Sushma Swaraj's visa threat to Amazon is an unfortunate justification of hyper-nationalist bullying

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s recent threat to revoke the visas of officials may have paid off. Sometime after she voiced her displeasure, Amazon Canada removed doormats resembling the Indian tri-colour flag from its Canadian website. But serious questions about the rationality and wisdom of indulging in such hyper-nationalistic rhetoric remain.

Though not the first instance of its kind, such outright bullying by a high-ranking minister, has once again brought attention to the belligerent, nationalistic culture the Narendra Modi government has been encouraging and promoting since it came to power. For greater clarity in the matter, it may be useful to know that Amazon’s portals in the US, UK, France, and Germany have doormats depicting the American as well as the British national flags.

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj. PTI

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj. PTI

It may be equally relevant to draw attention to the paradox evident in the government’s ideological and economic policies. The central dispensation and the ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), on the one hand, want to pursue economic and social globalisation. On the other, it continues to subscribe to a narrow and dogmatic — if not dangerous — version of cultural nationalism.

According to a report in Reuters, “Amazon is making a huge bet on India and has vowed to invest more than $5 billion as it takes on home-grown Flipkart and Snapdeal for a bigger share of the world's fastest growing internet services market.” At an event in Washington, that was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year, Amazon’s founder and chief executive officer Jeff Bezos said India was the company's fastest-growing market.

Considered in this light, Swaraj’s threat to Amazon seems to contain other dimensions. "Amazon must tender an unconditional apology," the External Affairs Minister tweeted. “They must withdraw all products insulting our national flag immediately...If this is not done forthwith, we will not grant Indian visa to any Amazon official," she added. "We will also rescind the visas issued earlier." As if this was not enough, Swaraj instructed the Indian High Commission in Canada to take up the matter with the company.

Such a disproportionately aggressive response — especially from a top government functionary — tends to have a cascading effect on the public at large. These statements go a long way in emboldening an army of hyper-nationalist bullies whose numbers seem to be spiralling by the day.

More and more disturbing incidents have been coming to light across the country with rogue nationalists taking the law into their own hands. There are reports of them threatening, even physically attacking citizens, who they believe to be lacking in nationalistic fervour.

Instead of reining in such intemperate mobs, the message relayed from the top is adding fuel to fire. Just two days ago, three people were manhandled by a mob of more than 30 people for refusing to stand up for the national anthem at a movie screening in Chennai. They were there to attend a screening of a Bulgarian movie Glory at the Chennai Film Festival at Palazzo Cinemas, Vadapalani.

The incident comes a month after seven people were allegedly drawn into a fight after refusing to stand up during the playing of the national anthem. The Chennai police charged the seven under sections of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971.

We seem to be living in an atmosphere when any and every issue can be turned into a test of a citizen’s nationalism. Think of recent incidents in the post de-monetisation period when self-styled custodians of national honour were asking those complaining about serpentine bank queues to think about the agony of soldiers guarding our borders.

Ironically, despite such shrill nationalistic hyperbole at the top, ordinary soldiers of the Border Security Force continue to receive shoddy treatment. The three videos recently circulated by a BSF jawan revealing the dismal quality of their meals is a testimony to the hypocritical nationalism preached and practised by politicians.

But instead of addressing these complex issues, we seem to be more preoccupied with enforcing our standards on a commercial enterprise.

Published Date: Jan 13, 2017 09:36 AM | Updated Date: Jan 13, 2017 09:36 AM

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