Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee
Opposition has not done enough to defend India’s inclusive and plural ethos
to the American political journalist, Norman Cousins, in 1961, Jawaharlal Nehru
shared his idea of democracy: “I would say that democracy is not only
political, not only economic, but something of the mind.” Nehru emphasised
democracy as “a certain tolerance of others and even of others’ opinions... a
certain contemplative tendency and a certain inquisitive search for truth.”
Democracy for Nehru was akin to a political culture where a hundred opinions
the Narendra Modi government took power in 2014, the mind of democracy is under
attack. There is intolerance towards differences. Democracy is facing political
authoritarianism. The return of the Modi government at the Centre has tightened
Hindutva’s grip on the political narrative. Despite the agrarian crisis, job
unrest, and the hardships of demonetisation, the electoral outcome was in the
BJP’s favour. Making political capital out of the air strikes on Balakot,
playing up the threat to the nation’s security over real issues, and using
divisive language worked for the BJP.
of the State
is no longer a political ideology of a political party. It is now an ideology
of the Indian state. In 2015, when about 40 writers and artists returned their
Sahitya Akademi awards in protest against the silence on the killing of writers
by Hindu right-wing organisations, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley called it a
“manufactured paper rebellion” by writers of “Left or [with] Nehruvian
leaning.” The murder of writers was sidelined by an ideological allegation. The
political tactic was to turn an issue of public morality into a friend-enemy
the JNU incident of 2016, we witnessed the mainstreaming of the term
“anti-national” by BJP members. Anyone who raised concerns on violence against
Kashmiris, spoke against war, supported writers and journalists facing threats,
welcomed the idea of Pakistani artists in India, spoke up for Muslims attacked
for allegations of cow slaughter or beef consumption, or simply questioned the
government faced the epithet. The BJP became the sole custodian of national
pride and security.
Nehru’s Idea of India
idea of India was defended by sections of India’s civil society rather than the
Congress or other secular parties. A section of mainstream media dropped its
ethics and peddled the government’s line. A handful of journalists braved
legal, physical and verbal threats in order to ask the truth. When journalist
Ravish Kumar asked Congress president Rahul Gandhi why he did not defend
“Nehru’s legacy”, Mr. Gandhi skirted the question. Mr. Gandhi also spoke
against hate, and for love, in his election campaign. But he was iffy in naming
the real victims of hate politics. This weakened the counternarrative, and
failed to bolster confidence in the electorate.
Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee took the BJP’s anti-minoritarian agenda
head-on. She risked public mood to oppose the National Register of Citizens
(NRC) being implemented in Assam, and welcomed the refugees in her State.
Earlier, she sided with the United Nations in support of granting asylum to the
Rohingya, against the position of the Central government. She managed a thin
victory — the BJP made big inroads into West Bengal with an unprecedented 40%
vote share. The general secretary of the CPI(M), Sitaram Yechury, admitted that
Left supporters shifted allegiance to the BJP. The instrumental aim of the Left
parties was to dislodge the local rival, not the BJP, and this helped the BJP’s
cause. Improvising on Lord Acton, the conservative writer, Nirad C. Chaudhuri,
had warned in Thy Hand, Great Anarch! that “loss of power corrupts, and
absolute loss of power corrupts absolutely.”
“the mind of India” (to borrow Nehru’s phrase) shifted to the right? If the
mind has abandoned the spirit of democracy and fallen for territorial paranoia,
then yes. In We Or Our Nationhood Defined, the ideological guru of the Hindu
right, M.S. Golwalkar, defined the nation as “hereditary territory”. Hindutva
is a territorial project. Thinking is reduced to marking territory, an act of
self-preservation. It promotes exclusionary laws, as seen in the move to
implement the NRC nationwide. This will throw the lives of poor migrants into a
legal quagmire. The detection, detention and deportation of “foreigners” will
make people turn into stateless populations without rights.
to Golwalkar, “Hindu religion, Hindu culture and Hindu language (the natural
family of Sanskrit and her off-springs) complete the Nation concept.” India is
imagined as mono-religious, mono-cultural and mono-lingual. Golwalkar’s options
for minorities were either to “adopt” the majority culture “or to live at its
mercy”. When the Hindu vigilantes force Muslims to chant “Jai Shri Ram!” and
“Bharat Mata ki Jai!” it isn’t just perverse cultural pride that is involved,
but the surplus pleasure of humiliating others.
2014, India in the nationalist narrative is being imagined as a fortress being
guarded against imagined enemies and hated political opponents and minorities.
Ideological opponents are forced to fear every word and act of nonconformity.
Muslims are killed or harmed on mere allegations of beef eating and cow
slaughter. Territorial nationalism is a predatory idea that hunts for enemies.
wrote in The Discovery of India, “A Buddhist or Jain in India is a hundred per
cent product of Indian thought and culture, yet neither is a Hindu by faith. It
is, therefore, entirely misleading to refer to Indian culture as Hindu
culture.” Nehru’s idea of India is not reducible to a single faith. “In later
ages”, Nehru wrote, “this culture was greatly influenced by the impact of
Islam, and yet it remained… distinctively Indian.” Cultural transformation of
religions in India is the basis of its heterogeneity, and a historical fact. In
Nehru’s enlightened view, India is not a Hindu idea, or a Hindu nation.
poet-critic, Octavio Paz, in his book In Light of India, wrote: “India, as a
country and as a history, is much greater than Hinduism.” Despite being an
admirer of Hindu thought and architecture, Paz was aware of the immense
contributions made by other cultures.
is a desirable ethic for civilisations to live by. If India lives in
territorial paranoia and exclusion, it will lose its mind.
Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee is the
author of ‘Looking for the Nation: Towards Another Idea of India’
Source: The Hindu