On Banal Patriotism

The MHRD’s decision to direct all Central Universities to hoist the national flag weighing “35 kgs” and at “207 feet” is remarkable as it comes amidst the nationwide protests against the arrest and sedition charges against Kanhaiya Kumar, the JNUSU President. This order was conveyed to all Vice Chancellors of Central Universities in order to promote nationalistic sentiments and instil patriotic fervor amongst students. It is becoming increasingly clear that the current government is disposed towards force-feeding nationalism to everyone and particularly to students across higher educational institutions. This decision raises important questions on the current state of affairs in the political landscape of Indian and particularly on our identity as Indians. In the paragraphs below, I seek to elaborate the wider context in which the current government’s idea of nationalism is to be understood.

Firstly, there is an increasing demand to prove our Indian-ness. However, the sub-text in this demand is the need to prove our Indian-ness under the watchful eyes of the blatantly aggressive forces of the Hindu Right. Under this demand, being Indian does not include the right to dissent, protest or critique the current government or existing structures of inequality and injustice. Speaking out against State led violence whether in the case of human right violations perpetrated by draconian laws such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) or against forced land acquisition measures or environmental injustices are simply not tolerated (which one must point out are not raised against any particular government but against successive governments and the violence of the nation-state). In the present circumstances, if it is not the government coming down harshly on dissent, we can be rest assured that a hooligan right wing group is lurking right in the corner to discipline these voices. Each protesting voice against intolerance in the last year has been reduced to ‘portraying India in bad light’ in addition to being a Congress ploy. In the past year, peaceful protests against the Saffronization of leading higher educational spaces in India have achieved unprecedented levels; these protests continue to this day and are being violently repressed by Hindu Right Wing mobs as well as by the Police. The recent events at JNU have subsequently led a discursive shift from intolerance to anti-national. Significantly, every protest which is considered antagonistic to the ideology and interests of Hindutva is branded ‘anti-national’.

There is a crisis of patriotism that confronts us today; this crisis does not consequently lead to rejection Indian nationhood but is nevertheless dangerous and must be addressed. Disturbingly, we are faced with the prospect of being certified on our Indian-ness on the basis of an ideology which is not concerned with the values enshrined in the Constitution but is drawn from religious fanaticism; in this sense it is no different from the various radical religious movements of the past and current century.

The immediate urge to shut down dissenting voices has claimed victims – Rohith Vemula was one of them. Along with his comrades, Rohith was branded as an anti-national and an extremist. In an abominable turn of events, there is now a concerted campaign to prove that he was not a Dalit; this is undeniably a pathetic attempt to discredit the politics of hope he stood and struggled for in addition to providing us a glimpse of the hetero-normative patriarchal view that Hindutva subscribes to. In Kanhaiya Kumar’s case, the narrative projected by the government and a group of TRP hungry media channels (raising questions on the standards of objective reporting and integrity) has been on the grounds of nationalism and sedition. The current predicament we find ourselves in forces us to consume Indian-ness and display it for validation. The internet in this context has emerged as a device par excellence for consuming and displaying patriotism. However, the patriotism on display here is chauvinistic in nature – it adheres to the ideology of Hindutva and has little or no regard for difference. There are self-styled patriots who are engaged in damning virtually every writer with a standard vocabulary consisting of more or less of the following – “leftist”, “pseudo-secular” or “sickular”, a range of “where were you when that happened…..and why don’t you speak up against the ISIS?” and finally what they perceive as the worst insult, “go to Pakistan”. There are a volley of such comments, each validating the others’ skewed patriotism and attacking every dissenting view.

Validation is also achieved by posting selfies in the background of a national symbol or joining in with the Prime Minister in one of his twitter initiatives as a mark of feeling “Proud to be Indian.” It is our collective failure that we have reduced our love for our nation to be dictated by those for whom patriotism is reduced to uninstalling an app (Snapdeal anyone?) while simultaneously adding items to the cart on Flipkart or Myntra and in the process “virtually slapping Aamir”. More remarkable is our acquiescence to these self-styled patriots who aggressively envision a majoritarian India (or Bharat) while destroying the Constitutional fabric and the values of the Indian republic. The group of lawyers who assaulted Kanhaiya Kumar and the assembled group of journalists in the Patiala House Court have no regard for the constitutional structure of the country; yet they enjoy the protection of the Sangh Parivar and the BJP government; the leader of the mob Vikram Singh Chauhan was in fact garlanded. Let us not forget that Rohith was a victim of this hyper-nationalist agenda in addition to the oppressive caste system of Hindu society. Nevertheless, not only did he choose to fight the discrimination against his own position in society but also championed the cause of other marginalized and oppressed communities. Rohith and Kanhaiya’s alleged crimes were that they spoke against the injustice of the nation-state just like Broti, the character in Mahasweta Devi’s novel Hazaar Chaurasi ki Maa who is brutally murdered by the Police for sympathizing with the Naxalite movement. Similar to what Rohith Vemula said, Broti is reduced to a case file number – 1084; Rohith and Kanhaiya along with their comrades have been reduced to being anti-national.

There is a crisis of patriotism that confronts us today; this crisis does not consequently lead to rejection Indian nationhood but is nevertheless dangerous and must be addressed. Disturbingly, we are faced with the prospect of being certified on our Indian-ness on the basis of an ideology which is not concerned with the values enshrined in the Constitution but is drawn from religious fanaticism; in this sense it is no different from the various radical religious movements of the past and current century. This reduction of patriotism is banal – its essence lies in posting selfies and deleting apps to identify with the Moditva nation that is being created. The issue at stake really is not the commitment to the nation as the Hindu Right Wing would have us believe but on our integration into a hyper masculine religious right society, which with all due credit the BJP has equated being Indian to. It is furthermore ironic that the same government insists on hoisting the national flag when their parent ideological group has never shied away from maintaining allegiance to a saffron flag in addition to rejecting the Constitution as well. Perhaps it is not for us dissenting voices to be taught nationalism but those self-styled and self-righteous bhakts to undertake a crash course in this subject.