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Our 'nationalism' is against other Indians

By Aakar Patel
March 24, 2016 16:52 IST
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'Our great Indian nationalists are rousing passions against their own people, not against another nation.'
'Our fraud nationalists go after their own citizens for their religion, or for their views.'
'Their concern and their passion is the enemy within.'
'That is not love of nation or love of anything else.'
'It is hatred and it is bitterness,' says Aakar Patel.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah, senior BJP leader L K Advani and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley at the BJP's national executive meeting in New Delhi, March 20, 2016.
The BJP national executive issued a strong call for nationalism, and ruled that freedom of expression cannot be an excuse for anti-national statements. Photograph: Kamal Kishore/PTI Photo.

A Muslim legislator has been suspended in Maharashtra for saying he prefers 'Jai Hind' (Victory to India) to 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' (Victory to mother India).

What the difference between these two declarations is, I am not really sure, but clearly it is enough to merit punishment.

On March 19 came a report that Urdu writers have been asked to guarantee they are not writing anti-India material. The National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language under HRD Minister Smriti Irani is asking Urdu writers to sign forms which have the following declaration:

'I ___ son/daughter of ___ confirm that my book/magazine titled ___ which has been approved for bulk purchase by NCPUL's monetary assistance scheme does not contain anything against the policies of the Government of India or the interest of the nation, does not cause disharmony of any sort between different classes of the country, and is not monetarily supported by any government or non-government institution.'

This is what the Indian Express has reported. Those of us hoping that the fraud and manufactured debate on nationalists versus anti-nationals would end soon have been disappointed. It seems the only thing this government seems to be making in India is disharmony and anxiety.

I want to write about other things -- there is a World Cup in cricket currently on -- but we are being sucked into taking sides in this medieval battle daily.

Also, it is a different sort of nationalism that our Hindutva nationalists are promoting. It is not the same as Europe's nationalism, which was defined as a feeling those in one nation had towards another nation.

The First World War happened because the Serbians were hated by the Austro-Hungarians, who were hated by the Russians, who were hated by the Germans, who were hated by the French. I cannot remember now why the Italians joined the war, but it is true that the British hated everyone.

When the fuse was lit, everyone fell on each other, pulling in other nations, like the Turks, the Arabs, Indians and eventually Americans.

The damage their nations did to themselves because of their two wars made Europeans lose their parochialism. It later produced their enthusiasm for the European Union. This union was a group of those peoples who wanted to be denationalised and open up their borders and markets to one another.

In today's India, on the other hand, our 'nationalism' is not against another nation. It is against other Indians. This is why it is different.

Our great Indian nationalists are rousing passions against their own people, not against another nation. Our fraud nationalists go after their own citizens for their religion, or for their views. Their concern and their passion is the enemy within.

That is not love of nation or love of anything else. It is hatred and it is bitterness.

Persecution of Indian Muslims and Indian Dalits is not nationalism. This word we use so easily as an accusation, 'anti-national', is not really current in European languages. Only primitive peoples, like Indians, use it. It means opposition to the things a nation stands for.

But who is to decide what positive nationalism is? Other than saying 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai,' I do not really know what Indian nationalism is.

Jawaharlal Nehru University has been organising a series of open lectures on nationalism. This is available on a set of videos that is scholarly, but accessible to the lay person. This is a noble effort, but I am afraid that for the most part it will be wasted on Indians. It does not matter how terribly you behave, as long as you loudly say 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai,' you are a nationalist in India.

Yet another story in the papers is about two Muslims, one of them a child of 15, tortured and lynched from a tree, just like African Amercians in the United States. They were herding buffaloes so it is not clear what their crime was. But it is absolutely certain where the hatred was stirred up.

Is this making the government pause? Not at all. The BJP national executive met over the weekend and it called for yet more 'nationalism.' Haven't we had enough of that already?

Do the people in the BJP deciding this know what effect this has on India's reputation as a civilised society? Pick up any foreign paper or magazine and most of the news about India is negative. Why? Because, as many of us here and the rest of the world have concluded, avoidable incidents of similar nature are coming with such regularity that it is not easy to escape the suspicion that these things are deliberate.

For those hate-filled, fraud nationalists here, achche din have arrived.

Aakar Patel is Executive Director, Amnesty International India. The views expressed here are his own.

You can read his earlier columns here.

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