Some commentators have tried to put a gloss on the anti-national sloganeering at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) by provocatively labelling themselves “anti-national”. The intention is to say the opposite — that those who think anti-national slogans in JNU need condemnation should themselves stand condemned for making such accusations.
These commentators have effectively used a verbal trick to paint themselves as “anti-national” in the best sense of the term. This is the trick: use positive virtues to define the term “anti-national” and then accuse the “others” as being narrow-minded and bigoted for calling this anti-national.
Example: “I am for freedom of speech. If this is anti-national, then call me anti-national.”
This is a clever distortion, an attempt to narrow down the argument by painting positive things everybody can agree on as what the others are calling anti-national, when that may not be the case. Few of those opposing the JNU sloganeers are against free speech, but that is the tar used to rebrand them while claiming victimhood by calling oneself fashionably “anti-national.”
Now, consider the following 10 statements I make and see how I can use the same arguments to make communalism acceptable.
“I am for a uniform civil code, and if that makes me communal, I am communal.”
The subtle point is I may be insisting on the code only to put Muslims in the dock, or I may be genuinely for it as a secular Indian. The statement is communal or secular depending on the context, and this nuance is what is lost in making fashionable statements about being anti-national. It is like wrapping yourself in the flag of a radical free thinker to blame the other side for being jingoist.
Here are nine more statements that can make you fashionably communal.
“I am concerned about jihadi terrorism, and if this makes me communal, so be it.”
“The demography of the eastern states is being changed by illegal immigration. India needs to stop or regulate these illegal flows. If this makes me communal, yes, I am communal.”
“Hindus do not have the same rights to manage their educational or religious institutions as minorities. The purpose of protecting minority rights is not to deny Hindus the same rights just because they are in a majority. If this statement makes me communal, so be it.”
“The plight of Hindu minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh is frightening. India must do something about this and give them political asylum. If this makes me communal, I am communal.”
“The ethnic cleansing of the Kashmiri pandits is the only instance in any country where a so-called majority community was pushed out of its home state with force and threats. If this statement makes me communal, I am communal.”
“The Sangh parivar has as much right to propagate their religion as evangelists or Muslims organisations. Ghar Wapsi is legitimate if conversions are legal. If this makes me communal, so be it.”
“I am against reservations based on caste or religion, and would prefer reservations based on socio-economic backwardness alone. If this makes me communal, I am communal.”
“I don’t want Supreme Court judges to quote the Gita or the Koran to justify their judgments, which should be based on the Constitution. If this makes me communal, I am communal.”
“I have often supported Modi, and, on occasion, criticised him. If this makes me a bhakt or, by definition, communal, I am communal.”
You may be getting the drift. In these sentences above, I have tried to make the idea of being communal acceptable by making strong arguments that would stand the scrutiny of fair judgments. Whether you are actually communal or not depends on your motives in making these statements, and the context in which they are made.
So don’t fall for the verbal trick when commentators seek to be fashionably “anti-national”. One can be fashionably “communal” too.
The larger lesson to learn is this: both secularism and nationalism can become meaningless if used to justify purely political positions. We should use them sparingly. Secularism can be debased to become Sickularism, and nationalism can degenerate into “Nazionalism”. So beware.