March 18, 2016

India: Communal polarisation and hyper-nationalism are two sides of the same coin (Pawan K Varma)

The Times of India

Communal polarisation and hyper-nationalism are two sides of the same coin

March 17, 2016, 7:00 am IST in TOI Edit Page | Edit Page, India | TOI
Every day, as dusk settles in, students in JNU gather to discuss the issue of nationalism. I addressed the students some days ago, and came away convinced that there is before our Republic an unfinished agenda that must play out before India fully conforms to what our Constitution envisages in letter and spirit.
What is this unfinished agenda? When, on that fateful day of January 30, 1948, Nathuram Godse pumped three bullets into Mahatma Gandhi, he was convinced that what he was doing was right. In this sense, from the very beginning, Gandhi, standing for an inclusive, plural and composite India, and Godse, the voice of a muscular, majoritarian Hindu India, were the binaries of the as yet unresolved notion of what India will ultimately evolve to be.
Fortunately, in the decades that followed, the hardcore votaries of Hindutva, or a Hindu majoritarian India, were largely marginalised. But they have still not been defeated and should not be underestimated. Every now and then they surface, be it on the occasion of the adoption of the Hindu Civil Code in the 1950s, or the massive demonstrations demanding a total ban on cow slaughter in the 1960s, or in the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation of the 1990s.
This hard core is verifiably nurtured by RSS. M S Golwalkar, its longest serving Sarsang- chalak, stated unequivocally that non-Hindus have no right in Bharat, not even the rights of a citizen. Veer Savarkar, another ultra-right idol, stated in 1945: “It is a historical fact that Hindus and Muslims are two nations.”
Now that BJP has come to power with an absolute majority, extremist voices of Hindutva have resurfaced with impunity. Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, a Union minister, said brazenly that the nation can choose between “Ramzaades and Haraam- zaades”; another minister, who unbelievably heads the ministry of culture, declared that former President Abdul Kalam was a good man “in spite of being a Muslim”; Sakshi Maharaj, a sitting BJP MP, pronounced Godse to be a martyr. Communal venom and violence abound but no action is taken. The ministers remain ministers, and nobody knows what happened to the “show cause” notice issued to Sakshi Maharaj.
The important thing to understand is that communal polarisation and hyper-nationalism are two sides of the same coin. The first creates hatred towards the ‘other’, the ‘enemy’, the ‘out-sider'; the second conflates this hatred with patriotic fervour.
Genuine anti-nationalism should be punished under law, but must anyone who remotely opposes this illiterate devaluation of Hinduism, or questions this exclusionist construct of India as a monochromatic Hindu ‘motherland’, be charged with sedition? In the midst of this brittle hysteria, it is imperative to recognise the symptoms of ultra Hindu politics: aggression, violence, use of lumpen elements, the deliberate creation of false polarities between patriotism and freedom of speech, and the collusive support of state forces as witnessed in the beating up of teachers, journalists and students in court premises while police just stood around.
Will such extremist forces succeed? I believe not. Hindus are not an undifferentiated monolith. ABVP’s aggression has also to face the anguish of Rohith Vemula. The campaign for temples must also contend with the demand for jobs. The slogan “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” must also encompass farmers committing suicides. Tributes to our soldiers must also answer their need for better salaries and services.
The truth is that for every Yogi Adityanath there are many more Kanhaiyas. Democratic empowerment has reawakened hitherto subordinate constituencies that now refuse to be manipulated. The bandwidth of political expectation has amplified far beyond simplistic jingoism or communal incitement for short-term political gain. People understand that social peace and stability are essential for economic development. Judicial vigilance and a largely free media are checks to the illegitimate use of state machinery or patronage. And, for a nation that aspires to sit on the high table of the world, the fact that the world is closely watching – witness the recent critical write-ups in New York Times, The Economist and Le Monde – will act as a brake.
And yet, to create an India enduringly in the image of our founding fathers, the struggle is not over. This is our Republic’s unfinished agenda. We may have an exemplary Constitution, but a nation has to live up to the expectations of this document by defeating, both electorally and ideologically, those who seek to subvert it. That, indeed, is the battle to be won by 2019.