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BJP's nationalism is partisan effort to show patriotic front, has no links with ideology of original nationalist cause

"The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility, but the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to war." - Sydney J Harris

Cut to the election season in India, the voters have been left to choose their battles — to ride on the nationalism wave or to wade through it. Speaking on similar lines, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah told Network 18 Group Editor, Rahul Joshi"The elections should be fought on the basis of nationalism," adding, "What is wrong with politics of nationalism?"

The BJP president's statement is in stark contrast to 2014, when the BJP came to power in India, riding on several promises, one of them being Prime Minister Narendra Modi's favourite — sabka saath, sabka vikas — a chant to unite the nation on the model of welfare and across-the-board economic growth. It pledged to do away with all the wrongdoings of the preceding two UPA regimes, and the voters obliged.

 BJPs nationalism is partisan effort to show patriotic front, has no links with ideology of original nationalist cause

Representational image. Reuters

Come 2019, the BJP is set for yet another political campaign, in hope of a second inning, but this time its focus is on another dimension of 'equalitarian welfare': nationalism.

The party believes that binding the nation with a feeling of oneness by arousing their nationalistic vigour and 'hyper-patriotism' will help the countrymen in seeing an India which is 'bold', 'decisive' and 'secure'. And this is is the message the BJP wants to send out, loud and clear — that the BJP has nothing to gain from this pitch (cue politics of sacrifice) and the idea is to protect the national interest and ensure that India remains sovereign despite all external threats, and the party believes only a Narendra Modi can do.

Unlike Lok Sabha election in 2014 when the BJP planked on issues like development and economic growth, this time around the party is drubbing issues like national pride and patriotism in an attempt to invoke an overt sense of nationalism.

Also, this agenda has acted as a cushion for the party at a time when the economy has not shown any signs of supporting its pre-poll claims of development. In light of this, a feverish pitch for national interest was laid out to give Modi accountability backup for his actions, which were labelled as 'nationalistic' in nature.

As a result of which, the prime minister was carved out as a leader who was tough on issues of national security and ready to take overhauling decisions without concerning about the Opposition's barbs. Be it the surgical strike in 2016, or the recent IAF air strikes across Line of Control in Pakistan's Balakot post the Pulwama terror attack, or the successful testing of India's first A-SAT missile — they only add to the agenda that the party is trying to set before the general elections.

What is nationalism? Is it the same as patriotism?

If you thought you were being a patriot by standing up for the national anthem every time it played in the movie hall, and that could guarantee you a nationalist stamp as well, think again.

Historically, nationalism has been used to define and explain everything from radical political and militaristic movements like Nazism to strong protectionist policies controlling modern foreign policy and economy. While patriotism may be seen as limited to the respect of national flag, symbols, anthem, the country's ideals, values and above all the Constitution, nationalism centres on identifying oneself with the country's culture, language, and often race. That there is no better future for a person than being a part of his or her country; as it encompasses a feeling of belonging, gratitude and borderline supremacy.

Therefore, as seen in the past, nationalism, in its extreme forms, has led to genocide, the Holocaust, and ethnic cleansing incidents in various countries. And it still continues, with the rise of the right-wing in many emerging economies and already established developed powers viz a viz USA and Russia.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, nationalism is defined as "loyalty and devotion to a nation, especially a sense of national consciousness," and "exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups."

What is BJP's definition of nationalism?

The BJP ties nationalism with the aggressive defence of India's borders and interests against archrivals like China and Pakistan, while also defending the majority's right to be a majority, i.e. the Hindus. BJP MP Subramanian Swamy had said, "The average Hindu is not interested in vikas (development) so much as on a Hindu renaissance."

While claiming full respect for the political and civil rights of all citizens, the BJP has in its political practice throughout the years demonstrated that its version of Hindu nationalism often clashes with the generally acknowledged features of Indian democracy, especially minority rights.

However, Hindutva is often understood as an aggressive political ideology that came about as a fallout of the British policy of divide and rule. Indeed, like Hinduism, which it claims to represent, Hindutva acquired a pan-Indian political meaning only during the phase of colonial modernity, a Scroll article points out. And despite attempts by secularists to keep religion out of politics in colonial – and postcolonial – times, varieties of Hinduism were creatively and successfully deployed for political causes, by all political parties, with BJP's being the most out-there or significant electorally.

The party’s current incarnation dates back to 1980 when it was the natural successor to an ex-political party known as the Bharatiya Jana Sangh — formed after independence. The Jan Sangh, as it was known, in turn, built on an earlier tradition of Hindu revivalist movements, whose roots date back to the British Raj.

The Congress, on its part, may claim to be committed to secularism and constitutional values but it is the famous 'temple-run' of its party chief Rahul Gandhi, and the 'holier-than-thou' approach taken by its newly-appointed general secretary Priyanka Gandhi — who started her political campaign by visiting various Ganga ghats in Varanasi — which has rendered the party with a muddled agenda.

