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

Sedition law: Can it have a place in democracy?

Does the concept of sedition have a place in modern democracies? This question became more relevant when the apex court recently put the country`s colonial-era sedition law on abeyance stating that there is a “requirement to balance… security interests and integrity of the State… and th

Not just another Manto anthology

The Collected Stories of Saadat Hasan Manto: Volume 1: Bombay and Poona Translated by Nasreen Rehman Aleph Book Company, 548 pages, Rs 999 There are writers, there are writers’ writers, and then there are readers’ writers. Saadat Hasan Mant

These tribal women may be illiterate but are successful entrepreneurs

Meet Promila Krishna, 39, Lalita Nayak, 40, Parbati Gadba, 42, Sanadei Dhuruwa, 39, and Nabita Barika, 41, of Kundra block in Odisha’s Koraput district. Except for Promila who is a matriculate, others haven’t attended school beyond the elementary level. However, while introducing themselves to

Women in workforce: Despite policy support, why it is declining

Michelle Obama once said, “No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens.” That should be so obvious, but it is not, and countries keep depriving themselves of the contributions of half of their popul

Chintan Shivir 2022: Will Congress regain its lost mojo?

The Congress is scheduled to hold a Chintan Shivir (meaning, ‘introspection camp’) from May 13th to 15th in Udaipur and it has identified six specific areas for introspection. These are 1. Political 2. Social Justice and Empowerment 3. Economy 4. Organization 5. Farmers and Agriculture and 6. Y

Role of civil society organisations in governance and CSR

India has the largest share of the deprived and the marginalized among the 1.3 billion-plus, out of the 7.9 billion-plus inhabitants of the world, who are said to be living without shelter or basic amenities required for human existence. Clearly, we need to introspect as to why despite being the fourth or

Visionary Talk: Arvind Sawant, Member of Parliament with Kailashnath Adhikari, MD, Governance Now


Archives

Current Issue

Opinion

Facebook    Twitter    Google Plus    Linkedin    Subscribe Newsletter

Twitter