The 2019 election results are out and it spells out a clear divergence from the political discourse and humanitarian values enshrined in the Indian legacy . The Indian constitution was built on the pillars of secularism and equality, but the latest elections have cast a dark cloud over the ideological cornerstones of our nation. The results are a clear indication of triumph of propaganda and identity politics over truth and secularism. The driving force behind the election rhetoric was unmistakably nationalism spiced with majoritarianism, served on platters of a deeply communal populist movement. The BJP and it’s hardline hindutwa agenda was able to consolidate a vast section of population under the banners of Hindu nationalism, quietly propagated under the blare and noise of dialed up jingoism.
Nationalism is a political, cultural, economic ideology characterized by the promotion of interests of particular nation, with the prominent aim of gaining or maintaining sovereignty over the homeland. It seeks to create a discourse of single national identity, often rallying behind the cries of self-governance and independence from foreign interventions and feudal elites/imperial monarchs. But with the millennium far progressed from the feudal aristocrats and colonialist nation states, the idea of nationalism has shifted drastically, from the initial ideas of sovereignty and independence it embedded, to hate mongering and dividing the nation along religious and ideological fault lines. The present discourse has more or less converted nationalism to blind loyalty towards one’s perceived ideas of nation and ruler, over moral ethos and humanity. In January 2019, German President Frank Steinmeier put this to stark terms: “Nationalism, is an ideological poison” he said.
Around the world, political parties and leaders have taken up the mantle of nationalism, self proclaiming themselves as the guardians of the nation, protecting the innocent citizens from the immigrants, minorities, and the bourgeois elite. They have created an atmosphere of hatred and fear, perpetuating a cycle of political unrest and violence, and in this turbulence they again project themselves as the supreme nationalist, striving for the betterment of the nation, or rather, their idea of a nation state.
Nationalism works on the principle of protectionism of one’s own country or the identity to which they are attached. it functions on the bond it can create by bringing people together in a collective mentality of superiority over other nations/ cultural/ethnic identities. They often stereotype other cultural/ethnic groups and the prejudice generated keeps the followers unified. These feelings of difference are then exaggerated and paraded through various political machinery to bring about an inherent split in the community. Nationalism in extreme forms becomes a viscous cycle that may eventually catapult into mass exodus and ethnic genocide. Nationalist work towards building a self governing state, where the government yields unprecedented power in the factors of production and the national economy, in order to develop a domestic economy that places the nation first. The control over economy and key industries are often handed over to private players that align themselves to the nationalistic fervor. They don’t care about who controls the economy as long as the nationalism pitch is always drummed high.
The seed of nationalism that was sawn on the Indian soil from the dawn of the independence movement fundamentally differs from the form of masculine nationalism and hyper patriotism that has been unleashed across the nation in the preceding few years. The early independence movement saw the conglomeration of masses under the banner of united fight against the British raj and the foreign invasionary powers landing on the Indian soil. The spirit of nationalism encompassed the masses and set fire to a mass movement that ended with the Indian Independence and the consequent partition. Nationalism and patriotic spirit that fueled the Indian independence movement was born out of the common discontent against the colonial powers and the feudal overlords that ensured sustenance by establishing a system of rigorous oppression and discrimination aimed at keeping the masses subdued. This spirit of nationalism ensured that the vastly diverse ethnic and ideological groups stay united for the common good of their mother country. But once the common enemy was defeated, what then? The subcontinent gained independence from the colonial powers and imperial rulers but lost out to the communal elements within. The same spirit of nationalism that freed the country form the shackles of colonialism and internal colonialism became the same tool that was to split the country among religious and cultural identities. The form of nationalism that was let out of the bottle by the independence struggle was a spirit of liberation that was aimed at freeing the country from the grips of blood sucking imperialism. And once we achieved independence, the same spirit of freedom required another enemy to sustain its patriotic fervor. And the vacuum created by it was substituted by a more hard-line narrative that strives to create a split between various religious and caste sections and its epitome was the creation of a fictional enemy, the counter state of Pakistan. The homegrown nationalism that brought us to cusps of freedom became the same tool used to create riots and bloodbath in the post partition subcontinent.
