Nationalism and its discontents

The JNU episode reflects failures of governance, success of hate politics

ashishm

Ashish Mehta | March 5, 2016


#JNU   #jnu row   #human rights   #law   #sedition   #supreme court   #nationalism   #gandhi   #kanhaiya kumar   #jawaharlal nehru university  


Here is an anecdote of 2007 vintage. A well researched book on the history of Gujarat’s maritime trade with central Asia was being released. The small audience in the hall was largely made up of academics and some business leaders behind the trust that funded the research. Thus, the chief guest could put pressures of politics aside and speak from heart. “We, BJP and Congress, will keep fighting on political lines,” said Narendra Modi, “but on what values this politics should be fought? People like [naming an academic-journalist-activist in the audience] should guide all of us about those values.” That was his way of greeting a fellow anti-emergency activist who has been among his leading critics in Gujarat. Yes, so what should be those values – supposing they can be separate from political lines?

In the light of the recent events at JNU, how about nationalism as one such a value? If a citizen cares for all the rest of fellow citizens, where is any harm in it? It is a great bonding, and can only do good to all. In the process, if a citizen feels a surge of emotion at a soldier’s martyrdom, that is a welcome sense of gratitude, of camaraderie. This patriotic sense, this nationalism, this bonding, of course, should not be limited to soldiers, and it will extend to all fellow citizens. Thus, this citizen will introspect if she also feels a surge of emotion when she hears of a farmer ending his life. Or, when she hears of anger a Meghalaya woman feels for the government’s attempts to grab her land for uranium mining. Or, when a man – his religion does not matter to the great mother that is India – is lynched by a mob for no proof but mere rumours of his food preferences. Or, when ruling party leaders routinely express desire to send somebody off to a neighbouring country.

That is the trouble with nationalism, patriotism, and similar noble notions. Rabindranath Tagore, the most important public intellectual of twentieth century India, only saw “selfishness” in it. George Orwell went further, and wrote, “Nationalism is power-hunger tempered by self-deception.” When the abstract ideals turn concrete, they mean whatever the one with power wants it to mean. That can hold equally true for political slogans of all varieties: left, right, bahujan and what not. Since it is the Hindu right-wing that has won the power to rule, they are the ones translating noble slogans into not-so-noble reality for us.

That is why every innocuous-seeming slogan and symbol is a tool for drawing a line, between the us and the others. Cow, Vande Mataram, some or the other temple, Gita, yoga, Bharat Mata: they all – arguably – have an element of the sacred. But in each case, they serve only one purpose: to alienate one community. When the right wing reduces a religious element to a political tool to consolidate to its vote bank, who is denigrating the sacred?

It was this instrumental use of religion as well as of Bharat Mata that ignited passions over the JNU affair. If there is no enemy, every right wing (as the recently deceased intellectual Umberto Eco showed us) invents enemies – since hate is the only binding factor for its support group. That enemy was invented in a TV studio. (As for anti-India slogans, there is no proof the students put behind the bars shouted them, and they have condemned the same too.) We have heard of manufacturing consent, but this government seems to be manufacturing dissent too.

A third of the term later, the government has not only conclusively failed to deliver on any of the promises made but there are no signs of doing it in the remaining period. So, the proverbial last refuge has become the first and hate politics is replacing governance.

ashishm@governancenow.com


(The column appears in the March 1-15, 2016 issue)

Comments

 

Other News

3% of medicines are of poor quality: Survey

 More than three percent of medicines in India are ‘Not of Standard Quality’ (NSQ) and 0.0245 percent spurious, reveals a survey report on drugs quality by the ministry of health.  The survey carried out by National Institute of Biologicals (NIB), Noida found that out of the

BEL unveils new weapon system for MBT Arjun tank

 Bharat electronics limited (BEL) has launched a new weapon control system — Remote Controlled Weapon Station (RCWS) / Air Defence Weapon Station (ADWS) for 12.7 mm gun of MBT Arjun Mk II battle tank during recently concluded Aero India 2017 in Bengaluru. The new weapon control system

Sasikala camp in talks with OPS faction

 The Sasikala camp is in talks with the O Panneerselvam (OPS) faction and they are trying to win them over, says an AIADMK insider. Negotiation have started between the main AIADMK, which is with Sasikala, and the splinter group that is supporting former chief minister OPS. The party insider

Stories to read over the weekend

On October 1 last year, Mehtab Alam Ansari, 30, who worked as a tailor in Delhi, had arrived in his village, Chepa Khurd in Barkagaon tehsil of Harazibagh district, to celebrate Eid with his family. That morning, he was nearing Dadi Kalan, a neighbouring village, to meet an acquaintance when he hea

ONGC to invest of Rs 7,327 cr for five projects

  State run enterprise oil and natural gas corporation limited (ONGC) has decided to invest Rs 7,327 crore to develop five projects to produce oil and gas. The decision was taken in its 290th board meeting held on February 23. The projects include development of R-Series fields, incl

Shiv Sena may again ally with BJP

The civic election results could well have long term implications in Maharashtra’s politics, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) doing dramatically well and the Shiv Sena failing to get a simple majority.   The Shiv Sena won 84 seats, while the BJP bagged 82 seats. Th

Video

Digital Transformation Summit

Current Issue

Opinion

Facebook    Twitter    Google Plus    Linkedin    Subscribe Newsletter

Twitter