In a candid and outspoken interview, India’s last Vice President has said that “a version of nationalism that places cultural commitments at its core and promotes intolerance and arrogant patriotism has tended to intrude into and takeover the political and cultural landscape”.
Referring to it as “hyper-nationalism” and “strident nationalism” he says it threatens dissent and is making the country insecure about its place in the world. Hamid Ansari says it’s also making India intolerant, arrogant and insecure.
It is undermining the fraternity that has held together the many different peoples, cultures, religions and ethnicities that make-up our country.
In a 36-minute interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, given to mark the publication of his autobiography By Many A Happy Accident: Recollections of a Life, Ansari says that the process leading towards this hyper-nationalism or strident nationalism began with the 2014 general election results but reached its fulfilment with the 2019 results.
He says the 2019 results represent: “The success of populism…assisted by authoritarianism, nationalism and majoritarianism”. He said 2019 is the real turning point for India and not 2014.
Ansari says this cultural nationalism, which he also refers to as hyper-nationalism or strident nationalism, is very different to the civic nationalism of the founding fathers of India and which gave the country its independence in 1947. It’s a completely different form of nationalism with different values and principles.
In the interview to The Wire, Ansari says that one of the outcomes of this hyper-nationalism is “a subversion of core values” which is “now underway”. He says this means our commitment to the principles and values of our constitution is weakening and diminishing.
One of the consequences of core values being “subverted” is how we regard secularism. He says: “The term secularism itself has almost disappeared from the government’s official vocabulary”. In its place “the politico-ideological effort now (is) is to superimpose …. the primacy of a religious majority”.
Ansari says this is not only undermining a critical part of the basic structure of the constitution but agrees that it’s pushing India in a direction where a secular country is moving towards becoming a Hindu country.
Ansari adds that another consequence of this cultural hyper-nationalism is that “our commitment to the Rule of Law seems to be under serious threat”. He says we have lapsed into “arbitrary decision-making and even … mob rule”. He says a “noticeable decline in the efficacy of the institutions of state” has occurred.
Ansari told The Wire a second worrying consequence of this cultural hyper-nationalism or strident nationalism is that it has made “the fault lines in our society more visible”. It has made India more fragile. He says it’s erecting invisible walls separating religions and people from each other. This is increasing the divisions in our society. Fraternity, as a result, has weakened and insecurity has grown.
Speaking about the superior judiciary, Ansari said: “The approach of the superior judiciary…does little credit to an iconic institution and damages public confidence”.
Asked by The Wire what all of this means for India’s minorities and, specifically, Muslims, who constitute 15% of the population, Ansari said it is making them insecure.
He said their confidence in getting justice from the government has diminished. He says they do not believe they will be treated fairly and properly.
Asked if Muslims believe they are being treated as second class citizens, Ansari said that process could have started.
Asked by The Wire about the Citizenship Amendment Act, Ansari said that he did not believe it was necessary to give refuge to persecuted minorities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The government already had the power to do so without this Act.
When he was asked if this whole process of cultural hyper-nationalism and its implications and consequences was reversible or whether the process has gone so far it cannot be rolled back, Ansari said that it can be rolled back but that depends upon the choice the Indian electorate makes. In other words, the people collectively have the power and capacity to change the prevailing situation but, of course, it is up to them to exercise it and it is hard to predict or say whether they will. He added that he is an optimist and his belief is that this will pass. He said strident nationalism cannot continue forever or even for very long.
In his book, Ansari writes about “the failure of the (Muslim) community to engage with the wider community in sufficient measure”. Ansari told The Wire that Muslims must not see themselves as separate and different, and must not live apart. They must make an effort to engage with everyone. In this context, he cited and applauded the example of the Shaheen Bagh women who not only stood up for their rights but also, consciously and determinedly, identified themselves with India’s important symbols such as the flag and the constitution.
Watch the full interview here.