Hyper-nationalism does not allow critical engagement; it shows anything critical of ruling party as anti-national

By Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd, Source: The Hindu

Ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) presented Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate, the discourse on nationalism has changed. It has become hyper. The party began by telling people through various modes of information dissemination — including social media — that the Congress has served the interests of Muslims. The Congress was a party of casteism, regionalism and Muslim appeasement, the BJP said, and promised that ‘when we come to power, we will work on a developmental model, on the lines of Gujarat, which will be all-inclusive’. What was unstated was this: that the party will stop the ‘preferential treatment’ to Muslims as a ‘special’ category.

Rallying around the cow

After the BJP came to power, it became essential to identify an enemy that the country could relate to. So Pakistan is the constant refrain and Muslims who were no longer treated ‘preferentially’ were required to ‘stand with the nation’ or else go to Pakistan.

To my mind, there were three crucial elements required to stoke the feeling of hyper-nationalism: Pakistan, Muslims and Dalits, and universities. So, while we don’t have a fascist nationalism which was in Germany, what we are witnessing is semi-fascist nationalism along religious sentiments. The cow has become Bharat Mata. And all cow-eaters are anti-national. Under a gazette notification titled, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017, all beef-eaters are being projected as anti-national. The cow is not a nationalist symbol but has been made into one, and Dalits and Muslims will continue to be lynched using this weapon.

Hyper-nationalism does not allow critical engagement in any sphere of life. It projects anything critical of the ruling party as anti-national. It operates hand in glove with casteism and religious fundamentalism. Hyper-nationalists think that they alone are pure and sending soap and shampoo to Dalits and Adivasis before their appointment with Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath is part of that nationalism.

Crushing all criticism

I am reminded of speech from the 1960s by U.S. President John F. Kennedy where he raised this question of nationalism vis-à-vis the attacks mounted by members of the Ku Klux Klan on blacks. He said America believed in the true spirit of nationalism that God created all people equal and every citizen has equal rights. The role of protecting the rights had to be performed by the state and the media. Kennedy appealed to the American media to protect peoples’ rights. And he assured the blacks that his government would do so by all means. But what the BJP under Prime Minister Modi is doing is exactly the opposite. All criticism is being suppressed in praise of the leader. Dissent in universities is being crushed. The RSS’s student wing, the ABVP, has taken upon itself to stamp out critical discourse.

To my mind, what the ruling combine is doing is anti-national because it strengthens divisions in society and such strengthened divisions engender more violence. The attempt to construct an ideology of hyper-nationalism around food culture is going to be disastrous. Everybody knows that it is not the Brahmins/Banias or Jains who will be affected by the new law but Dalits/Adivasis, OBCs and Muslims.

Hyper-nationalism helps to keep the nation perpetually in conflict with everyone at war with the other. Mr. Modi should listen to what Kennedy had said years ago.

Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad