There is no doubt that the rising tide of illiberalism and intolerance is assuming alarming proportions. As the ideologue of the BJP, the RSS and the fringe elements of theÂ Sangh Parivar areÂ testing the waters in various forms. It is preposterous on the part of the Shiv Sena, an ally of the rulingÂ BJP in Maharashtra,Â toÂ demandÂ revocation of the citizenship of those who refuse to chant “”Bharat Mata ki Jai””. These are all manifestations of the Hindutva ideology which has been described in certain quartersÂ as highly reactionary even though the RSS has been variouslyÂ described as a cultural organization.
Open Society – Diversity, Plurality
Â Moral majoritarians fail to see the futility of their words and deeds. They are undermining the fundamental principles of an open and free society: diversity, plurality and choice. BJP president Amit Shah taking questions at the India Today conclave barely two days backÂ on Thursday Â (March 17) emphasized that not chanting “”Bharat Mata ki Jai”” is being anti-national. This matter should be explained to those who don’t understand it.Â ItÂ started with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat declaring that all Indians are Hindus. A nationalist is one who spontaneously chants “”Bharat Mata ki Jai.”” TheÂ matter flared up in the Maharashtra assembly leading to theÂ unanimousÂ suspension of Waris Pathan, an MLA of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM), for the rest of this budget session. HisÂ party supremo Asaduddin Owaisi, a Lok Sabha member, had refused to chant “”Bharat Mata ki Jai”” in the first instance.
The Speaker of the assembly refused to cite any rule as none existed in this regard butÂ observed the suspension was ordered because of the sentiment in the House. Legal experts questioned the suspension saying it is patently illegal. The Congress supporting the resolution is a pointer to the party falling prey to the far right nationalistic ideology. Reacting to his suspension,Â Pathan stressed: “”I love my country. I was born here and I will die here. I can never dream of insulting my country. Don’t judge anyone’s love for the country by just one slogan. Jai Hindi, Jai Bharat, Jai Maharashtra.“”Â ThisÂ has created an element of unease amongÂ the minorities. Owaisi whipped up a stormÂ by saying he will not chant “”Bharat Mata ki Jai”” even if a knife is put to his throat evokingÂ political reaction flowing thick and fast. NCP spokesperson observed everyone might not agree with the views of the RSS and the BJP. Al-Nasser Zakaria of the CongressÂ alleged that the Shiv Sena is only indulging in politics of hypocrisy.
All this raises a serious question if liberal values are being subverted. There was also the attack on four Kashmiri students in Mewar University in Rajasthan for allegedly eating beef in their hostel room but it was later confirmed that it was not beef butÂ mutton. This is reminiscent of what happenedÂ in Dadri in September last yearÂ with one unfortunate twist that Mohmmad AkhlaqueÂ was lynched to death byÂ the fringe elements of the saffron brigade for allegedly consuming beef which was not the case.Â Though nobody should be asked to chant the slogan it is regrettably being projected as a test of one’s patriotism. This has the portends of leading to a dangerous religious polarization.Â Bollywood actor Anupam Kher tweeted that the only definition of nationalism for ‘Bharatwasis’ should be the slogan “”Bharat Mata ki Jai””.
Such moral policing is against the very grain of democracies. At the same time Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi made a tellingÂ point that “”respecting the Flag means respecting the opinion of every Indian…you cannot destroy the Indian flag Â by destroying the relationship between our people.”” Simultaneously, the role of his Congress party in the suspension ofÂ Pathan cannot be summarily dismissed. They must accept the blame.
Our Constitution – The Guiding Force
The Constitution remains theÂ guiding force. In such a large andÂ diverse country as India, autonomy of opinion is being increasingly questioned. It is time that the political leadership which has inexorably maintained a stoic silence reins in the rhetoric before it gets out of hand.Â The hallmark of nationalism is accommodating various points of viewÂ rather than forcing down one’s throat a single definition of nationalism.
(T R Ramachandran is a senior journalist and commentator. The views are personal.)Â “