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

“UP situation extremely bad, govt hiding data”

India is battling the second wave of Covid-19 and infections are spreading into the interiors of the country, says Dr Anurag Bhadouria, National Spokesperson, Samajwadi Party. It is precipitated by the elections in five states, the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar and also panchayat elections in many states, he says

CoWIN to have new security feature from Saturday

The CoWIN system, the overarching digital platform for citizens seeking appointment for the Covid-19 vaccine, is introducing a new four-digit security code” in the application from Saturday to minimise a peculiar error and subsequent inconvenience to citizens. “It has been notic

Learn from Mumbai model to manage oxygen supply: supreme court

Mumbai, once the epicentre of the pandemic in India, has emerged as a model for all others in mitigating the crisis. The supreme court on Wednesday said the central government should adopt and take lessons from the Mumbai model to manage liquid medical oxygen supply for Covid-19 patients in Delhi.

‘What do they know of history who only history know?’

A Functioning Anarchy? Essays For Ramachandra Guha Edited by Srinath Raghavan and Nandini Sundar Penguin Random House India / 392 pages / Rs 650 In a long and versatile career spanning thirty-five years, Ramachandra Guha has prod

BMC commissioner urges Mumbaikars to come forward for testing

To take preventive steps early and save lives, BrihanMumbai municipal corporation (BMC) commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal has urged citizens to come forward and get themselves tested.   Mumbai has seen a dip in Covid-19 cases in the last few days after an unprecedented increase in cases s

India records over 3 lakh recoveries, fresh cases down

India reported 3,68,147 new cases on Monday, a number lower than the 4 lakh-plus recorded in the weekend. Also, more than 29.16 crore Covid tests were conducted across the country. As many as 29,16,47,037 have been conducted as on date. India’s cumulative recoveries now stand

Masterminds Masterclass with Rajniesh Duggall on Acting & Modeling



Archives

Current Issue

Opinion

Facebook    Twitter    Google Plus    Linkedin    Subscribe Newsletter

Twitter