By BASHARAT SHAMEEM
These are heady days in India. This year, the unprecedented rise in the pre-season heat wave across India coupled with the flames of the fire of nationalism, lit by the rightwing forces under the full tutelage of the ruling dispensation at the centre. Across India, the slogan of Bharat Mata Ki Jai has become a wild chorus. Its rendition will somehow decide one’s patriotic credentials while its non-rendition can invite all sorts of trouble ranging from sedition, physical assault, probable lynching to even a ticket to Pakistan. (As an aside, leaving aside all the ludicrousness, a ticket to Pakistan seems a reasonable proposition given the difficulties we face in acquiring a visa to travel to that country).
The rightwing forces are set on holding ‘tests’ of nationalism and bullying the contrived anti-nationals. The proposition is weirdly ironical in these times, when a large number of Indians are dying from thirst for the want of a few drops of water. But as all the pomp and slogans faded after the disastrous election results for the BJP in Delhi and Bihar, for anyone who follows the show business of Indian politics it was easy to guess that some new rumpus had to inevitably come into existence. Something had to be construed to ingeniously divert attention from the masses after all the “sky is the limit” pre-poll promises, articulated by the 56-inch chest warrior. Narendra Modi turned out to be absolutely drab and hollow. One aspect which has gone unnoticed in all the analysis that has been carried out of the so-called nationalism debate is the fact that prior to the Bihar elections, it was Ghar Wapsi, Love Jihad, and Beef dominating the Sangh’s spiteful discourse.
These systematic campaigns pitted the Sangh forces blatantly and overtly against the large ‘other’ in India – the Muslims. After the Bihar drubbing, the Sangh, however, seems to have realised the need to reorient its fascist slants in a more subtle or surreptitious way. Hence, the new onslaught would be via the subterfuge of nationalism which seems to have relative constitutional and political legitimacy. The Sangh, at least, seems to have given credence to the saying that “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”
The aggressive manufacturing of the hyper-nationalistic discourse helps the Sangh to draw clear battle-lines in which it would be on vantage ground while herding dissidents into submission. As Arun Jaitley recently remarked during his party’s national executive meet in New Delhi, the BJP had won the first round of the battle. The aggressive grandstanding on the nationalism discourse allows the Sangh to project itself as the sole custodian of Indian nationhood and identity — concepts which are in themselves highly intricate. Educational institutions, particularly those which had been fostering critical thought and questioning, have been intruded on to fight this battle. The purpose is to vertically disseminate the state-sanctioned hyperbolic definition of nationalism, one in which there are no dissidents and critics, but contains only overtures of brute majoritarianism of a particular ideology which is highly exclusive and thoroughly regressive.
To suppress dissent and critical thought in educational institutions, – which, of course, is the primary purpose of these institutions – bullying in the name of nationalism is the new method to create more and more Sangh-abiding subjects and less critical individuals. As history tells us, the foremost thing that a suppressive and tyrannical regime does not want is critical questioning from its citizens.
The heat waves of the nationalism battle which blew in HCU and JNU ultimately reached the cold climes of NIT in Srinagar. And if ever there was fertile ground beckoning this battle, it was surely the land of Kashmir where this battle can be fought with much assertion and weight in consonance with the Sangh’s agenda. The symbolic overtures of this battle, like the waving of the Indian tricolour and chanting of Bharat Mata Ki Jai in the midst of hostile anti-national forces, would suggest fighting a bigger battle for the country in the land of the “rebellious other.” This would be akin to the job the Indian military is doing in Kashmir and thus the Sangh’s claims of solely owning nationalism and idea of India would be total and complete.
It would then surely go steps ahead of everyone in the turf war of its domestic constituency. And then under a set design, the supreme Sanghi “consciousness keepers” like Anupam Khers and Ashok Pandits would enter the fray to reinforce the ideological battle with the ever hyper jingoistic media again getting the chance to vilify Kashmiris across the board. Hyper jingoistic acts like these, which were also once enacted by Sanghis like Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, Uma Bharti and Murli Manohar Joshi, are meant to give a reminder to dissident Kashmiris of their ‘submission’ by force and to symbolically repeat India’s desire for territory and not its people. The Sangh’s method is a more blatant, rigid and violent assertion of the “Indian claim” over Kashmir.
As the NIT inquiry has proved the role of some non-Kashmiri students in creating unwarranted trouble by inciting violence in the campus, yet, in India, they are being hailed as heroes by holding high the flag of Indian nationalism in the land of the rebellious ‘others’ and standing upto to anti-nationals. On the other hand, the three JNU students, who were first charged with sedition, have been rusticated from the university. It is not that an event to commemorate Afzal Guru and pressing for Kashmir’s cause happened in JNU for the first time. It is also not that Kashmiris celebrated the defeat of India in sport for the first time; they have been doing it for many decades and sometimes more raucously. They did it in and outside NIT massively in March, 2014, when Shahid Afridi hit the last 2 balls for sixes to seal a Pakistani win over India. One wonders, why did not the brave nationalist students of NIT object then? Where was their love for Bharat Mata then? The answers seem clear.
—The writer is a lecturer in English, Directorate of Distance Education, University of Kashmir