The Banality Of Nationalism

Posted by Sabarish Suresh in Politics, Society
January 13, 2017

When Hannah Arendt was witnessing the trials of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem, the Jews wanted her to think of Eichmann as some sort of a monster, a completely evil, sinister man. But with his expositions that he was performing a duty, a mandate expected of him, Arendt resolved that he was not to be other-ised as a “monster” or someone who the common man couldn’t relate to. She, of course, was repulsed by Eichmann and considered his acts reprehensible, but at the same time, she perfectly understood that he was just a hamster in the wheel, who did not feel any remorse or guilt. She termed such a phenomenon as the ‘banality of evil’. That is, evil ought not to be looked at just in the most reprehensible acts where it is easier (and what Arendt would say convenient), to map out, but it is important to understand that evil lives and lies amidst us and is a constantly growing phenomenon. Because as long as we other-ise evil and sinister acts of the “monstrous person” as only outside of our realm, we are entering into a false sense of immunising evil in reality, which is everywhere around us. And let this be clear, that for Arendt to make this point as a Jew is simply fascinating.

An analysis of Arendt becomes so important and so required for us today, in this time and age under the Modi regime, because similar to Eichmann’s held beliefs of duty to the State and the Government, our sense of nationalism (which is increasingly becoming inextricable with jingoism) which we consider to be attached inevitably and unequivocally to our identity of being Indian is unfortunately not allowing us to see the evil that is right amongst us, breeding in this vicious fervour and encouraging acts of violence and evil which we have somewhat immunised from analysing.

We have to notice that a certain pattern has been created under the Modi Regime. The pattern of the usage of brute force to crush any dissent and irritation to the Government and the State. This pattern gets all the more clear with the recent sanctioning by the Government to conduct aerial strikes in the Dandakaranya forest to eliminate entire villages, what is perceived to be “Maoist free-zones”. But when civil rights activists ask – “but what about the villagers and Adivasis living in the region, will the aerial strikes be controlled?” the response is the same narrative of collateral damage that one heard during Kashmir and during demonetisation. It is this narrative of “collateral damage”, which has been so easily accepted in the popular psyche and garnered such social currency that we need to rethink critically.

The Modi regime has been characteristic of this indiscriminate violence in myriad ways. When students and faculty of the Jawaharlal Nehru University were slapped with sedition charges, without actually engaging with the important questions that were being raised in the University, most people encouraged and supported such a crackdown. It was this very same encouragement and support that has led to the regime cracking down heavily on civil society activists, the cancellation of the Lawyers Collective’s license being a mere symptom of this.

The encouragement to the indiscriminate usage of pellet guns, amongst other brute weaponry, which blinded, maimed and even killed hundreds in the Kashmir valley, is another instance of our deliberate subscription to violence and evil which we ignore to see. What else can explain our unflinching resolve to subscribing to indiscriminate killing? Amidst ample evidence of the hardship the demonetisation has caused, and amidst numerous reports of how the move comes out as a failure, we are told that we must have hope and support the move for the future betterment of our country. What kind of a future are we looking for with hundreds losing their employment, thousands losing livelihoods and with people dying of it? The nationalism narrative, used so extensively in the context of demonetisation, is only obvious of being the required element to make us feel innocent, and to absolve even the slightest guilt we might perceive.

The banality of nationalism which makes us not see, or deliberately ignore obvious injustice and unbridled violence is what is of huge concern. When the use of aerial strikes, pellet guns and other weaponry can be made indiscriminately, and when this usage gets encouraged in discourses of nationalism, duty and justice, one sees the notional arguments of Eichmann being bred in our narratives.

When the ‘banality of evil’ underlies the banality of nationalism, and when dissent and critique leads to tags of anti-nationals and anti-State, it becomes undoubtedly clear that the current Indian socio-political scenario is the perfect picturesque illustration of Arendt’s banality of evil propositions. The brute being engulfed in duty, and the nation engulfed in ignorance, one can learn the fine art of orchestrating a fascist regime by simply sitting back and analysing contemporary politics objectively.


Image source: Hindustan Times/Getty Images