A Right-wing wrap around nationalism

Photo: Amarjeet Singh
Photo: Amarjeet Singh

Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel — Samuel Johnson

The nation is witnessing such an unprecedented situation these days that the ruling party’s ideological fountainhead RSS  and other affiliated organisations are zooming in on places such as educational institutions, news rooms and even court rooms, and mobs are teaching violent lessons of nationalism.

As many point out, the very idea of India and its pluralistic culture is facing major threats from these organisations. Will the BJP government succeed in the plan to weave a Right-wing narrative around the concept of nationalism?

Priyamvada Gopal, writer and academic at Cambridge University tells Tehelka, “The Sangh Parivar has succeeded in taking an existing Right-wing narrative of a Hindu nation and bringing to the mainstream its most vicious, exclusive, bigoted and violent aspects.”

Apart from the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, the sudden rise of its affiliates such as the ABVP , the Hindu Dharma Sena, the Durga Vahini, the Adhivakta (lawyers’) Sangh, the Dharma Jagaran Samanwaya Samiti and the Hindu Janjagruti Samiti are examples of it.

The result of this blooming of outfits was evident in the statistics the government recently released in the Lok Sabha which revealed that communal violence witnessed a 17 percent rise in 2015.

The poll-bound Uttar Pradesh witnessed 155 communal incidents and Karnataka, where Sangh Parivar has a strong base, is in second position with 105 incidents.

Other states where most of the incidents occured such as Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat are ruled by the BJP. When these groups started their plans with aggression on Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis initially, the civil society formed a wall to thwart this and it lead to the BJP’s electoral rout in Delhi and Bihar Assembly elections. It also lost 33 seats out of 50 in bypolls after the 2014 Lok Sabha election.

A paralysed economy and rising unemployment also added to the worries of the government. The suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula at the University of Hyderabad created an anti Sangh Parivar wave across the campuses.

Though the Sangh has spread its roots among Dalits and other marginalised sections of the society, the assertion of Dalit identity against the ruling dispensation got unprecedented support from civil society and students groups.

To get out of this difficult conundrum, the Sangh is now rewriting the concept of nationalism. BJP and other Sangh organisations leaders portrayed the Ambedkar Students Association, to which Vemula belongs, as anti-national and started to describe any dissent against the Sangh as against the country.

The next stop was JNU . Why JNU ? D Raja, National Secretary of CPI and Rajya Sabha member says, “After the Modi government came to power, the students and teachers were agitating on various issues. Universities are the places of ideas and ideologies and JNU is the best at it. That is why they wanted to take it on and intimidate the students. For that they are using the ABVP , though it is a student organisation, with the support of State machinery.”

Sangh Parivar has succeeded in the plan to mobilise the mainstream into a frenzy. They have used the news channels to implement their plan.

Channels such as Times Now, Zee News and News X which were the cheerleader of nationalistic fury, topped the TRPs for the past two weeks.

The paranoid psyche of common Indian towards Kashmir and the Afzal Guru issue was also exploited in a designed manner. The Sangh has more or less succeeded in dividing people as nationals and anti-nationals. Will this patriotic authoritarian nature of a mob lead to a communal flare up?

Eminent social scientist Achin Vanaik says, “The big riots may not happen. The plan is to change the public discourse by polarising the society in such a way that it benefits them in the elections. Now they are targeting universities like jnu because these are centres from which Sangh narratives are challenged vehemently.”

It is evident from history that ultra-nationalism was the final card in many countries, when they were facing internal or external challenges.

Will this strategy become a short time fantasy by the Sangh Parivar which will soon fizzle out or will it ultimately emerge victorious? Gopal says, “A counter narrative is emerging. That is what we see at the heart of the JNU row and in order for it to succeed, it will require an alliance between various progressive social movements — Adivasis, Dalits, Bahujans, Kashmiris and the Left in the widest sense of the term (not restricted to the official party Left). I do think that the resistance to Brahminism is vital to challenging Hindutva and as such, Dalit assertion is vital to the success of the counter-narrative.”

But even when the agitating students, teachers and academics are coming out in large numbers, it seems that the government is relentless about its agenda.

A cabinet minister getting enormous support from various sections of the society for her casteist and communal toned speech, which has lies and half truths, about the death of a Dalit student and the atmosphere in JNU, suggests that the narrative is well underway.