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Are we turning into a nation of hyper-nationalists?

"Ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) presented Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate, the discourse on nationalism has changed."  

Left | Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd

Hyper-nationalism does not allow critical engagement; it shows anything critical of ruling party as anti-national

Ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) presented Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate, the discourse on nationalism has changed. It has become hyper. The party began by telling people through various modes of information dissemination — including social media — that the Congress has served the interests of Muslims. The Congress was a party of casteism, regionalism and Muslim appeasement, the BJP said, and promised that ‘when we come to power, we will work on a developmental model, on the lines of Gujarat, which will be all-inclusive’. What was unstated was this: that the party will stop the ‘preferential treatment’ to Muslims as a ‘special’ category.

Rallying around the cow

After the BJP came to power, it became essential to identify an enemy that the country could relate to. So Pakistan is the constant refrain and Muslims who were no longer treated ‘preferentially’ were required to ‘stand with the nation’ or else go to Pakistan.

To my mind, there were three crucial elements required to stoke the feeling of hyper-nationalism: Pakistan, Muslims and Dalits, and universities. So, while we don’t have a fascist nationalism which was in Germany, what we are witnessing is semi-fascist nationalism along religious sentiments. The cow has become Bharat Mata. And all cow-eaters are anti-national. Under a gazette notification titled, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017, all beef-eaters are being projected as anti-national. The cow is not a nationalist symbol but has been made into one, and Dalits and Muslims will continue to be lynched using this weapon.

Hyper-nationalism does not allow critical engagement in any sphere of life. It projects anything critical of the ruling party as anti-national. It operates hand in glove with casteism and religious fundamentalism. Hyper-nationalists think that they alone are pure and sending soap and shampoo to Dalits and Adivasis before their appointment with Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath is part of that nationalism.

Crushing all criticism

I am reminded of speech from the 1960s by U.S. President John F. Kennedy where he raised this question of nationalism vis-à-vis the attacks mounted by members of the Ku Klux Klan on blacks. He said America believed in the true spirit of nationalism that God created all people equal and every citizen has equal rights. The role of protecting the rights had to be performed by the state and the media. Kennedy appealed to the American media to protect peoples’ rights. And he assured the blacks that his government would do so by all means. But what the BJP under Prime Minister Modi is doing is exactly the opposite. All criticism is being suppressed in praise of the leader. Dissent in universities is being crushed. The RSS’s student wing, the ABVP, has taken upon itself to stamp out critical discourse.

To my mind, what the ruling combine is doing is anti-national because it strengthens divisions in society and such strengthened divisions engender more violence. The attempt to construct an ideology of hyper-nationalism around food culture is going to be disastrous. Everybody knows that it is not the Brahmins/Banias or Jains who will be affected by the new law but Dalits/Adivasis, OBCs and Muslims.

Hyper-nationalism helps to keep the nation perpetually in conflict with everyone at war with the other. Mr. Modi should listen to what Kennedy had said years ago.

Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad

Right | Shiv Shakti Nath Bakshi

As a new nationalistic wave sweeps India, attempts are being made to dub nationalism as ‘hyper-nationalism’

A particular brand of intelligentsia, finding itself marginalised in the national discourse, is visibly uncomfortable with the massive mandate of 2014. BJP getting full majority on its own and ending a three-decade-long fractured polity was beyond their imagination. It not only questions their ability to analyse elections but raises serious doubts on their understanding of Indian society and politics. While trying to build a counter-narrative, they now derive solace in portraying nationalism as ‘hyper-nationalism’.

Mindless opposition

Some time back, similar attempts were seen in the form of ‘intolerance’ and ‘award wapsi’. The anti-national sloganeering in Jawaharlal Nehru University was first sought to be defended and then rationalised and Rohith Vemula’s case in Hyderabad Central University was propped up as an accusation against the Central government. The murder of M.M. Kalburgi and Narendra Dabholkar which took place under the Congress State governments and the Dadri incident in U.P. under Samajwadi Party rule were highlighted as indictments of the Central government. The local law and order issues were not only sought to be catapulted to the national scene but even international opinion was mobilised.

The repeated defeats in election after election have frustrated them to such an extent that the Congress-Marxist combine even raises questions on the legitimacy of these mandates. So there is a visible tendency to question even the surgical strikes [against Pakistan] and demonetisation. It has led to mindless opposition of the Central government through opposing and denigrating security forces, raising the issues of human rights of terrorists and stone-pelters, meeting separatists in Kashmir, speaking against the Prime Minister in Pakistan, and taking pride in slaughtering a cow in full public view.

