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

India records lowest new cases in three months

After a scare in September with the number of daily fresh cases inching above 90,000, India seems to have gone down the peak, with several key parameters giving cause for relief just in time for the annual festive season. The new confirmed cases in the 24 hours to Tuesday morning have fallen below 36,500 (

India’s case fatality rate lowest since Janata curfew

The annual festive season has brought good news for India: the country’s case fatality ratio has gone down to touch 1.5 percent, and the number of deaths per day has dipped below 500 in the 24 hours to Monday morning – bringing the situation closer to the number before the lockdown was imposed

“Script is the real hero”

Basking in the success of the new web series, ‘Scam 1992: The Harshad  Mehta Story ’,on SonyLIV, the OTT platform from Sony stable where the lead actors are new faces, NP Singh, MD and CEO of Sony Pictures Networks, has said that the script is the new hero. He credited the s

India’s active cases below 10% of total cases for three days

India’s trend of steadily decreasing active cases continues unabated. The number of Active Cases has remained below 10% of the total cases for the last three days, suggesting only one in 10 cases is active Covid-19 patient. The active cases comprise merely 9.29% of the total positive c

Cabinet clears bonus for non-gazetted employees

The union cabinet chaired by prime minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday gave its approval to pay productivity linked bonus (PLB) for 2019-20 to 16.97 lakh non-gazetted employees of commercial establishments like Railways, Posts, Defence, EPFO, and ESIC, with a financial implication of Rs.2,791 crore.

Covid-19: Daily new cases fall below 50K

India has leaped across several significant milestones in its fight against Covid-19. The new confirmed cases in the 24 hours to Tuesday morning have fallen below 50,000 (46,790, to be precise) for the first time in nearly three months. The last time the number of new cases was close to this level was on J

India Police Virtual Summit and Awards 2020

Archives

Current Issue

Opinion

Facebook    Twitter    Google Plus    Linkedin    Subscribe Newsletter

Twitter