India has many nationalisms; BJP’s is only one of them

BJP's religious nationalism is the main reason why so many people wanted the party to decline in Gujarat, no matter what their political affiliation is

Aakar Patel December 24, 2017 12:06:38 IST
India has many nationalisms; BJP’s is only one of them

The Assembly election in Gujarat was a clear win for Bharatiya Janata Party. We can speculate about the reasons, but the results are unambiguous. They are in keeping with the way Gujarati voters have spoken for the last 20 years. To call Congress' rise in vote share a sign or a trend of something larger brewing in the nation, will need to await more data and results from other states. In Gujarat, BJP has triumphed.

Having clarified that let's examine why so many people were hoping that Congress would perform well, or, more accurately, why BJP would not win again. Such people are usually called Narendra Modi-baiters, though it is unclear what that is supposed to mean. I have not met many people who will offer an outright defense of dynastic politics. So we should assume that many of these people who are worried by another BJP victory are not supporters of Congress in the positive sense. They are merely concerned about something else. What is it?

India has many nationalisms BJPs is only one of them

Representational image. AFP

The answer is religious nationalism of the sort that BJP deliberately pushes. Nationalisms can be of many types. You can have composite nationalism which includes all Indians of all religions and all communities and all geographies. This is not what BJP champions. Can a Naga or Mizo assert his Indian identity with pride if he feels it? In the way that BJP has framed it, this individual can do so only through Hindi slogans (like Bharat Mata ki jai), and through stopping eating beef, even though that has been his traditional food for thousands of years.

Can a Muslim from Kerala assert his Indian identity? Only if he promises that he will not fall in love with a woman who is Hindu. The nationalism of BJP is not meant for all Indians. It is only for a particular kind of Indian. The thing is: even some of those types of Indians do not like it. I am a Hindu male from north India (assuming Gujarat is north India, though that is debatable). I do not want to be a part of a nationalism that excludes other Indians.

I have a problem with all nationalisms generally speaking because they are used to mobilise one group against another. And the other group is then caricatured and demonised in a way which I find repulsive. Nationalism usually leads to violence and so it should be handled with great care. But within the set of nationalisms, I find religious and ethnic nationalism particularly nasty and dangerous, and especially in our part of the world. I don’t like Pakistan's Muslim nationalism. I don't like China's Han nationalism.

Many Indians feel the same way and that is why they view BJP with alarm. You could be opposed to nationalism that is based on one religion and be a Bahujan Samaj Party voter, as I am. You could be a Trinamool Congress voter or an Aam Aadmi Party supporter or someone who prefers NCP, TDP, PDP, JDU, CPM or any party anywhere. But if you are a supporter of religious nationalism, anywhere in India, you will back BJP. There is only one party that deliberately pushes this as its primary agenda. This is why those who are concerned by its actions and its rhetoric and the damage they do to our nation, would have wanted to see the party decline in Gujarat, no matter what their political affiliation is.

If one removes the element of religious nationalism, one finds that the policies of BJP are not very different from other parties. I am not saying that these common policies are good. In fact, they are not. Almost all the issues that the human rights organisation I work for is dealing with are problems created under Congress rule. For example, the use of AFSPA and the criminal exploitation of Adivasi lands. None of these is a creation of BJP or Modi.

However, BJP is adding to these, rather than reducing them. And the fallout of its aggressive pushing of religious nationalism is visible in the news every day. The frequent episodes of violence like beef lynchings we are reading about now are the deliberate creation of BJP. If they do not pursue the course of dividing Indians on the basis of religion mainly but with on the basis of geography and caste and gender, most of these incidents would not happen.

The violence on our streets and the violence in our media (the calling of individuals as 'dalals' of Pakistan) is the physical manifestation of religious nationalism. It brings an urgency to the problem that many of us cannot look away from. We wish it would end so that Indians would not get harmed and we could focus on real national priorities like poverty, healthcare and education.

This, more than anything else, is the reason why many people wished that the BJP would not have triumphed again in Gujarat. But it has, and we have to accept it and resume the dialogue with its supporters to try and make them see our perspective.

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