As I start
writing as a new government begins its term, I find myself overwhelmed. I’m not
a news reporter or political analyst. I am only a citizen of India, gazing at
my nation from half a world away. I’m also someone who has lost many old
friendships over increasingly polarised political disagreement in the past five
or six years. Why has India become such a divided nation in our time?
me, who are in their thirties and older, have lived through a few cycles of
Congress- and BJP-led governments. Each of those governments had their
failings, but recent years have brought a surge in political conversation like
we have never seen before. We have all observed friends who never had firm
political opinions before vocally consolidate to stands. Something has changed
in India, greater than the rising and falling prices of everyday things, or the
occasional bad news that we used to largely take in our stride.
changed is the idea of the nation. There aren’t many Indians today who
personally remember participating in the Independence movements; the few senior
citizens who were born before 1947 were children when the nation changed. Most
of us have lived our entire lives in independent India. Every government we’ve
seen was a government of independent India, their differences contained within
that larger, unchallenged idea of India.
what is slowly passing from our living memory: A nation is an idea spun upon a
land. It is not the land itself, though we call a land by the name of the
nation currently existing upon it. The word “India” does not exist in any
Indian language; it’s a mispronunciation by Greek travellers of the 4th century
BCE for the regions by the river called Sindhu, which returned with the British
colonisers. “Bharat” refers to an equally ancient kingdom that existed over
some regions of the Gangetic plains; “Hindustan” was coined by Muslim
travellers as early as 500 BCE and returned with the Mughal rulers. None of
these terms in their original connotation represents the nation of today. India
the nation only started existing from 1947.
A nation is
not any of the several nations that existed upon the same land in the past; if
anything, it is a rejection of them. If it would be seditious to India to call
for a return to the British or the Mughal Empire, it is equally seditious to call
for Ram Rajya or any mythical Hindu nation of the past. Those nations — whether
they existed historically or not — are not India. India exists in its current
geographical location because those nations do not.
is the movement to replace an existing nation with a different one on the same
land, while patriotism is allegiance to the existing nation to which one
belongs. The last major nationalist movements of India existed before
Independence, precisely because it was the drive to replace one nation, the
British Indian Empire, with another, an independent India. This is why Hindutva
nationalism is unsettling: It is not merely proclaiming pride in Hinduism as a
religion; it threatens to unmake India and replace it with a different nation.
voter who elects whichever party’s policies currently sounds good to them is
more of a patriot of India than the hardliner who would follow their ideology
no matter what. In our disloyalty to party lines in the past, we used to be
truer Indians; that was what held us together with the friends who voted
differently from us.
The rise of
hardline Hindutva nationalism feels like those people no longer even want to be
part of the same nation as us. When someone who opposes the Hindutva
nationalist line is brazenly labelled “anti-national” or ordered to leave the
country, that is not empty rhetoric: Hindutva nationalists truly don’t consider
them part of their nation. The proclaimed “anti-national” may not be opposed to
the nation of India, but they’re opposed to the other nation that Hindutva
nationalists are projecting.
always been a somewhat dissatisfying nation, as any nation built on a delicate
but precarious balance of hundreds of communities must be. A massive tilt of
that scale towards any particular ideology does not improve India; it only
threatens to collapse the balance that defines our nation.
sight of thousands of Indians joyously dancing in the streets because their
leaders have won makes thousands of other Indians anxious for their lives, we
cannot deny we have tilted too far off that balance. As patriots of India, this
destabilising nationalism is not what we need today. We need progress, jobs,
less corruption, a stronger economy, but we need to build those things within India,
equally accessible to others who are Indians too. We don’t need to be
threatened into leaving our nation, or demand that another citizen leaves. I
hope no hardline nationalist who doesn’t believe in India manages to convince
Mimi Mondal is a speculative fiction writer and
editor, and the first Hugo Award nominee from India