Home > 2016 > Modi Remodelling the Politics of Ultranationalism

Mainstream, VOL LIV No 42 New Delhi October 8, 2016

Modi Remodelling the Politics of Ultranationalism

Sunday 9 October 2016

by Arun Srivastava

India’s surgical operation in Pakistan occupied Kashmir has boosted the personal image of the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, as a strong ruler; but it has nonetheless provided the politically correct ambience to the BJP to refurbish its nationalist image and instil a new sense of nationalism in the people of India.

Modi, whose political initiatives and actions during the two years of his stay as the Prime Minister, have come under public scrutiny in recent months and he was being seen as a “also ruled” Prime Minister, has resurrected himself as the new face of Indian nationalism and the only leader who can take India to new heights. He has ignited the imagination of the Indians. People have come to compare his governance with the last 15 years rule of the Congress and secular parties.

But unfortunately the euphoria over the triumph of the patriotic operation in PoK has met with an checkmate with Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon saying: “The UN Military Observers’ Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) has not directly observed any firing across the LoC related to the latest incidents.”

On his part, Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, had also dismissed India’s claims that its military conducted “surgical strikes”. Pakistan rejected the claims as an “illusion” but acknowledged the loss of two of its soldiers in the exchange of fire. Sharif strongly condemned “the unprovoked and naked aggression of Indian forces” and pledged that the military was capable of thwarting “any evil design to undermine the sovereignty of Pakistan”.

Pakistan’s denial has no element of surprise. It is merely portrayal of fantasy. Why should India make a false claim? The rebuttal of Pakistan has too many holes. Accepting the Army action would amount to acceptance of the fact that terror camps exist in PoK, a charge denied by the Pakistani rulers. The moment Sharif accepts it, Pakistan would be held guilty of patronising terrorism in Kashmir. It would also negate its claim that Kashmir is witnessing homegrown rebellion, not terrorism. In case if Pakistan accepts it, in that situation it has no alternative but to retaliate against India. Any dithering would inflict severe damage to the Pakistani Army which the Pakistani rulers would not accept.

Surgical strikes happened even during the Manmohan Singh regime, but he didn’t employ the Twitter army for credit. On the contrary, the people with Right-wing ideology moved in with lightening speed to hurl I-told-you-so jibes at their ‘liberal’ enemies. While they heaped praises on Narendra Modi, the pro-saffron media took upon their unfinished task to project a national hero out of Modi. Intriguingly, a TV channel in its report projected Modi as the super-warrior; as if Modi had single-handedly conceived, planned and executed the entire operation.

What was most shocking was that the media conveniently tried to ignore and forget its own report of how the Army during the UPA regime had carried out surgical operations across the LoC. Obviously the question arises: why has the media launched a misinformation campaign? Is it a partner to some kind of deep design to malign the former Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and his rule?

Hours after Modi and his colleagues started patting their backs for carrying out the “first” surgical operation, the former Army Chief, General Bikram Singh, came on record to say that such strikes by Indian soldiers have taken place, including in the wake of the decapitation of two Indian soldiers in January 2013 when Man-mohan Singh’s UPA was in power. The difference, this time, is that Modi made a political call to own the cross-LoC strikes. In 2013, no one knew that such a strike had even taken place.

The only difference between the two has been this: Manmohan Singh never ‘publicised’ such operations while Modi removed all stops to create frenzy in his favour. The Congress even did not allow its party leaders to speak in public about these operations. As a result the people did not come to know about the govern-ment’s intentions and actions.

In sharp contrast, in the present scenario the BJP and the media were trying to build up an atmosphere to show the UPA Government and the Congress in extremely poor light; as a weak and timid leadership. What is most cynical and harmful to the interest and morale of the Army is that the supporters of Modi, the media and saffron leaders have been playing the nasty game of negating the gains of the Army under General Bikram Singh during the UPA rule. Dr Manmohan Singh owes an explanation to the people of the country and he must come out. It is time to speak up and tell them what always happens and what happened under the UPA. No more official secret is violated.

Significantly, the General, who was holding the news conference to inform about the surgical strikes, made it abundantly clear that the September 29 strikes weren’t the first surgical strikes by any stretch of imagination. Even senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh said that the claims of this being the first surgical strike were far from the truth as the Army under the UPA Government too had conducted several cross-border offensives but never ‘hyped’ the issue as much as it was being done by the present regime.

The Indian Army conducted at least two surgical strikes between 2007 and 2013 and those were reported too. But unlike this time around, Manmohan Singh did not stay awake or even if he did, he chose not to leak the information to favourable media outlets to seek cheap publicity or felt the need to prove any other point.

The then Indian Army Chief, General Bikram Singh, admitted killing of 10 Pakistani soldiers in a surgical strike. General Singh warned Pakistan that India would respond in equal measure if Pakistan violated any rules. He rejected the perception that the Indian military had not retaliated against the beheading of its soldiers by Pakistani troops. He had said: “Let me assure you that action has been taken...If I can invite the attention to the Geo TV report on December 23 which talked of their one officer and nine soldiers being killed with 12-13 being wounded. This has happened due to firing of your soldiers on ground.”

A nation needs wisdom of patriotism and nationalism is the natural corollary to this. After coming to power the BJP has been consistently harping on patriotism—whenever it is banning beef or implicating the JNU students in sedition case. The BJP along with the Sangh has been creating a psychological pressure on the people, especially on the Dalits and minorities, to submerge their individual identities in a presumed national identity. The RSS tried to preach of one ethnicity, one race, one culture and one system of values that binds the people of India. Based on this ideological orientation the Sangh leaders tried to lay down rules on what one should eat or wear or read or view; they in fact conspired to define the Indian life through their narrow prism of Hindutrva.

