By Ashima Makhija
Each year, the leaders of the All India Hindu Mahasabha observe India’s Independence Day as their ‘black day’. They express their severe dissatisfaction over the ‘secular’ status of the Indian Union. They would prefer for India to be addressed as a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. The same leaders also glorify Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi, and celebrate the festive occasion of Gandhi’s death anniversary.
Yet, no questions are raised about the nature and quality of their patriotism. Their nationalism is simply scrutinised with tainted saffron lenses that distort the ideas of nationhood, secularism, and plurality. They conveniently pass the test because Hindu nationalism is now increasingly riddled with Indian nationalism. India has forgotten to challenge the patriotism of Hindus. Only minorities like Muslims and Christians can possibly be ‘anti-national’ or opposed to the interests of India. The nationalism of Hindus, even if they mourn over India’s attainment of sovereignty, stands unchallenged.
The thin line between nationalism and communalism
Nearly six decades ago, Jawaharlal Nehru made a succinct observation when he said that communalism of the majority community can easily masquerade as nationalism. He was not trying to undermine the seriousness of communalism from a minority community but to more fundamentally suggest that when communalism originates from the minority, it is easily recognisable. However, when the majority community takes a communal stance, it can be easily mistaken as a nationalist and patriotic sentiment.
Hindu nationalism versus Indian nationalism
If Jawaharlal Nehru was despised by the Sangh Parivar, it was because he brought forward their diseased mentality to speak about ‘Hindu nationalism’ purely in a communal sense. The term ‘Hindu nationalism’ indeed seems to have no connection to any nationalist tendencies. It imagines India to be an exclusive community of Hindus. It believes the statistical majority and social and cultural ‘dominance’ of the Hindus to be the unchallenged basis of the Indian state.
However, Indian nationalism is an entirely different concept. Indian nationalism is an instance of territorial nationalism, inclusive of all the people, despite their diverse, ethnic and religious backgrounds. Indian nationalism was born in opposition to British colonial oppression. Its most significant moment of resistance was the 1857 mutiny, in which Hindus and Muslims battled together against foreign rule. Thomas Lowe, a British army commander observed that “the cow-killer and the cow-worshipper, the pig-hater and the pig-eater” fought together.
Unfortunately, since the ascent of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its Hindutva politics, the distinction between these two concepts is getting increasingly blurred. Now, Indian nationalists can only emerge from the ranks of the Hindus or those who accept India as their punyabhu (holy land). This naturally deprives the Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Zoroastrians, who have been an integral part of Indian history, polity, culture, and society, from the right of being Indian nationalists. For Hindu nationalists, these communities do not even satisfy the basic criterion for becoming ‘nationalists’.
The spreading venom of Hindu nationalism
The BJP has always taken a stern stance against apparent anti-nationals. For instance, when Syed Shahabuddin, who was then a Janata Party MP, called for a boycott in December 1986 to shun all official functions including the Republic Day celebrations of January 26, 1987, all hell broke loose. L.K. Advani, who had taken over the reins of the BJP in 1986, demanded Shahabuddin’s expulsion from the Janata Party unless he apologised for issuing the call. Naturally, Shahabuddin was projected as a modern-day Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
The saffron facilities of the country, with organisations like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) at the forefront, have slowly been training young men and women in the martial arts of Hindutva. As many of the 97% of bovine attacks that occurred between 2000 and 2017 were reported after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government came to power in May 2014 and about half the cow-related violence – 32 of 63 cases – were from states governed by the BJP. 86% of the victims of these attacks were Muslims. In 2016, seven members of a Dalit family were attacked by cow vigilantes in the state of Gujarat, which led to mass protests by the Dalit community.
It is pertinent to note that the VHP stand has been shockingly clear: “Cow protectors are protectors. How can they be killers? Killers cannot be protectors.” The Prime Minister’s silence over the mob lynches and brutal murders further highlights that the BJP is still a party of the majority Hindu community and can never adequately represent or defend the whole of India. Although minorities no longer expect the ruling BJP to condemn the mob lynchings, it seems shocking that other political parties are also not too forthcoming. Other than in one or two tweets and customary condemnation, they have refrained from visiting the victims or their surviving families. An imaginary Hindu fear seems to have overpowered the political class and rendered them paralysed.
The modern Indian fascism
Nehru had made another accurate prediction when he said that if fascism ever came to India, it will be in the form of majority or Hindu communalism. Indeed, saffron fascism has already emerged in the country and we are increasingly absorbing it and accepting it simply because it is being projected as a heinous idea of nationalism. We have all stopped questioning the nationalism and patriotism of Hindus. We have apparently reserved the tags and labels of ‘anti-national’ only for the minority communities. It is time for the nation to wake from its slumber and look at this saffronisation project, not as the basis of a new Indian community, but as the old beast of fascism, which is once again creating deep divisions in the Indian polity and society.
Featured Image Source: Pexels
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