

The goal of any government or regime is to render itself the primary source of authority, ideally legitimate, within its borders. It is in this respect that a genuinely felt sense of national identity becomes significant in so much as it is able to act as a source of legitimacy; reflected, for example, in the notion of a government existing and acting for "the people".

The problem in many post-colonial states is that who and what exactly are "the people" remains relatively amorphous, especially in the presence of multiple ethnicities and/or religions. Such states have generally lacked a coherent, inclusive myth to supply a metaphysical basis for the state.

However, as the history of independent Indonesia demonstrates, Pancasila has been able to act as just one such "inclusive myth", providing a common footing from which to weave together the many diverse and disparate elements that constitute Indonesia.

It is as an articulation of Bhineka Tunggal Ika, arguably the most elemental and long-standing expression of Indonesian national unity, that Pancasila continues to enjoy widespread consensus from almost all sections of Indonesian society.

However, this broad societal acceptance of Pancasila as something quite essential in determining what it means to be "Indonesian" is altogether different than agreeing on how exactly to interpret this fundamental concept. This is especially evident after the fall of the New Order regime in 1998 with the emergence of a far more uncertain terrain upon which to negotiate the relationship between Pancasila and Indonesian national identity.

What we see then in the "era Reformasi" is a proliferation of competing discourses on national identity of which most, but not all, were Pancasila-based.

In fact, one can discern a number of distinct derivations of the overarching discourse which posits an explicit link between Pancasila and Indonesian national identity.

In the first instance, there are the "Secular Nationalists" who are uncomfortable with Pancasila's tight association with the oppressive excesses of the former New Order regime and yet regard Pancasila as a useful means of combating the influence of political Islam.

In order to do so, this broad group either relies on emphasizing the first sila of Ketuhanan yang Maha Esa or, if they are unwilling to explicitly employ the language of Pancasila, they may instead refer to the values contained within Pancasila in terms of human rights, universal equality, etc.

Confronting the "Secular Nationalists" are two broad groups, both of which also broadly identify with Pancasila. On the one side are "Pancasila Islamists" who view themselves as both Muslims and Indonesian nationalists and have little trouble interpreting each of the as expressions of values that exist within Islam.

On the other side are "Pancasila Nationalists" who look to a more "original" version of Pancasila before it became polluted by political interests. At its core, this latter group seeks to place equal emphasis on all five silas in order to restore Pancasila as part of the jiwa of Indonesia, as "Pancasila kita".

At an even more fundamental level, there are discourses present in Indonesia that question the very relevance of Pancasila as a manifestation of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika. Campaigns for an Islamic state are representative of this.

Intriguingly, there are also some who assert that Pancasila has become so corrupted by political interests that Indonesians need to be brave enough to risk replacing Pancasila with an alternative ideology, one that better functions as a legitimate articulation of "unity in diversity".

What this "chaos" of competing discourses demonstrates is that there is still a real need for ideological debate on the relationship between Pancasila and "Indonesian-ness".

With so many discourses vying for dominance such a dialogue is essential. As in the early years of independent Indonesia this is the time to explore, once again, the ways in which Pancasila can act as that which moulds Indonesians together into a common community.

It is not enough to simply bellow "Pancasila harga mati". As Sukarno noted, Pancasila was something that came from the very soil of Indonesia. If that earth has since shifted, changed in composition, then Pancasila must be grounded (membumikan) anew.

It must be constantly cultivated in line with the times so as to ensure the continuing existence of an Indonesia firmly rooted in Bhinneka Tunggal Ika.

The writer is PhD Candidate, Department of International Relations, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University.

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