The BJP’s attempt to define a nationalist as one who will say ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ was a gross distortion of history. After some protest the Sangh Parivar retreated. But this continued to be on the agenda of the BJP and Sangh. The sad episode of Uri provided the Sangh Parivar the opportunity to exploit the sentiment of the common Indians and reach out to them with their repackaged mission.

It would be purely an act of naivety to believe that the Congress lost only because of corruption and misrule. The manner in which the other secular forces were marginalised and wiped out from the electoral scene underlined that the element of ultranationalism, a far-Right sentiment, has percolated deep down in the psychology of the people, particularly the urban middle class, which witnessed the Congress being pulped. The Congress leadership could not comprehend the changing nature of the polity. Basically this was the prime reason for the worst electoral defeat of the Congress. Like the BJP, the Congress does not have a strong and ideological think-tank to analyse the socio-political developments in the right perspective.

The secular ethos has been basically Centrist in character. It is not a sort of ideology under which the cadres play the decisive role. The regional satraps of the Congress have their own perceptions which imbibe the regional feelings and aspirations. The fact has to be conceded that the Congress and secular forces have provided ultranationalism with the right type of breeding ground.

The BJP coming power after long years marked the blossoming of a perilous ultra-nationalism. For decades the aggressive nationalist forces have been lurking in the shadows. Now they are out in the open and trying to push their agenda with tremendous velocity. No doubt the rise of the extreme Right polity is a reality in India today, but once in power they have been treading cautiously. While they have been assiduously pursuing their programme and ideology, they never give the impression that they are in a hurry. Significantly this task is being performed by Modi with adroitness and with utmost excellence. Modi took upon himself the task to launch an ethnic cleansing of the nation.

The strategic importance of Modi for the Sangh Parivar could be gauged from the simple fact that his jibes and indictments were not taken seriously by the RSS. It helped create the feeling that Modi is a changed person and he was committed to protect the ethical chord and traditions of the country notwithstanding his bitter and harsh criticism of Nehru and the latter’s legacy. In the present situation Modi was projected as the man who can redeem India from the curse of terrorism.

At the Delhi meet of March 23, 2016 of the party’s National Executive, Amit Shah in his presidential speech had declared that the BJP would take on the “anti-national” elements and echoed the RSS demand that firm action be taken against “anti-national” activities in the universities. At the meet the BJP pushed its version of aggressive nationalism which in reality is Hindu nationalism. The resolution adopted at the meet described refusal to chant “Bharat Mata ki Jai” as disrespect to the Constitution. The BJP had declared that this is not just a slogan but “the reiteration of our constitutional obligation as citizens to uphold its primacy”. Simply through a resolution the BJP turned the chanting of “Bharat Mata ki Jai” into a constitutional obligation.

It is worth mentioning that the BJP had in fact complied to the demand of the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, who had earlier said: “Now, the time has come when we have to tell the new generation to chant ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’”.

The BJP and RSS have been indulging in the most dangerous game. While the task to present the façade of good governance and vikas has been entrusted upon Modi, the party boss, Amit Shah, and other leaders of the front organisations of the Sangh Parivar have been assigned the task to propagate the Hindu nationalist agenda and the communal campaign against the so-called “anti-national” elements. The operational success of the tasks is regularly monitored by the RSS boss.

Ultranationalism is divisive and not very different from fascism though senior Marxists nurse divergent views and are reluctant to accept the Modi Government as fascist. Fascism is opposed to liberty, and the only liberty worth having, the liberty of the state and of the individual within the state.

The debate on nationalism has also helped the BJP turn the public focus away from the more pressing social and economic issues the country is facing. Incidentally, the Modi Government has not been able to implement any of its policies and keep the promises made to the people during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Party MPs took out tiranga yatras in their constituencies to celebrate Independence Day, another pet idea of the PM.

True enough, even during the 2014 election campaign Modi had dropped enough hints of the possible course of events that would emerge during the rule of the BJP. That the party would follow the ideology of divisive ultranationalism was clear. The RSS and BJP want to change society so that India becomes a strict Hindu nationalist nation, and dissenters are given short shrift had become obvious. The saffron leadership is aware of the fact the unless a renewed surge of ultranationalism takes place and swallows India’s regional and international prospects, the saffron cannot think to survive in India which is basically a Centrist polity.

The RSS is dedicated to the cause of Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism and the establishment of a Hindu Rashtra, or Hindu polity. RSS volunteers played an important part in Modi’s campaign. Obviously the RSS and its Parivar members expect him to deliver on the key demands of the RSS. During Modi’s rule the core agenda of Hindutva nationalism has become central to the politics of the country. The way in which the BJP is situating itself as a central force in Indian politics might well mean that the coming decade will see the rise of a new saffron hegemony.

By giving too much publicity to the surgical operation, Modi was in fact trying to accomplish the task of the RSS. He was seeking to shake the Hindutva feeling of the people. In a significant move in the post-surgical operation scenario Narendra Modi also invoked Jana Sangh ideologue Deendayal Upadhyaya to say Muslims should not be treated as a votebank. Rather they should be considered “your own” and be “empowered”. Modi said at a time when nationalism was looked at in “negative light” and there were questions on how minorities should be treated, Upadhyaya had suggested a solution.”Don’t reward Muslims. Don’t rebuke Muslims. Empower them. Don’t think of them as votebanks or commodities, think of them as your own,” he quoted Upadhyaya as saying.

The author is a senior journalist and can be contacted at sriv52[at]gmail.com