Lust for power drives BJP’s nationalism

RSS/BJP are in a beauty contest in which the ugliest nationalist will win

Lust for power drives BJP’s nationalism

Sonali Ranade

Why does RSS/BJP want a Hindu Rashtra based on Hindu nationalism, when an Indian Nation, based on Indian nationalism is already available? If India is not Bharatiya enough for the RSS/BJP, we could change the name to Bharat, since the sacred Sindhu River, from which Indu or India derives its name, has already been lost to Pakistan. But what drives the need to invoke “Hindu nationalism”, which risks destabilising the Indian State, by giving rise to other nationalistic sentiments in reaction to those of Hindu nationalism?

A Nation is defined as a body of people enjoying a bond, anchored in common race or ethnicity, a common religion, a shared history, a common language, shared culture and a lived experience that binds them together into one coherent community. A state in turn can be made up of one or many such nations. India is a state, made up of many such potential nations, which cannot be easily segregated, though the potential exists.

While patriotism is love of your land, people, its culture, language, cuisine and way of life, nationalism, on the other hand, is usually political mobilisation of the people against an enemy: external or internal, often both. The purpose of nationalism is to unite to fight an enemy; or to grab power over others in a mixed polity. Nationalism evokes a more powerful emotional response than patriotism, which is why politicians in a hurry prefer nationalism as a binding force than the more natural but positive pull of patriotism.

Why does BJP/RSS invoke Hindu nationalism as the binding force and not patriotism, which is the love of Bharat, our motherland? Who or what are the adversaries that Hindus are required to unite against? Kyun Hindu khatre mein hain?

Has Pakistan suddenly become such a threat that we need to mobilise only Hindus to fight it? We have fought many wars with Pakistan, split the country into two and have been fighting its terrorist proxies in Kashmir and elsewhere for many decades. What is the Hindu mobilisation against then? Is it against an internal foe? Are our Muslim citizens the target?

RSS/BJP are evasive around such issues. We are left to draw our own conclusions about who the mobilisation is against, or why has it become necessary and what such mobilisation means for our minority citizens.

This ambivalence at the top is made explicit on the ground, where a concerted effort to shrink the economic, social, and cultural space for Muslims in our national life is being made. Indeed, it is being enforced with a degree of violence by party militia and/or lumpen elements with active state connivance, if not overt support. Nationalism of one group of citizens is nothing but a power grab over the rest.

It is lust for power that drives such narrow nationalism, by means that would normally be ruled out. For instance, our election laws specifically prohibit campaigning on religious grounds. The Hindu nationalistic movement tries to get around such laws, not by concealing such appeals, but by turning them as a condition that the aim of such mobilisation is not to achieve a state of its own. Rather it is to deny full membership of the State to those falling in the out-groups, by appropriating their share of the State. It is when the minorities are pushed to second class citizenship within their State, where they were equals before, that they too would think in terms of similar competitive mobilisation.

Muslims in India, like the Dalits, are dispersed throughout the country. They, like the Dalits, lack the geographical contiguity and local dominance necessary for a comparable mobilisation as the majority community. So, for a while, Hindu nationalism may not provoke an equal mobilisation among key minorities.

The danger however lies within the majority community itself. The key assumption being made by RSS/BJP is that their nationalistic mobilisation can be safely contained. However, they miss the internal jostling for power within the Sangh Parivar, some signs of which are already visible in Uttar Pradesh politics.

When open competition for power erupts within the majority community, the brand of nationalism will get narrower, more virulent, extremely radical and may even split the majority community itself along the many schisms that have been endemic to Hindus from times immemorial: be it caste, language, culture, ethnicity or lived experience.

If the Indian State is fragile with respect to irresponsible majoritarianism, the majority community is even more so. Competitive Nationalism will eventually fragment the hugely diverse Hindu community as readily as the Hindu Nationalism can fracture the Indian state. This is a beauty contest in which the ugliest nationalist wins. Why then do RSS/BJP follow a strategy that is almost certain to result in a disaster sooner than later?

The BJP/RSS are in denial that their mobilisation is narrow; that it is directed against minorities; that it will result in permanent schisms and that it will fracture the State and ultimately the majority communityitself.

In the lust for power, and to grab an opportunity to tilt the electoral field permanently in their favour, the RSS/BJP leadership desperately hopes that it can stave off disaster long enough to complete their state capture, and make it unassailable. Once that mission is accomplished, they may be willing to tamp down on the demons they have let lose. However, nothing in history says such demons are containable.

Look next door, at Pakistan. They played with the same identity-based fires and unleashed Bengali nationalism because of which they lost half their country. Even a shared religion could not overcome the nationalist rage of East Pakistan. What makes the RSS/BJP think they will get lucky in a far more diverse polity?

BJP/RSS must not forget that the sacred land of Vedas already lies fragmented due to similar strategies of internal dominance. If we are in some sense united today, that unification is more owed to the colonial rule. History’s lessons must not be overlooked.

We have a robust, inclusive State in place already. Where is the need to play with narrow nationalist fires? Is the lust for power so great that they are willing to harm, nay imperil, the very State that RSS/BJP long to capture?

This madness has gone far and long enough. It’s time for saner elements in the Sangh Parivar to take stock of where they are taking their Bharat Mata.

Views are personal

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