Do you love your country or not is one of those impossible questions to answer easily. The obvious reply is, “Yes, I do”, but if one demurs, or tries to add nuance to it – “Well, yes, I do, but not everything about it” – one risks the danger these days of being branded unpatriotic. One is not just expected to feel patriotic, but also demonstrate it on every possible occasion. There is an invisible “Patriot Police” out there, composed of millions of one’s fellow citizens, always on the lookout for infractions or any dilution of the Patriotic Quotient.
Preity Zinta, long gone and forgotten from the big screen, creates a ruckus if someone doesn’t stand up for the national anthem. Some others go several steps further and beat up those who won’t — or perhaps can’t — stand up. The government ensures that the patriotic drum beats all the time: orders have been given to Central universities to fly a flag on campuses on a 207 feet pole, no more, no less.
Bharat Ma cannot be insulted, says our feisty HRD minister; students who debate and discuss and advance provocative arguments — which is what students are supposed to do — are charged with sedition; some black coated men who passed law exams proudly declare they beat up a student because they cannot tolerate the idea of anyone saying anything against the nation. Patriotism, of the most aggressive, in-your-face kind, is in the air. One almost misses the face-palming of Manoj Kumar who at least gave us some good songs while he was preaching patriotism.
But taking a few moments off from all this heavy patriotic breathing, one might want to ask: Why has nationalism suddenly reared its head now? We are not at war; hell, we are not even playing a cricket match against our mortal enemies. Then why are the BJP’s student groups, helped along with grim-faced anchors, suddenly talking of nationalism? Why does every answer on the nightly TV discussion get answered back with, “So you mean you don’t care for the sacrifice of our soldiers on Siachen?” Why do journalists and intellectuals preface their remarks with, “Of course I love my country” even when they are being critical of the behavior of Delhi Police chief B.S. Bassi and his men?
Till now, patriotism was something one wheeled out on special occasions — January 26, August 15, October 2, etc. — now it is in fashion, rather is a must wear, all the time. How come? Cast your mind back to the first few months of the Modi prime ministership. There was still euphoria and hope that this new man would sweep the cobwebs of the past away and give India a fresh start.
Every action of the man at the top was lovingly reported and met with gasps of admiration. When reports appeared that a minister on the way to the airport was asked to go back home and change the jeans he was wearing into something decent, it reflected not just Mr Modi’s omnipresence but also his sense of propriety.
But then suddenly there were stories of “Hindutva hotheads” emerging out of nowhere. Murders of Leftist leaders, cries of “love jihad”, cheap jibes at minorities — these were on the front pages. Narendra Modi travelled abroad, had warm meetings with heads of government, filled Madison Square Garden with his devoted followers, met industrialists and invited them to invest in India; but back home, anyone who the Hindutva brigade did not like, was being attacked, verbally or, more worryingly, physically. The Dadri lynching was perhaps an inflexion point — an innocent man killed by fellow villagers because someone claimed he had kept beef at home.
That was when the vast numbers of those who had voted for Mr Modi believing that he was all about development and growth were appalled. These followers had no time for the Hindutva agenda — they were not necessarily against beef eating or indeed inter-religious marriages. They did not think that the Hindutva brigade would be part of the package deal and if they did come out, they were sure Mr Modi would keep them away, since he did not want to derail his plans.
It soon became clear that the aggressive display of Hindutva was putting off the new BJP supporter who had come on board only because of Mr Modi. All the “fringe” groups have quietened down in the past few months.
Enter nationalism. This is something that everyone cares about. No one is not a patriot. Love for the nation is non-negotiable. Hindutva divides, nationalism unites. Even those who are angry at the way Kanhaiya Kumar was picked up will say they will not tolerate anti-India statements, even though it is crystal clear that he did not shout any such slogans and that a video had been doctored.
By bringing love for the country into the equation, the Sangh strategists have killed several birds with one stone — they have ensured that all other extraneous matters, including the beating of the students, have faded into the background and they have also made an entry into JNU. Today, if the government takes it over, citing it as a den of traitors, there will be very few loud voices of objection; the students and the faculty who will protest will be painted as — yes — anti-national.
Now all of us can be called anti-national unless we can prove that we are nationalistic. Nor is it a one-time certificate; the nationalism test is an ongoing affair. Anyone can point a finger and call someone an anti-national. Your grandfather may have been a freedom fighter, your father may have been in the Army, why, you may even pay your taxes on time, but can you really prove you are a nationalist? The ultimate weapon has been unleashed and it’s going to prove very effective to the ones who hold it in their hands....