By Shaista Nazir:
Since the past few weeks, I have been watching closely the debate over ‘anti-national’ acts, so I began to ponder over what it means to be a nationalistic, patriotic Indian.
Well, for me, it should have meant to love your country so much that you want it to be on the path of development and making sure that people from all walks of life have a stake in it. It should have meant that all those who claim to be the ‘Desh-bhakts’ should strive for making India a land of diversity, pluralism and inclusiveness. It should have meant that people inculcate a scientific temper and a spirit of humanism (Well, it is a fundamental duty, they ought to do it otherwise it would amount to disrespecting the Constitution by not following the ideals incorporated in it). It should have meant that we should have turned India into a nation where no one is afraid to speak out his/her mind, where we have the freedom to differ and the freedom to choose. It should have meant that we as a nation should have respect for the struggle which our nation went through so that we always stand against injustice, oppression, tyranny and inequality.
We should respect the idea of India that the forefathers of our nation propagated. We should have collectively raised our voices whenever the constitutional rights of people were trampled upon. But, today the reality is that people who had no role in India’s freedom struggle, and had in many cases bowed down to the British, when the likes of Gandhi, Nehru, Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev were being beaten up and sent behind bars or to the gallows, are today defining the criteria and setting the contours of what being ‘nationalist’ means. They are labelling anyone who doesn’t adhere to their jingoism as anti-national. The new so-called Desh-bhakts have developed a new definition of what being a patriotic and nationalistic Indian means. According to their definition, anyone who thinks, eats, prays and lives their lives according to the sayings of all saintly Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and their other sponsored organisations (BJP, ABVP, VHP etc.) is Indian – a nationalist and patriotic Indian.
There are presently three platforms from where we are to get our certificates of being in love with our country.
Firstly, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is in power at the Centre and which got a massive mandate from the people of India, who apparently never had their heads in the right place. They are turning a blind eye to all the atrocities committed against those who fail to identify themselves with their version of nationalism and patriotism. We didn’t hear them ever condemn those eulogising Nathuram Godse, the assassin of the father of the nation. We wonder at this selective outrage by the current dispensation. They have been silent and doing nothing to stop the attack on the fundamental freedoms that our Constitution ensures us all (The irony is that it was the democratic process that brought them to power. One disgruntled and without gratitude BJP is).
Secondly, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad in the universities. Universities are meant to be a platform where we gain perspective and learn the power of ideas and democratic deliberation. It is in universities where we learn “the principles of engaging in a dialogue” (This definition of the purpose of a university was given by Dr. Manmohan Singh when he was welcomed with black flags in the JNU campus back in 2005). But the ABVP, with the sanction of BJP, are trying to attack this very platform. They are escalating tensions in different varsities, intimidating those students who disagree with them. One such incident is Rohith Vemula’s suicide case where ABVP with the backing of some men in power created quite a difficult and complicated situation for Rohith. Feeling helpless, Rohith succumbed to the pressure and eventually took the unfortunate step of committing suicide.
Third, television news anchors like Arnab Goswami of Times Now, Rohit Sardana of Zee News etc. who heckle, jeer and silence all those who disagree with them. They are sitting there to foist their own narrow idea of ‘being patriotic’ on everyone. They are attempting to stifle and shut down all democratic debate. Their way of steering the dialogue is a new low for the Indian media already infamous for their biased, jingoistic, inflammatory, and often propagandist coverage. They are not supposed to play the role of judge and jury. The way they linked Umar Khalid to some militant outfit and substantiated this claim of theirs by reiterating that he had been to Pakistan twice when in fact he hadn’t even applied for a passport, shows how low the media outlets can stoop for TRPs.
Now, it is up to all Indians to decide what kind of nationalism they want. The kind which allows lawyers to stoop to such lows that they heckle journalists, faculty members and students of JNU or the kind which permits all kinds of people be they Leftists, rightists, centrists, Ambedkarites, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians to live in harmony and make this country into what it was supposed to be – a secular, plural, diverse, inclusive and a classless and a casteless society.