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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 10 New Delhi February 27, 2016

Hindutva Nationalism Versus JNU

Sunday 28 February 2016

by Vikas Sharma

It is the season of spring characterised by the consistently blowing wind. You may say that the nation is blowing in the wind of nationalism and anti-nationalism. A recent action against a public educational institution by the govern-ment has now turned into a storm. I believe that the contemporary time is not merely about a debate between nationalism and anti-nationalism. It is about the conflicting/contradictory ideas of Hindutva and Hindustan. Hindutva on the one hand is a politically generated illusion in Indian society meant to derive political gain and mobilise on the basis of chauvinistic religiosity. Hindutva is a paradox within Hinduism that is utilised by the present government to colonise the consciousness of the Indian masses. And ironically this kind of mobilisation has not required much effort and has been able to successfully create a destructive nationalist fundamentalism. The kind of violence and hatred that has emerged in India has made it the need of the hour for each citizen to prove her/his love and dedication to nationalism, it is in fact now not enough to be a citizen; rather one has to come out on the streets and show one’s availability for the cause of the nation. In this political irony, it is sad that our nationality today only comes to be defined by an agreement with a certain kind of aggressive Hindu Right-wing assertions such as the demolition of the Babri Masjid, lynching in the name of diet, brutal violence against religious minorities and so on. In other words, the present political scene establishes a very limited notion of what it means to love India, basically the definition propagated is that of mental closeness, support of fanaticism, chauvinistic national pride and extreme intolerance. If one is seen to possess these dangerous qualities one may call himself a nationalist.

Our discussion on the present crisis cannot, however, be complete if we do not look at the problem in its totality. Therefore, as I asserted in the beginning, the notion of ‘Hindustan’ needs to be distinguished from that of ‘Hindutva’. I would like to elaborate upon this by pointing out that Hindustan is a confluence of great philosophic traditions, religions, cultures and ideals. The name Hindustan is only the symbol of a prospering history of the nation. Thus Hindustan grows and flows because of its accommodation and nurturance of diversity, its fragrance lies in its ability to be a confluence of many simultaneous value systems, cultures and traditions. Metaphorically the idea of Hindustan is similar to that of a garden which looks beautiful because of the different flowers that bloom in it.

We may understand each flower to represent a set of ideas/philosophic traditions; now the challenge before us is to allow each its own space and dignity to prosper and thereafter to create a culture of mutual exchange and collective growth.

In this contemporary scenario, in the name of Hindutva the government is misleading the masses, or you may say that the masses have been taken over by saffron politics that defines nationalism as equivalent to communal hatred and which in a deeper sense also disqualifies the great ideas of nationalism which Rabindranth Tagore, Gandhi or Ambedkar believed in. Is it not true that Mahatma Gandhi and Nathuram Gotse were both nationalist patriots according to two very separate definitions? But we, the people of this country, need to decide which kind of nationalism/patriotism is enriching for the nation. I wish to assert that we have never become familiar to the trueness of nationalism. Our politics and neo-liberalism have closed all the windows of debates and discussions that enable one to understand the true notion of nationalism. In a similar context, we the people of this country do not realise/experience the difference between Hindutva and Hinduism. It is a failure of our nation that this kind of Hindutva mentality has produced so many Godses but not a single Tagore or Gandhi. In Tagore’s view, such a kind of nationalism is indeed a social disease that limits us from addressing humans as humans beyond religions, classes or nationalities. The very people who are upholding these ideals are most conservative in their social practices; this kind of idolatry has a very mechanical purpose, associated with selfishness and fundamentalist intolerance.

Nationalism is an expression of the love and gratitude that one has for the nation, with people sharing a land, culture, tradition and thoughts.

In recent times, where any serious engagement with deeper issues of cultural politics, religious difference and democratic ideals has been missing from the mainstream social culture, where the main source of information has become the television, there is an increased unawareness of the difference between nationalism and pseudo-nationalism.

 The people at large are still not aware of the ideas of and differences between Hindutva and Hindustan, the true love for the nation and the paradox of nationalism. It is true that we, the people of India, have never got any opportunity to understand these differences. That’s why, it is very difficult for India at large to accept a place like the JNU that reasserts this difference and wants to inculcate the same tradition of debate and discussions to illuminate every nook and corner of our country. Like to a garden that is rich because of the diversity of its flowers, this is a university that prospers because different schools of thought have the right to co-exist and engage in reciprocal conversation. And public institutions like the JNU have always debunked any idea that is against humanity and social emancipation. The JNU has never succumbed to any particular pattern of thought or dogma, it is a place that has debated even the most radical progressive ideologies like feminism and Marxism and that’s why the JNU is politically alive. Perhaps it is this serious engagement with society that students and teachers keep sharing, debating and raising critical questions and developing reasoned arguments. Today the state and masses that have turned into mob frenzy are both showing extreme hatred for this university perhaps only because the JNU has not succumbed to the pressures of a neo-liberal society, and its struggle for issues deeply central to the cause of human dignity has still not faded away.

In these dark times, when so many Godses have emerged, wanting to assassinate not only Gandhi but all the great ideals of humanity such as freedom, equality and justice, we need to have faith and hope that the dawn will rise again and conquer all the darkness and flowers will bloom once again in this garden of the JNU.

The author edits The New Leam, a monthly magazine on pedagogy, aesthetics and imagination published from New Delhi.