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We have reached a place of ugly, triumphant majoritarianism

The injection of religious symbolism into the idea of India is deliberate, and dangerous

columns Updated: Feb 27, 2016 01:25 IST
Anti-national,JNU,Bharat Mata
Lawyers clash among themselves at Patiala House Courts where JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar was produced on February 17 (PTI Photo)

The sons of Bharat Mata have put their love on public display and it is not a pretty sight. At the Patiala House district court, men in black shout Bharat Mata Ki Jai as they assault journalists, students, teachers and even a panel of senior lawyers sent by the Supreme Court.

Caught on camera is BJP MLA OP Sharma chasing and hitting an activist as policemen watch quietly. A day later, the mob assaults Kanhaiya Kumar, the president of Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union, arrested on yet-to-be-proved charges of sedition.

On TV, the BJP’s official spokesman – the same person who uses doctored videos on primetime -- asks his co-panelists to chant with him: Bharat Mata Ki Jai. They do not oblige.

Outside Parliament, home minister Rajnath Singh and HRD Minister Smriti Irani reiterate that insults to Mother India will not be tolerated. Inside the House, Irani’s fiery speech refers to mahisasur, the demon slayed by Durga and worshipped by some communities who believe he was cheated out of a victory. A demand by students for beef is obviously an anti-national act in this worldview.

The invocation to Bharat Mata is troubling for two reasons. First, the image of Bharat Mata, bedecked as a Goddess alongside a lion, is inimical to an avowedly secular country. Ministers sworn to uphold the principles of the Republic might want to remember this and restrict their right to worship to their private spaces.

But when the government omits the words ‘socialist’ and ‘secular’ from the Preamble in a government ad on Republic Day last year, when its ministers make liberal use of Hindu iconography in Parliament, and when its ally, the Shiv Sena asks for the word ‘secular’ to be dropped altogether, then you wonder if a deeper agenda – the installation of a Hindu nation -- is at play.

Second, the injection of religious symbolism reduces nationhood to a cult and places criticism in the category of blasphemy. Insults to the Mother Goddess must be righteously avenged and violence becomes legitimised. On TV, an unrepentant Sharma asks: “If someone abuses your mother then will you not hit him?”

The purpose of the believers is not so much the defence of the nation as the imposition of a monolithic code and the intimidation of ideas, people and concepts inimical to it. (I also find the invocation to Bharat Mata troubling, given the believers’ free use of abuse against women in general -- bazaaru aurat, presstitute etc. Of course, this abuse cuts across political lines as some sort of pan-national sport.)

There is an inherent contradiction. You cannot claim a love for country while stomping on its Constitutional values.

You cannot swear to defend Bharat Mata while showing such flagrant disrespect for rule of law. You cannot brandish the Tricolor in one hand while wielding a stick in the other. And you cannot justify criminal violence by hiding behind a thin fig leaf of pseudo patriotism.

So far there is not a single video that shows Kanhaiya shouting anti-national slogans and police are yet to arrest those who did. Instead, those who are in clear breach of the law by their public display of violence are out on bail after a tardy arrest.

Last week, as the sons of Bharat Mata went on their rampage, every establishment essential to our democracy – the courts, media, universities, Opposition parties -- came under attack. This is not to suggest that these institutions are flawless. Far from it. But the substitution of reasoned debate by an unleashing of anarchy cannot be patriotic by any stretch and as a citizen I am deeply affronted to see my country’s flag being brandished by such a menacing mob.

In less than two years, we have reached a place of ugly, triumphant majoritarianism. The early experiments with love jihad and ghar wapsi now seem like mere pit stops in a far longer journey. The din of the national/anti-national debate masks one fact: at stake is the heart and soul of India. Who will fight for it?

The views expressed by the author are personal, she tweets @namitabhandare

First Published: Feb 26, 2016 23:43 IST