Revolutions losing its momentum and having their ideologies corrupted is an ever repeating story in the timeline of world politics. The same happened in the political scenario of the subcontinent. The orient that was once the shining beacon of spirituality and inclusiveness has become the testing ground for identity politics backed with exodus and massacre of masses along the religious lines. From the very beginning of the new sovereign India, the communal forces have been actively trying to promote a new form of nationalism that identifies a nation state along the Hindu- Muslim fault lines. They have been hard selling communal violence and internal division of society along caste lines as the neo- nationalistic spirit.
The right wing conservative elements in our nation have played with the policy of creating communal split in order to gain electoral benefits for past four decades. The foundational blocks of RSS and affiliated organizations identify the national enemy among the so called immigrants and minorities. They have taken the liberty to identify all non Hindu religious groups as descendants of foreign ancestors, labeling them as invaders and conquerors, themselves forgetting that the so called Hindu religion itself was once an immigrant on the shores this great nation. The Hindutwa propagators have continuously laid siege to the history and social fabric of the nation, corrupting facts and minds, building counter narratives to the truth and hard selling propaganda and falsehoods as love and devotion to a once has been nation. They have built a timeline where the pinnacle of glory for the nation is identified vaguely as somewhere in the dark ages, when superstition and religion controlled the masses.
Modi lead BJP government brought this movement to new pinnacles, giving a mass appeal and charisma to the communal ideologies, masking it in nationalism and love for one’s nation. They escalated the communal tensions, creating a permanent state of fear and isolation among the minorities and the oppressed, giving a sense of entitlement to saffron clad pseudo monks and Hindutwa terror propagators, creating a climate where retards worshiping a warrior monkey are given power to vandalize and brutally murder the common man for eating his palette. They have created an environment which labels dissenting voices as anti-national, criticizers as enemy soldiers, where teachers and scholars are placed under house arrests and journalists and social workers are shot dead point blank in the security of their own homes.
This change in the sense of nationalism can be seen in the shift of propagated image of Hanuman. The Ramayana and the related epics portray Hanuman as the ever loyal servant of Rama, the monkey god who laid open his heart in front of his lord, the benevolent silent protector of masses. The image has gone radical shift from the bent down graze and humility portrayed in epics to the furious present day incarnations. The image of Hanuman has undergone serious radicalization to represent a new form of Hindutwa militia rising to strike vengeance and claim justice for the ancient wrongdoings of other religious beliefs. Hanuman has taken a giant leap from the footsteps of Rama, the ideal man portrayed in epics to the saffron clad warrior, peering out of every nook and corner, sitting in silent judgment and waiting to strike his fury on non believers. Once Big Brother, now Hanuman.
Indian nationalism is starkly different from Hindu nationalism. Indian nationalism was born when the country was reeling under the oppression of the British Raj. Hindu nationalism found its growth in the subsequent years, gaining momentum after independence and partition. The lines of distinction often get blurred between the two, mainly because during the formative periods of the national uprising, the two often complemented each other in being part of the popular uprising against the imperial powers. Nationalism in that era was a common phenomenon that encompassed everyone in the subcontinent, but very soon the unity was shattered by introduction of communal elements into the movement. The right wing political parties prevalent now are unable to establish their roots as warriors of Indian independence, due to lack of any well known freedom fighters or social reformatories amongst their folds. So they portray themselves as the sole defenders of the ethnic roots of the nation and its culture. A nation that exists only in their propaganda blinded eyes and hatred filled minds. The nation that they identify as India was never the India we live in. The ideologies and culture they propagate as Indian, are nothing but a communalized corrupted version of the true Indian spirit.
One of the most ancient religious forces has now become a formidable player in the field of modern Indian politics. The Indian constitution ensured that despite its demographic majority, Hinduism never became the national religion. India as outlined by constitution has remained a secular and democratic nation, home to diverse variety of culture and ethnicity. But the recent waves of Hindutwa politics has laid siege to this foundational bricks of India. The new era of branded politics set forth by Narendra Modi, sought to change the nationalistic discourse of the nation, slowly building up a momentum change from the Indian nationalism to Hindu nationalism and this has worked out as an extremely efficient tool in swinging public opinion. The inherent fault in the democratic system is that it implements the will of the majority, and if the majority wishes the nation to be divided among communal and religious fault lines, there’s no stopping it. This is how nationalism becomes and ideological poison and this is how democracy and easily slip into authoritarianism.