It is interesting that two rather insignificant people would come to represent two competing narratives of nationalism in the country — one of the RSS and the other of Mahatma Gandhi-Jawaharlal Nehru — and leave the country divided. An accident of circumstance makes Vikram Chauhan and Kanhaiya Kumar faces of disparate ideas, both deriving sustenance from history but one focusing on conflicts, inconsistencies and asymmetries in the developments of the past, and the other on the underlying assimilative and unifying traits in these; one inherently exclusive, the other compulsively inclusive.
Chauhan and Kumar are chalk and cheese.
The first wears patriotism on the sleeves and symbolises the macho and masculine construct of patriotism that the Sangh espouses. It would not bother him to thrash fellow Indians and flaunt the act as a badge of honour. With nationalism as justification, he would move around proudly with the Tricolour in hand after denigrating the court and beating up people. Being called a goon or worse won’t trouble him, neither would the subtle reminder that he is making cheap, crude and vulgar an enlightened concept called the 'nation'.
Evidently, he does not believe in the institutions of the democracy. He can be flippant about the courts, about the police. He knows he can get away with anything with the tacit backing of advocates of his ideology. The state is too powerless against him; his own sense of conviction makes everything else irrelevant.
Kumar, by contrast, represents the nationalist of the other school. He would take the fact of being Indian as a given, an immutable constant in life. He would take for granted the sense of freedom and joy that came with it. He would speak his mind, open his heart on issues, be extremely critical of governments and still be innocently unaware that any of it really amounted to sedition or treason. He would not confuse the government with the nation. A student, he would be critical of and question developments around him, never ever thinking that his being Indian would be questioned because of it.
The difference between the two is the difference between two mindsets: One making nationality a liberal and liberating idea and the other making it a narrow, constrictive one. The country has to make a choice between Vikram Chauhan and Kanhaiya Kumar. It’s unfortunate, but the nationalism debate has gone so far that you cannot stay aloof anymore. A powerful section of the media, in connivance with other forces in the country, is out to divide the country on this question. They are out to brand a whole lot of Indians as anti-nationals in their own country.
If you don’t make the right choice now, you will regret it forever. The idea of India with all its vagueness and internal contradictions has survived for thousands of years despite changes in political dispensation and pressure of other historical forces. It’s co-terminus with the original Hinduism. There’s an effort now to replace both — universal Hinduism with Hindutva and the idea of India with a national India. There have been challenges to both earlier, but this time the threat looks much more dangerous.
The decision that you make involves us directly and the generations to follow. The idea of India cannot be the monopoly of a few. You have to decide what kind of a country you would like to live in. Would you like to live in a country where you are considered an anti-national? The new forces are much more organised in their thought and action than earlier, and much more venomous, so make your choice carefully.
Both of them — Chauhan and Kumar — may be insignificant in themselves and bad options to choose from but what they have come to represent is of critical significance to our future.