The Indian Right is abysmally low on intellectual content. That’s the reason playing to emotions is critical to its game plan. Emotional messages don’t travel well without theatrics and the drama quotient. So it does not surprise that we see a lot of both in Parliament during the great nationalism debate.
It’s only natural that we would hear more and more of defence forces making sacrifices on the border while the rest of India is having fun and of the insult to Indian deities as well as to personalities of the past - yesterday and day before we had HRD Minister Smriti Irani dragging Goddess Durga and Mahisasura into the debate. There’s has been no cogent argument for the rival idea of nationhood, only a lot of grievances. If the strategy has been to impress the audience out there, then possibly it is only catering to those already impressed. The rest continue to be less-than-convinced doubters.
That makes the nationalism debate a colossal waste of time - in fact, the whole idea of the debate is redundant if it fails to find points of convergence and only reinforces the divergences. The article singles out the Right because it’s the challenger ideology and it seeks to question and replace the earlier one. To achieve that it needs to present arguments that are compelling enough and reasoning that is palatable. None of it has been evident so far.
The more the Right argues, the more it looks bankrupt in terms of ideas. For example, how does it fit the perceived insult to Goddess Durga into its nationhood framework? “Every year, thousands of Durga Puja pandals are erected showing her in a bad light, in sexual positions,” Irani said. Aren’t the people doing it Hindus? Is this a conspiracy of the Left to give the deity a bad name? If the latter is case then a good number of Hindus must been Leftists from much earlier times. Possibly Mahisasura was one.
We have heard wonderful speeches made by BJP leaders. However, none explains how the party’s version of nationalism equals an ideology, a government or a larger organisation that the party is a part of. There’s no word yet on how this nationalism can co-exist with basic principles of democracy and how it is going to accommodate dissent and free speech. There are questions on the nationalism and patriotism of others but there’s hardly the inclination to look within. Is killing of rationalists patriotism? Is defending obnoxious religious practices nationalism? Is hating the scientific spirit nationalism?
To form an idea of the nation, particularly in a country as vast and diverse as India, is a complex task. It is more of a civilisation than a nation. A civilisation can have many nations and many ideas, sometimes contradictory, within but still have an overarching exclusive identity. India has survived thousands of years with such contradictions and that gives it exclusivity. The Right has taken the easy way out by reducing the debate to religion and tokenisms around nationalism. It has simplified a big idea too much.
Since it has no inherent logical strength, it has to survive and make its presence by attacking others. It’s visible in the debate in Parliament. The documents flaunting and finger-pointing acts are an exercise in desperation coming out of the inability make a balanced argument. The other option is to hide behind someone big and throw punches at others. We are already hearing that vested interests don’t want Prime Minister Narendra Modi to be successful, that’s why we are seeing attacks on the government from all around. The fact that the source of his problems is the uncontrollable elements in the great Sangh joint family is conveniently swept under the carpet.
We don’t understand yet how these elements fit into a nation that would be driven by young, educated and yes, liberal people; or how it will be possible the other way round. The Right would do the country a service if it presented a comprehensive view of itself. Right now the lack of intellectual vigour is embarrassingly apparent. The country should not be wasting time on facile debates.