Accommodation and adjustment

Indian nationalism remains an enigma for those trying to see nationalism through a fixed framework of inflexible rigidities. The problem gets further compounded when that understanding is based on the European experience of nationalism, a homogenising, masculine and an imperialistic phenomenon resulting in the formation of uniform nation states. Contrary to the European experience, Indian nationalism is not only inclusive but celebrates a unique kind of diversity. India has been a plural society since ancient times and there is a cultural and civilisational unity. Its journey of thousands of years was impeded by several incursions, foreign rule and colonialism. But the spirit of India has not only survived all the assaults but was strengthened by a flourishing culture of accommodation and adjustment.

To think that this process of accommodation and adjustment was one-sided would be a grave mistake; it was always a multilinear and dynamic process. It was due to this that our freedom struggle right from the war of 1857 recognised that the ban on cow slaughter was integral to the spirit of nationalism. While it continued to find special mention under Mahatma Gandhi, it was included in the Directive Principles of the Constitution and even the Congress governments in various States made laws banning cow slaughter.

As the Prime Minister continues to speak the language of hope and trust, nationalism has become an incredible phenomenon of transformation, progress and development. The nationalistic surge today emanates from the masses below to the NRIs abroad, covering vast sections of the society. It represents the aspirations, hope and trust of the people. It is time to strengthen nationalism to build a new India. Any attempt to dub it as ‘hyper-nationalism’ will only be counterproductive to its proponents and lead to their further marginalisation.

Shiv Shakti Nath Bakshi is the executive editor of Kamal Sandesh, the BJP’s mouthpiece

Centre | Dipankar Gupta

We ought to rethink our attitude towards nationalism and curb much of the enthusiasm that goes with it

Nationalism has always been a seductive ideology, not just among us Indians, but for people across the world. What nationalism does best is to create a sense of “Us vs Them” in nearly every case. In the not-too-distant past, all this was welcome because the ‘other’ was either a foreign power or an oligarch or a dictator. In these circumstances, nationalism had a positive, and liberating, effect. But in all these cases the common consciousness it built was founded on blood, gore, war, victory, defeat, humiliation and jubilation.

Nationalism and citizenship

Democracy is very different. It needs nationalism as a precondition, but only as a precondition. Democracy is like a butterfly that comes out of the larva of nationalism. It does not appeal, like nationalism does, to primordial ties of custom, myth, lore and tradition.

Whereas nationalism creates a unity but demonises the other, citizenship sets out on the contrary principle of creating unity out of the spirit of fraternity where differences are embraced. Nurturing citizenship, therefore, is very difficult and challenging principally because it goes against everything that arises spontaneously in us, such as ties of blood and tradition. It is the delicacy and fragility of citizenship which makes democracy and its attendant, fraternity, so hard to practise.

The Indian “national” was born in 1947. But the Indian “citizen” arrived only after 1950, when our Constitution was framed. Since then we have found how difficult it is to keep the citizenship flag flying as one has to constantly battle headwinds. Hyper-nationalism is always waiting out there for the weather to turn.

But India is no exception in this matter as countries worldwide are fighting against hyper-nationalism, and not always successfully. The French election was a recent example of this and fortunately a reprieve has been won; but there many other modern nation states, at home and abroad, that face this kind of threat all the time.

Constitution, pulls and pressures

Our Constitution, which may be faulted at several levels, has firmly laid the foundations of citizenship in our country by ordaining that all are equal; nobody is intrinsically a better citizen than any other. It, therefore, protects minorities, opposes patriarchy as well as abolishes untouchability and caste distinctions from public life.

None of these came about naturally, or from below, and it needed the combined strengths of Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar, Patel and others leaders at the top for these radical dreams to come true. All these measures would have been unimaginable in the era of nationalism, pure and simple. At the same time, our Constitution has had to, on a number of occasions, make concessions to hyper-nationalism. This aspect is best seen in provisions that allow for Emergency to be declared and also to detain people without trial on charges of sedition.

It would be advisable, then, to rethink our attitude towards nationalism and curb much of the enthusiasm that goes with it. The many ethnic killings we have had over the years, the proud posturing of Shiv Sena-style ethnicism, gau rakshaks on the rampage, dubious communal concessions as also the minoritising of certain religious communities are all expressions of nationalism. Citizenship cannot tolerate any of these, but this would need leadership of the statesmanlike variety to deliver.

No democracy is perfect but we should nevertheless look for a compass in the storm. This is where citizenship alone can be our reliable guide.

Dipankar Gupta was a professor at the School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University

As told to Anuradha Raman

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Printable version | Sep 16, 2021 8:56:08 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/are-we-turning-into-a-nation-of-hyper-nationalists/article18701484.ece

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