On Tuesday evening, when AAP minister Kapil Mishra, while speaking at Bharat International Tourism Bazaar function in New Delhi, told Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti that, "It can’t be that you don’t accept Burhan Wani as a terrorist and then expect tourism to increase", he was not even in remotest sense asserting his ‘patriotism’. It was rather to use the Orwellian distinction to display his own version of ‘nationalism’, which defies certain logic.
The binary which Mishra was trying to create is not new. It is an extension of the one that was created on 9 February, when allegedly some anti-national slogans were raised in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) leading to the arrest of its student union president Kanhaiya Kumar on sedition charges.
That was the time when any sympathy with Kumar was good enough a reason to warrant a tag of anti-national, while there were several check-lists to be ticked through to get a certificate of patriotism.
What is tad ironical is that many AAP supporters had then protested against the government's move to brand JNU as anti-national and against this binary.
But in politics, like permanent friends and enemies, perhaps there are no permanent rights and wrongs too.
As reported by The Indian Express, at an event to promote tourism Mishra asked Mufti to clarify her position on Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, whose killing triggered mass protest in Valley. Kapil began his speech by asking Mufti if she considers “Burhan Wani a terrorist or not”.
“We can fight Pakistan, but how do we fight with people who give shelter to terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir?” he added.
The Financial Express reported that Mishra further added, “Terrorists are being treated as tourists in Kashmir. Yesterday two terrorists escaped from Baramulla. Where did they go? Somebody may have sheltered them. How long will this go on? Whom to fight with? People of J&K or outsiders”.
While the organisers of the event tried to intervene and control the situation, Mishra left the venue, saying he did not wish to share the dais with Mufti.
Mishra’s sharp statements and accusations brought Mufti to tears who said that she was in two minds about attending the event because “things are not good back home.”
In last few weeks since Uri attack and India’s surgical strike against terror launch pads across the LoC, the entire discourse on India-Pakistan relations has been captured by the nationalist versus anti-nationalist debate to the extent that those speaking against the attack on Pakistani actors like Fawad Khan have to face the instant ire of social media vigilantes brimming with jingoism.
While this incident will once again, in all probability, ignite a war of words between those who love AAP and those who choose to hate it, a larger point will, perhaps, be ignored: What can propel people to think and paint others in such binaries?; where some arbitrarily predetermined-preconceived conditions; imposed and super-imposed so stringently, decides whether the person is fit to be an Indian or not; whether he is a patriot or not.
In the air filled with a resounding ‘us versus they’ rhetoric that has been created between India and Pakistan post-Uri attack, emotions tend to flare up, willingly or unwillingly. But when the emotive responses start paralysing the civility of political debate, some amount of introspection becomes an imperative.
In the current situation, the tagging is the most obvious outcome of any discussion. The division is getting intense and ugly. When condemning a killed militant or a Pakistani actor becomes the litmus for your patriotism, then surely the logic can be seen departing.
In last few weeks on several occasions, the binary crafted by over-enthusiastic-hyper-nationalist votaries of India’s pride have created an atmosphere where branding someone anti-national comes handy.
If you condemn Burhan Wani you are a nationalist. If you promise to boycott an upcoming movie where a Pakistani actor has acted, you score extra points on the nationalist chart. In this atmosphere, Kapil Mishra's antics could be clearly seen as an attempt to score those extra points.
In this context, while the attack on Mufti is a sad episode, it is at same time, an inescapable reality.