The Flipside of Neo-Nationalism

The sanghi one-size-fits-all nationalism can be turned on its head in places like the Valley, the Northeast and parts of south India, where the politics of "one nation, one language, one culture" finds little resonance.

It’s the BJP’s Srinagar fuddle. If you say Bharat Mata ki Jai, you are banned in the Valley, as Bollywood’s Angry Old Man Anupam Kher discovered to his horror. But in the rest of the country, Kher’s compatriots in the Sangh Parivar have threatened to lynch and kill those who refuse to utter the Hindutva mantra. What the sanghi army fiercely call nationalism, and fight for tooth-and-nail, has to be sheepishly surrendered in the Valley at the cudgel of the state police.

If Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani has taken an emotional stand to install the national flag in all major universities in the country “prominently and proudly,” she has had to face the embarrassment of students getting thrashed by her coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir for daring to raise the national flag. If Irani pledged to raise the flag to “instil nationalism and pride,” a decision she took post-JNU fracas where anti-India slogans were raised, she has had to watch agape as the J&K police kicked and beat up “nationalist” students for chanting slogans of Bharat Mata ki Jai. All Irani could do was send a team from her ministry to talk to the sobbing “nationalist outsider” students. It is a delicious irony indeed.

No “one-size-fits-all” nationalism

After a two-year roll of a Hindutva heist in many parts of the country, ever since Narendra Modi came to power, with barbaric beef lynching; hate speeches by BJP ministers; threats and taunts by party chief ministers; culture wars over clothes, food, books, morals; neo-nationalist oaths and the deadly price for breaching it; it seems the run may not be so smooth after all. For, the sanghi one-size-fits-all nationalism, which has stormed in more vulnerable regions, can be turned on its head in the Valley, the Northeast and parts of south India, where the politics of “one nation, one language, one culture” finds little resonance.

For instance, even as beef bans were swiftly imposed in newly-acquired BJP states like Maharashtra and Haryana, with both its chief ministers publicly vowing gau suraksha (cow protection), the BJP’s chief minister in Goa, Laxmikant Parsekar, was forced to declare he does not believe in interfering in the food habits of people. After all, Goa accounts for 30% of India’s Christians and 8% of her Muslims, who cannot be ignored in the election sweepstakes. So Parsekar was astute when he said, “beef has always been part of their daily cuisine, how can I ban it.”

Similarly, the Kerala House canteen fracas in Delhi forced the BJP and sanghi soldiers to retreat, and a besieged Home Minister Rajnath Singh had to grudgingly admit that the storming of the canteen by the Delhi police on the suspicion that it kept cow meat was a mistake and should never be repeated. The incident provoked flash beef festivals and public beef meals in Kerala, forcing even state BJP leaders to participate. They of course denied consuming any beef and said they only had onion curry.

In the Northeast where cow and bull sacrifices and eating the meat are important social ceremonies and rituals for fertility, prosperity and protection, the ban was naturally opposed even when Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said those who eat beef must go to Pakistan. Worse, he was joined by BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj who said beef-eaters must be given the death sentence. Not surprisingly, Naqvi’s cabinet colleague, Kiren Rijiju, from Arunachal Pradesh, snapped back saying, “I eat beef. I am from Arunachal Pradesh. Can somebody stop me? So let us not be touchy about somebody’s practices.” In Meghalaya, state BJP unit president Khlur Singh Lyngdoh lashed out saying, “Naqvi’s statement is not acceptable. I don’t know why he is saying such things.”

Arunachal Pradesh Governor Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa’s cultural ignorance was on display when he cited “bull slaughter” near Raj Bhavan as one of many reasons to make the case for the complete collapse of law and order in the state while recommending President’s rule. He was referring to the sacrifice of the Mithun, a ritual, but as his counsel Satpal Jain revealed in the Supreme Court, the governor’s confidential report showed photographs to suggest he was under threat as the slaughter of animals, and the burning of tyres and posters was going on outside the Raj Bhavan gates.

But it is in the Valley that the Sangh Parivar’s nationalist programme turns back to bite them.

Politics on campus

Was it a plan that went horribly wrong? Consider this: the National Institute of Technology (NIT) in Srinagar was rebooted in 2003 and has been functioning without any major incident, that is until the fracas last week. The NIT has always had a high ratio of outsider students as opposed to locals, but there were no hate crimes or hostility on campus. But overnight, a pitched battle broke out on the institute grounds as “nationalist outsider” students, perhaps buoyed by the nationalist mood in the rest of the country and the immunity given to its torchbearers, decided to take on the local Kashmiri students. So, to counter the cheering that came with India’s defeat to West Indies in the T-20 World Cup semi finals, the “nationalist outsiders” took out a flag march, chanting Bharat Mata ki Jai slogans. A police crackdown ensued, with brute force and beatings reported. Video footage by the police show that the “nationalist outsider” students were armed with rods and lathis, and it was only after they threw stones at the policemen that the latter beat them. No report mentions that the “nationalist outsider” students burst crackers, took out victory marches shouting the regimented Bharat Mata slogans when India beat Pakistan a week before.

Bizarrely, the nationalists got a taste of their own medicine from the jackboot of the police, which their challengers faced in Hyderabad, Jadavpur and JNU only months ago. For some strange reason though, these outsiders hid their faces with cloth, a symbol of Islamic tyranny as Kashmiri students have often decried, when they speak to the media. No one has asked them why. Ironically, after threatening and attacking Kashmiri students from Meerut to Noida and Mewar for cheering for Pakistan, or refusing to cheer for India or for allegedly cooking beef or sympathising for Afzal Guru, today, it is the nationalist students who are blubbering about the threats to life and chastity.

But it pays to be on the right side of the neo-nationalists. While enraged Kashmiri students in the valley protesting the state are struck aside by the butt of the soldier’s gun, “nationalist outsider” students are indulged with discussions and reasoning. Irani sent a high-ranking two-member team to the campus to listen to the grievances and complaints of the outsider students. Irani’s ministry is even in touch with anxious family members. The team also agreed to students’ demands that the impending exams could be taken at a more convenient date, they could also go home because of the “sense of insecurity” in the campus, for which Irani says her ministry will be making all arrangements. Outsider students also wanted those NIT officials transferred and action taken against them for their “anti-national” activities, the institute to be moved out of the valley to Jammu, building a temple inside the campus, and that they be allowed to hoist the national flag at the main gate.

Then, Singh obliged the nationalist students by allowing the PDP-BJP state government to deploy central forces; five companies of the CRPF are now stationed inside the campus. NIT Srinagar is perhaps the most militarised campus, with one soldier for the safety of every two students.

On the other hand, Kashmiri students outside the Valley are already facing the brunt of violence after the warning call given by the Jammu BJP chief, where he said Kashmiri students outside the Valley can become targets. Kashmiri students at the Government Engineering and Technology College, Jammu, were thrashed by local goons when they barged into their hostel, and even threw out their books and belongings. Kashmiri students were also assaulted in Jodhpur’s Vyas Dental College, by other students and locals armed with knives, iron rods and sticks, who chanted “Pakistan Murdabad.”

Alas, it is the price to pay by all non neo-nationalists, from communists, liberals and separatists who do not subscribe to the Sangh Parivar’s version of expressing allegiance to the nation. Evidently, it would be impossible for the BJP to ride rough shod over the complexities inherent in our society and polity.

Vrinda Gopinath is a senior journalist.