On the other hand, central to the BJP’s earlier triumph has been its success in evoking Hindu pride as a nationalist sentiment, in turn, turning Hinduism into a form of undeclared civil religion. Not surprisingly, the BJP has also sold its economic and infrastructure policies in 'national interest', camouflaging any flaw in them in the garb of the 'greater good' for the subsequent national welfare.

The test of India's nationalism

The BJP has drawn a clear line — if you think on the lines of 'Make India Great Again', you wish for 'national welfare' and its promised possibilities in the future, you have passed the nationalistic test and align with the BJP's soch; however if you think all this is nothing but brouhaha, you can pack your bags and leave for a hostile nation (another demarcation by the BJP).

With its "outsider" enemy identified, the party is now working on segregating the familiar foes by terming them 'anti-nationals' and those who will eventually be 'bad' for the country and its growth.

The developmental agenda is also not limited to internal development but focuses more on how the country can be made a 'global superpower' in the backdrop of a looming threat of border wars. In the new 'aspirational India', in case you want to limit your idea of development to what's wrong with your locality or the upliftment of the poor — it's inadequate to be a true nationalist. The greater good of the nation needs to be kept in mind while talking all policy and welfare decisions, something which the Modi government is earnestly doing, the BJP wants the voters to believe.

India's nationalist movement and evolution since

Indian nationalism developed as a concept during the Independence movement fought against the colonial British rule. It was an instance of territorial nationalism, inclusive of all its people, despite their diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds.

In 1919, when nationalism was evolving in new areas in 1919 and, new social groups and new modes of struggle were developing, Gandhi made the nationalist movement spread so as to allow people from different religions and communities to develop a sense of collective belongingness.

However, in contrast to Mahatma Gandhi's call for unity and non-cooperation, and thereafter the Nehruvian ideology of secularism combined with the newfound freedom of an independent India; the idea of BJP's nationalism is not so coherent and in parts, highly selective. While, for decades after Independence, the Congress-ruled with a message of inclusiveness and common welfare, by the time the BJP gained prominence and much of its ground during the late 90s and later with the advent of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee's rule, the idea had shifted drastically.

Even though the Vajpayee government maintained the thought of taking everyone together to move forward and thus, prosper, the BJP's veiled Hindu nationalism pitch was now gaining hold. However, as Congress again managed to make a mark in the national politics and take away the power from BJP, the clamour for a strong Hindu identity in the wake of this continued Congress rule, only grew.

The call for the RSS-backed 'Ram Mandir' pitch also grew louder, even as Congress trodded carefully on the Ayodhya land dispute issue. Fearing the rise of RSS, which was driven by a common desire to unite the Hindus under the aegis of a Hindu Rashtra, the Congress tried hard not to lose its own Hindu identity in an effort to continue gathering support from the majority community. However, with BJP's direct appeasement tactics, it fell way short in securing that ground.

US fears communal violence ahead of elections

In light of these events, the United States Intelligence has warned that India might see communal violence ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections if the Modi-led BJP stresses on "Hindu nationalist themes." In a recently released report, 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment Of The US Intelligence Community, Daniel R Coats, Director of National Intelligence, said that Hindu nationalist state leaders might “incite low-level violence” to garner votes. “BJP policies during Modi’s first term have deepened communal tensions in some BJP-governed states, and Hindu nationalist state leaders might view a Hindu-nationalist campaign as a signal to incite low-level violence to animate their supporters,” the report said.

“Increasing communal clashes could alienate Indian Muslims and allow Islamist terrorist groups in India to expand their influence,” it said.

The US Intelligence report said that “divisive” general elections, cross border terrorism and firing across the Line of Control (LoC) will also strain the India-Pakistan relations through May 2019 and probably beyond. The report said that India and Pakistan’s positions have hardened despite limited confidence-building measures in May 2018. “Political maneuvering resulting from the Indian national elections probably will further constrain near-term opportunities for improving ties.” it said.

However, to assume that a leader like Modi, who majorly conducts his campaign in a 'presidential style', will be bogged down by it (or at least seem to be overwhelmed by these notions) is a far cry from how the present narrative is shaping up. The BJP, under Modi's leadership, has come out to be "pro-business" than most of India’s political parties, which tend to be left of centre, this report suggests.

The complexities of BJP as a political party also arise from its roots, as to how and under what circumstances it was formed. From Jan Sangh to the Sangh Parivar, the party may have come a long way, but the fact remains that is a political expression of a family of Hindu nationalist organisations, which claim to put national interest above all and believe that is only possible in an "idealistic" scenario of India turning into a majoritarian Hindu-ruled state, which only 'anti-nationals' term as fascist.

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Updated Date: Apr 01, 2019 15:58:25 IST