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Who Is The Real ‘Anti-National’?

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The buzzword – anti-national – has achieved a new peak in the Indian political dictionary. But, there lacks some serious clarity over the meaning of the word. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as ‘opposed to or hostile towards a nation.’ Therefore, for understanding the prominent usage of this word, the words nation as well national needs to be understood as well.

A simple Google search would tell us that a nation is presumably a country inhabited by a large group of people having their own government and traditions. When our nation attained independence, we gave ourselves the Constitution of India – the source that makes our nation a democratic republic. We became the largest democracy in the world.

The principles of modern democracy thus make sure that the rights of its citizens are safeguarded and the government is held accountable and is answerable to their fellow countrymen. Therefore, asking questions from the government is not merely a right of the citizens but they have a responsibility to do so.

However, what follows is that this responsibility has been concorded as an anti-national activity. Anti-nationalism, according to the internet, denotes the sentiments associated with an opposition to nationalism.

Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student Kanhaiya Kumar addresses students inside the university campus after being released on bail from a Delhi prison in 2016. The JNU sedition episode is when the term ‘anti-national’ reemerged in public discourse. (Photo: REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee)

Although this word is trending these days but it is not a novel phenomenon. During the time of emergency in the Indira Gandhi regime, the word anti-national was used to target activists who were opposing the government. Many changes were introduced in the Constitutional scheme.

The first time the word ‘anti-national’ found a place in the Constitution was via its incorporation in Article 31(D). The heading of this article read, “saving of clause in respect of anti-national activities.” This article is not be found in the Constitution anymore as it was omitted and was considered repealed by the 43rd Amendment Act, 1978.

Albeit, it was incorporated and used with a political intent by the then government, but there still lies a stark difference between being branded an anti-national then and now.

Then, the political opposition received preventive detention on the grounds of being an anti-national by law and not just blatantly brandishing someone according to whims and fancies either by the government, TV anchors or by their fellow countrymen.

In India today, the use and meaning of this word has been clouded by the resurgence of extreme nationalism. Being a nationalist is not wrong. It often is confused with being a patriot as well. There are two faces of nationalism. It is when a healthy nationalism turns into a morbid one is where the problem arises.

Nationalism which turns toxic is an antithesis to the social fabric of the nation. The nationalism which directs to suspect the nationalism of the country’s own citizens by heavily cracking down upon them is of such a toxic nature. Mass political mobilisation is easier than before and thus we are witnessing such flagrant use of the word anti-national. This then leads to slapping of charges like that of sedition.

Already according to the government and their ardent followers, the left-leaning intellectuals, the Dalit community, human rights activists, minorities, the LGBTQ community, non-Pakistan haters, certain journalists are anti-nationals. The rate with which this brandishing is paced at, the non-conformers of the government should already be ready for such insinuation. Legitimate criticism of the government is shut up with this labelling. What does that make of the world’s largest democracy?

A more pressing question in the present context: who has the right to label anyone as an anti-national? And how does an arraigned Indian respond to that?

Paying leverage to this question by even attempting to answer it would make the battle lost even before it has begun. The ones who are on the privileged pedestal of the majority are definitely making it tough for holding an opinion that is differing. A crackdown on dissent in a democracy is an insult on and injures democracy.

While a counter to every argument allows for its complete analysis, the absolute suppression of one that is contrary to the belief held by majority is certainly not the hallmark of a democracy that is considered as great as ours.

The everyday usage of the term ‘anti-national’ to shut down views contrary to those held by the majority has left no room for the exercise of the freedom of speech and expression, which is upheld by the very Constitution that the ‘protectors of the nation’ so passionately strive to guard.

It thus follows that anyone who undermines or abridges a citizen’s right to ask questions is the real anti-national. Anyone who abuses their power or office to extenuate the rights guaranteed to a citizen is grossly the real anti-national. Giving up our freedom to opinion irrespective to whatever it may be, is not an option what a democracy can afford.

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