Write angle Ziya Us Salam

The contours of nationalism

JNU students marching to demand the release of JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar Photo Sandeep Saxena.   | Photo Credit: Sandeep Saxena;Sandeep Saxena -

Certificates in nationalism are being distributed. Have you applied? To qualify, an aspirant must scream “Pakistan murdabad”. An additional qualification would be an ability to send anybody to Pakistan who does not adhere to “one language, one faith, one nation” ideology. An inability to conduct a civilised discourse shall not be a disqualification. But, guess, who is issuing certificates of nationalism? Lawyers who take pride in bashing up the accused on court premises. And a couple of BJP legislators, one of them having undertaken the mundane task of counting the number of used condoms, beer bottles, cigarettes, etc. in Jawaharlal Nehru University. The other, a Delhi legislator last seen manhandling an activist not matching his definition of nationalism or patriotism. He surely cannot make out one from the other.

All these thoughts struck my mind over the past few days as, first the Rohit Vemula tragedy unfolded, then the JNU controversy erupted. Last week when I attended a march by authors, artists and academics in favour of the JNU students, I heard slogans which initially did not seem directly linked to the arrest of Kanhaiya or the disappearance of Umar Khalid. The students, asking for the release of Kanhaiya shouted, “Fascism down, down”. The attention shifted to the police commissioner Bassi followed soon after by cries of “Sanghis, down, down”. Then there were noises of “Manuvad down down”. It seemed an all-encompassing cry. Besides expressing their angst at caste and class ridden society, the students seemed to be answering the charges of sedition, terrorism and anti-nationalism levelled against some of their college mates and friends.

It was followed by a counter march wherein the Right Wing activists agitated more vehemently, with a lawyer threatening to use petrol bomb on Umar Khalid. It was sickening. And I wondered where do these guys draw their vitriol from? From where have they inherited that acute inability to see beyond prejudice? After all, be it the ABVP or the BJP, they all draw their ideological fuel from the RSS, the very body that for more than half a century refused to hoist the Tricolour, the organisation that stood opposed to India being a “sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic”, and even now wants India to be a Hindu Rashtra.

Around the same time I received Shamsul Islam’s thin but extremely well researched book “Know the RSS”, published by Pharos Media. Based on RSS documents, the book, now into its seventh revised edition, cleared many a cobweb. My doubts about the “Fascism, down, down” slogans were answered at the beginning where Islam draws a neat parallel between Hitler and M.S. Golwalkar.

“Golwalkar unhesitatingly wanted to model his Hindu Rashtra or Nation on Hitler’s totalitarian and fascist pattern,” writes Islam, going on to quote the RSS ideologue from the book “We or Our Nationhood Defined”. “It is worth bearing well in mind how these old Nations solve their minorities problem. They do not undertake to recognize any separate element in their polity. Emigrants have to get themselves naturally assimilated in the principal mass of the population, the National Race, by adopting its culture and language and sharing in its aspirations, by losing all consciousness of their separate existence….If they do not do so, they live merely as outsiders, bound by codes and conventions of the Nation, at the sufferance of the Nation.”

Similarly, V.D. Savarkar with whose ideology the Right Wing nurses clear similarities, wrote in favour of Hitler. “There is no reason to suppose that Hitler must be a human monster because he passes off as a Nazi.” Lending greater strength to Islam’s findings are some tweets of artistes clearly Right inclined. For instance, Anupam Kher tweeted in Hindi, “Gharon mein pest control hota hai to cockroach, keede makode ityadi bahar nikalte hain. Ghar saaf hota hai. Waise hi aajkal desh ka pest control chal raha hai. ( When you use pest control in your house, you see cockroach, insects and vermin popping out of their hiding. This cleanses the house. Likewise, the pest control of the entire country is being carried out at the moment.)” Kher’s words were almost a reproduction of Hitler’s who referred to Jews as insects, vermin and bacteria!

Back to the book: Islam reproduces how the RSS was against the Tricolour and Golwalkar while addressing a Gurupurnima gathering about a year before Independence, said, “It was the saffron flag which in totality represented Bhartiya culture. It was the embodiment of God. We firmly believe that in the end the whole nation will bow before this saffron flag.”

That Golwalkar still has his followers became clear a few days after the march when 50-year-old Yunus Sheikh, assistant sub-inspector in Latur, was paraded with a bhagwa dhwaj chanting ‘Jai bhawani’ slogans by Right Wing elements. Not a voice was heard from Nagpur or Jhandewalan, denouncing the action. Nobody cried sedition. Nobody reminded the cop’s kidnappers of the Constitution. I read up Golwalkar again through Islam’s book. He reproduces a statement of Golwalkar from “Bunch of Thoughts” which is not only a selection of the writings of Golwalkar but also a Bible for the RSS cadre. “Our Constitution too is just a cumbersome and heterogeneous piecing together of various articles from various Constitutions of Western countries. It has absolutely nothing which can be called our own’….In fact, RSS wanted this Constitution to be replaced by Manusmriti or Manu Code which is known for its derogatory and inhuman references to Shudras, Untouchables and women. When the Constituent Assembly of India finalized the Constitution, RSS was not happy. Its organ, ‘Organiser’ complained, “But in our Constitution there is no mention of the unique constitutional development in ancient Bharat’. Manu’s laws were written long before Sparta.” With a reproduction of Manu’s laws wherein he wants a Shudra’s arm to be chopped off for raising his hand at a Brahmin, Islam clears the picture about the kind of India those resorting to violence on the street want.

But what about charges of anti-nationalism? Surely there can be many ways of being an Indian? You can’t be anti-nation if you sing “Sare jahan se achcha Hindustan hamara” just as you do not become more patriotic by merely singing “Vande Mataram”.

Today, self-confessed perjurers are claiming monopoly over nationalism. Right Wing prejudice cannot pass off as the thought of the nation. Rather than be lost in the din, pick up Shamsul Islam’s book. Reading him is far from exhilarating. It is demanding, requiring both an open heart and a level head. In the end though, it is worth it.

(The author is a seasoned literary critic)


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Printable version | Jun 14, 2021 6:56:16 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/Ziya_Us_Salam/the-contours-of-nationalism/article8285676.ece

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