Politics of banal patriotism is easy to practice. It doesn't require a nuanced debate, a logical discussion, respectable IQ or the courage to face the enemy on the border. Anybody can becomes its practitioner by picking up a flag, shouting slogans and joining a mob to rail against imaginary enemies.
Politics of slogan-shouting and flag-waving thrives on a thought process triggered by anxiety, fear and feeling of persecution. It is rooted in imagining an enemy, or, if one already exists, grossly exaggerating its threat and then coming up with an irrational response.
To justify the irrational response, it is necessary to make it look like a manifestation of Newton's Law. So, fake accusations are made, slights are imagined and normal incidents or accidents are branded as conspiracies and planned affronts to justify it as an equal and opposite reaction.
If politics of flag-waving, slogan-shouting and banal nationalism was to be put on a shrink's couch, it would come out with a prescription for paranoia.
Bear this is mind as we dissect the two issues that have brought out banal nationalists out in the streets, made them scream, shout and shed copious amounts of tears in TV studios and violence in courts.
Consider the case of Kanhaiya Kumar first and then the reaction to the HRD minister's decision to make hoisting of the national flag in central universities.
At the risk of repetition it is important to ask, what exactly is the case against Kanhaiya Kumar? That some people shouted "anti-national" slogans at a canteen of a university in Delhi? Economist Surjeet Bhalla has deconstructed the entire episode in Friday's Indian Express. Since his take is, literally, the last word, it is impossible to add to it.
The overblown reaction was a classic case of banal nationalism. Enemies were imagined (all JNU is anti-national); lies were propagated to justify the paranoid response (Hafiz Saeed is behind it), fake accusations were made through doctored videos, photoshopped images and media lapdogs and a minor incident was passed off a conspiracy against the nation.
Once the "enormity" of the action was established, an irrational reaction was mounted by letting out cops on campuses, thugs in the streets with flags whose poles they used to bash others, evading serious questions through the subterfuge of raising the decibel levels of slogans and shouting down others as anti-nationals and traitors. (Sample this video.) It was made to look like, as Sanjay Singh rightly argued on Firstpost, that India was under a siege.
The problem with paranoia is that the sickness is inside us. It is an internalised ghost, a personal demon whose shadow we see everywhere and start battling it. Even if you eradicate the original trigger, it will find some other excuse to manifest itself.
Kanhaiya's case has traversed the entire spectrum. First he was an anti-national guilty of sedition (wrong), then he was a traitor who shouted anti-India slogan (wrong again) and now the outrage is over the "allegation" that he was with Umar Khalid. At this rate, we'll soon have somebody saying Kanhaiya is anti-national because he is named after our revered God.
Khalid, meanwhile, has himself been elevated to the level of a dangerous Kashmiri (wrong again, and even if it wasn't it is not a crime to be a citizen of an Indian state), sympathiser (whatever that means) of a terror outfit (without any evidence) who had travelled to Pakistan (wrong again, he doesn't even have a passport). So many wrongs sold as truths to create the impression that Hafiz Saeed was about to invade an Indian varsity with the help of jihadists like Kanhaiya.
How different is this phobia from the fear of the Islamic State jihadists waiting for the army of Rome for an Armageddon-like battle at Dabiq?
Unfortunately, like a snake that keeps biting its own behind, the absurd fear doesn't end till it devours itself.
When journalist Shekhar Gupta pointed out in a tweet that the video showing Kanhaiya raising anti-national slogans was doctored, the banal patriots refused to back off, arguing, what's the big deal when it has not been submitted in a court. As if the lynch mob had waited for the court's decision, even for rudimentary evidence, before demolishing Kanhaiya and JNU, shattering the country's calm .
A similar imagined phobia is on display over the imagined resistance to the HRD minister's decision to fly the Tricolour at central universities. If hoisting a flag makes us all deshbhakts, then we are all for it. If you have the money, instead of stopping at just a few privileged varsities, make it made mandatory for every house, at every mall, square, public building and also the RSS headquarters, the repository of nationalism, where the Bhagwa inspires more patriotism than the Tricolour. Make it mandatory to wear it on the lapel or on the sleeve. If not patriotism, it will at least generate employment to flag weavers.
But, using the Tricolour for petty politics, to divide the nation along an imaginary line of flag-wavers and flag-haters is a pervert parody of patriotism.
As CP Bhambhri writes in DailyO, the fundamental principal of any propaganda machinery is to project a false reality and make the audience believe, with the help of media, that what they are seeing is the truth. And it is much easier to do than battling the demons inside.
It is important to understand the difference. Real nationalism sees the country as a dynamic entity that must get better every day, every minute, it aims at erasing inequalities based on caste and religion, it is the courage to look inwards and address what is wrong, through dialogue, speech and discussion stripped of fear.
But, politicians fear such freedoms, liberties and nationalists. They prefer banal nationalism because it is always easy to talk about the rape of motherland than to stop the rape of real mothers in the streets, easy to promise a Ram temple than a home and feast on paranoia than ensure that every Indian has enough to eat.
In a blog that has gone viral, actor Twinkle Khanna wonders whether we are spending our money on the real Bharat Mata. "We have passed a proposal for building a 182-metre-tall Statue of Unity project that will cost Rs 2,979 crore, and are now trying to construct yet another statue in the Arabian Sea which is budgeted at around Rs 1,900 crore even though only 10 percent of our children have access to education beyond higher secondary schooling. Instead of spending money on education, that these are our priorities offends me a bit."
Ideally, all this and the well-being of the banal nationalists should have been the concern of our political class. They should have either offered or arranged help for the prevalent paranoia.
But then, if a large number of people were to be lined up for prescriptions, who will go to poll booths?