Ideas for India 2024: We need to reclaim democratic nationalism

Winning the upcoming Lok Sabha elections requires a new inclusive nationalist narrative

Children with Indian flags, from a campaign to get to know India's diversity through a direct cultural exchange at an individual level, by visiting the homes of strangers of other identities (screengrab from
Children with Indian flags, from a campaign to get to know India's diversity through a direct cultural exchange at an individual level, by visiting the homes of strangers of other identities (screengrab from

Purushottam Agrawal

At stake in the upcoming general elections in 2024 is the very idea of India as an inclusive, democratic nation.

Given the outcome of the recent assembly elections, the BJP is expecting onward momentum, and the inauguration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya will be a further fillip to its prospects. Additionally, it has at its disposal the dedicated cadres of the RSS and the vocal support of mainstream media, especially electronic media.

However, the most important factor driving the BJP’s fortunes is the party’s ability to project itself and Prime Minister Narendra Modi as being dedicated to the dream of a proud, assertive India, and conversely painting the entire Opposition—and the Congress in particular—as elements hostile to this dream.

The RSS/BJP have even managed to convince large swathes of the citizenry that the suffering caused by their policy failures and misgovernance is a necessary ‘sacrifice’ for the glory of the nation. Take, for instance, how the Modi government got away with a disastrous demonetisation and its chaotic handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Unfortunately, the Congress and other Opposition parties seem to have not learnt the necessary lessons.

Whether or not India meets the dictionary definition of a 'nation' may be an interesting academic question, but when the leader of a national party declares in the Lok Sabha that “India is not a nation”, it only helps those who want to subvert the very idea of India as an inclusive nation.

The issues of crony capitalism, unemployment, caste census are all important and potentially effective mass mobilisation points—but raising these issues has still not had the desired outcome.

The reason is simple: no single issue, however important, can make a great difference unless it is woven into a holistic narrative. Raising the powerful Rafale issue in 2019 failed for precisely this reason.

Similarly, in spite of providing reasonably good welfare-oriented governance, the Congress lost Rajasthan because as one voter put it to a newsperson: “Yes, Ashok Gehlot has done a great job, but Modi is making India really great.”

Of course, this false impression is a result of incessant propaganda—but how does one effectively counter it?

This can be done only by reclaiming nationalist fervour.

An emotional connect with the past and a concern for the future plays a crucial role in all societies. Patriotic sentiment can be articulated in a regressive, bigoted, hyper-nationalistic way, a la the BJP-Sangh, or as a democratic, inclusive nationalism, a la the Congress of yore. Academic debates can continue on the merits of nationalism, but in everyday politics, the power of nationalism cannot be denied.

It is also important for various parties in the INDIA bloc to restrain their motor-mouth leaders. The social ills of religions do have to be addressed, but it is both arrogant and counter-productive to use the kind of language a DMK leader recently did on the subject of Hinduism.

Similarly, demanding that portions of Tulsi’s Ramcharitmanas should be expurgated is to bite off more than you can chew—most of our current political worthies are ill-equipped to even enter this cultural discourse.

Besides, by demanding that books considered ‘holy’ by large sections of the population be censored, you are only arming the adversary that thrives on polarising people.

It’ll pay to redirect your passion towards articulating the idea of an inclusive Indian nationalism in everyday politics.

PURUSHOTTAM AGRAWAL is a political and cultural commentator. Views are personal

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