Virulence of nationalism

The suspension of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) MLA from Mumbai, Waris Pathan, from the Maharashtra Assembly is deeply flawed on many counts.

First, it equates patriotism with exhibitionism—if you chant slogans like Bharat Mata Ki Jai and Vande Mataram, you love your country; otherwise, you don’t. The equation is erroneous and misleading, for there are people who loudly shout Vande Mataram, and yet they indulge in activities that can be scarcely called patriotic. At the same time, there are atheists and agnostics, who do not worship any god and goddess, but they strive for the greater good of India. Therefore, chanting Hindutva slogans is neither the necessary nor the sufficient condition for being a patriot.

Second, if you make slogan-shouting the hallmark of patriotism, you place a premium on sanctimoniousness. As it is, cant is a bane of public discourse; the rhetoric politicians of all hues spew all the time, the manner in which they display their concern for the poor, the farmer, the worker, women, minorities, etc., is often nauseating. Two recent instances are the speeches by Smriti Irani and Rahul Gandhi.

Third, imposed patriotism militates against the very concept of liberal democracy. How can an individual be forced to believe in an ideology, be it of nationalism or socialism?

Fourth, in a democracy a law-abiding citizen cannot be penalized in any manner. Therefore, exclusion from the legislature on the ground of not being patriotic is undemocratic. While patriotism can be glorified, not being patriotic (of any variety) cannot be an offence.

Fifth, the Preamble of the Indian Constitution ensures “liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship.” Thus, it is unconstitutional to ban, banish, or stigmatize a belief system that is at variance with nationalism.

Therefore, the saffron brigade’s tirade against Waris Pathan is wrong. Being a member of the AIMIM, he can be accused of propagating Islamist views, intimidating authors like Tasleema Nasreen and Salman Rushdie, and spreading religious hatred. The antecedents of the party are also unsavory; it was founded by Muslim supremacists. But Pathan cannot be punished for not chanting certain patriotic slogans.

It is interesting to note how Hindutva demagoguery has occasioned its Muslim counterpart. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said, “Now, the time has come when we have to tell the new generation to chant Bharat Mata Ki Jai. It should be real, spontaneous, and part of all-round development of the youth.”

AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi seized the opportunity to champion the cause of Muslims. “I don’t chant that slogan. What are you going to do, Bhagwat sahib?” he asked at a public rally in Latur district, Maharashtra. “I won’t utter that [slogan] even if you put a knife to my throat.”

He cited the Constitution to buttress his statement: nowhere does it say that “one should say Bharat Mata Ki Jai.”

A striking feature in the events leading to Pathan’s suspension was the support that the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena combine got from the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The power of sanctimony is enormous.

Typically, Bollywood added its own bit of melodrama to political cant. Noted lyricist and Rajya Sabha MP Javed Akhtar, in his farewell speech, castigated Owaisi over his remark that he would not chant Bharat Mata Ki Jai because the Constitution does not ask him to do so. “The Constitution even does not ask him to wear sherwani and topi [cap]. I don’t care to know whether saying Bharat Mata Ki Jai is my duty or not, it is my right.”

Then, Akhtar went on to chant Bharat Mata Ki Jai several times.

The ruling dispensations’ favorite actor Anupam Kher lauded Akhtar’s passionate speech. Kher tweeted: “The only definition of NATIONALISM for Bharatwasis should be Bharat Mata Ki Jai. Rest all are escape routes.”

Everything that could have gone wrong in public discourse, has gone wrong. Sanctimoniousness, sentimentalism, and theatrics are its defining features. Reason is gasping for breath.