By Muhammad Tahir
There is a debate on whether Hindutva nationalism has mainstreamed in India or it remains confined to the right-wing constituencies. Whatever may be the case, the Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen MLA Waris Pathan’s suspension, through a unanimous nod, by the Maharashtra Assembly is an indication that there is a thin line between Hindutva nationalism and Indian nationalism. For now, Pathan remains suspended for the entire budget session till April 17: for exercising his right to not to speak certain things he didn’t want to say, as guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.
In the double irony – which seems to have become a hallmark of it now – it was the Congress party, with its 14 members, that aggressively demanded the ‘disciplinary’ action against the Muslim legislator, but the same Congress party had strongly criticised the Modi regime’s reactionary behavior during the JNU episode, reasoning that people cannot be forced to accept an exclusivist notion of nationalism! Given the enduring nature and long history of its peculiar politics, the Congress party can, arguably, be categorised as an organisation with a certain Hindutva streak. Remember the notorious Sanjay Gandhi sterilisation campaign and the Turkman Gate massacre of Muslims and, later, the Sikh massacre in 1984; opening up of the Babri mosque locks and allowing subsequent vandalism, and other creepy skeletons in its cupboard.
Around 80 years ago, Indian philosopher Rabindranath Tagore, who was a known critic of nationalism, had presciently cautioned his fellow Bengali patriot Subhas Chandra Bose against the divisionary and controversial potential of ‘Bande Mataram’ – a song in Bengali writer Bankim Chandra’s ‘Anandmath’ – emphasising that it was a patently religious hymn devoted to the Hindu female deity Durga, and thus one cannot expect the “Mussalman… [to] patriotically…worship the ten-handed deity as ‘Swadesh’”. Unlike in a novel, Tagore had written in the letter to Bose, “the song [Bande Mataram] cannot be appropriate inside the parliament. In 2016, the Sangh Parivar and Congress alike do not seem to agree with Tagore.
One of the prominent figures in India’s freedom movement like Aurobindo Ghosh, before reforming, not only didn’t find merging religion and nationalism as problematic, but in fact started an ominous tradition of arms worshipping (Shastra puja) through organisations like Anushilan Samiti, and thus tried to make violence as an acceptable form of political action. For Anushilan Samiti members, the novel ‘Anandmath’ was an inspiring text as it had explicitly pointed out the real enemy – Muslims – and the ways to fight them. Down in the south of India, Vinayak Savarkar, author of the 1923 book Hindutava, reinforced an exclusivist Hindu nationalism, by reasoning that only those people whose matribhumi (motherland) and punyabhumi (holy land) was same were true Indians. By this Savarkarian logic, Muslims and Christians did not belong, because their holy lands lay, respectively, in Mecca and Jerusalem.
In short, they were alien “others”. For both Savarkar and Golwalkar, who are considered as the founding fathers of the Indian version of fascism, “Bharat Mata” essentially meant Hindu nation (Hindu Rasthra).
Now, as Tagore would have said, asking practicing Muslims to worship a concept (of Bharat Mata) which actually originates from a novel (Anandmath) in which, without scruple, the protagonist Satyanand asks for Muslim blood and, ironically, welcomes the British rule is, not to put too fine a word on it, utterly preposterous and ethically problematic.
Whether the Congress party took an aggressive posture against the Muslim legislator for certain politics ends – in terms of undercutting MIM’s growing influence among the urban Muslim youth – or to preempt the likely accusations from the ultranationalists for being too tolerant of “anti-national” thoughts and behaviors, might be a plausible explanation, but by aligning with the theo-fascists on this issue, it has lost one more battle, and allowed them to project India in their own (Hindutva imaginative) terms and at the same time also let them construct the Indian Muslim as an unpatriotic category. Because, an Indian Muslim couldn’t bring himself to chant and venerate an imaginary “Bharat Mata”, even though he emphatically said that he would rather prefer to say “Hindustan Zindabad”; but then the latter slogan is in the Urdu language and for Hindutva nationalists, even Urdu is a suspect language!
—The writer is a PhD candidate in the School of Law and Government, Dublin City University, Ireland