India needs upright clear-sighted intellectuals to defend itself

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Rohit Dhankar

The metaphor of India and Bharat are often used to understand the wide gap between relatively less educated and poorer rural India and urban India. The discourse on nationalism, patriotism and love for the country has brought to my mind a distinction which remains unnoticed or at the least unused so far, but also has a connection to this one.

There are Indians who are educated, have resources and often travel abroad. Most of these Indians have relatives outside India and all their children have aspirations of being educated in western universities. These people have a broad global outlook and possibility of working and settling down anywhere in the world. Many of them have arrangements in foreign universities for teaching assignments.  Let’s call this class Winged Indians (WI). Being a WI does not imply that they do not have roots in Indian culture, actually they may have very deep roots and understand Indian culture very well. It is only that they also have wings to fly anywhere in addition to their roots which can be easily up-rooted.

The overwhelming majority of Indians are much less educated and much poorer. They do not have relatives in western countries and education for their children is very tough struggle even within India. These people can have no dreams of flying to any other country and settling down there. Some of them may fly to Gulf countries as labourers, but that is very different. These people have only one country to look up to: India, that is Bharat. Let’s call them Rooted Indians (RI). RIs may not have great understanding of Indian culture and many of them may not even have a very clear idea of India as a nation or a country. But they have nowhere else to go, they see it as the only home they have.

These two groups of Indians naturally have very different attitudes to country and on issues of patriotism and nationalism. WIs are very relaxed and open about such issues; often to the point of being unconcerned. The extreme WIs deride the sentiments of patriotism and nationalism and pride themselves on being free from such retrograde feelings. RIs feel much closer relationship and belongingness to the country; no doubt of necessity as this big bad ugly Bharat is all that they have. Also, this is all they have seen and know about. The RIs cannot afford unconcern and demeaning outlook to India, patriotism and nationalism. If they do, they have no peg to hang their identity on; while RIs can change their identities like chameleons.

Indian discourse on politics and particularly of nation related issues—patriotism, nationalism, citizenship, history, culture—is completely in the hands of WIs and the lesser mortals who see the WIs as their icons. WIs are the people who are heard and published and aired in India and abroad; their followers create a dust storm of such ideas at the ground level.

The Hindus among the WIs are very hesitant to admit ownership of Indian cultural heritage, they want to show themselves as liberated universal humanists. I do not think that Indian heritage in any way contradicts universal humanism, to my mind it rather prepares the way for it. But WIs think differently. They are positively embarrassed if someone reminds them their Hindu heritage. Their hallmark is that they were unable to criticise even ISIS without first pointing out something bad in Hinduism (completely out of context) and then separating ISIS from Islam. After these two rituals they could criticise ISIS with further concessions made for obnoxious role of the western powers. By that time their criticism mostly sounded like a praise. This I have mentioned only to show how defensive and embarrassed they feel regarding India and Hinduism; and how morally bound they feel to defend Islam.

Presently there is a fierce ideological struggle going on in India. On one side are the WIs and on the other are Sanghi Hindus (SH). The RIs align with neither of them. SHs are too narrow mined for RIs and WIs are beyond their ken to understand. There is no one to present the views and interest of the RIs. The SH are intellectually deficient and are no match to the WIs in spinning language and international networking. First, the SH defence of India is overly Hinduised, and second they do not know how to spin an illogical web that blinds you to their fallacies. The WIs are masters in the second.

This situation forces me to come to the conclusion that India needs a class of upright clearsighted intellectuals to defend itself. Upright because the WIs (which is the intellect of India presently) are not so. They live on their reputation built among the specific circles of liberals. They rarely have a spine to criticise anything which is accepted by these circles, and even if someone of them commits such a mistake, a host of others attacks and brings him/her down to knees.

If we take the presently hotly debated Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 (CAB-2019 the situation will be clear. One, every one knows by now that the basically acquiring Indian citizenship is governed by the Citizenship Act 1955 (CA-1955). AC-1955 does not discriminate on the basis of religion and the CAB-2019 does not curtail any provisions already made in CA19-55. What CAB-2019 does is provides for faster facilitation of acquiring citizenship through registration and naturalisation and allows certain persecuted religious communities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan apply even when they do not have valid travel documents. This facility is available only to those who have entered India on or before 31st December 2014. This faster facility is not made available to Muslims coming from the said countries.

Now, one can certainly argue, right or wrong, that the bill is discriminatory against Muslims coming to India from the three mentioned countries. It could be a matter of debate if such a discrimination is constitutional or not, whether it is against the idea of India or not, whether it had become a necessity for India or not, and so on.

But declaring that ‘now citizenship in India will be decide on the basis of religion’, ‘No Muslims, this is India’, ‘India has become a Hindu Rashtra’, ‘India has become a theocratic state’, ‘India has become Hindu Pakistan’, and so on is clearly maligning India.

These pronouncements are against India, not against BJP alone. Criticising BJP is not a problem. Criticising the bill is no problem. Deriding India as a theocratic state is, equating it with Pakistan is, maligning India as a Hindu Rashtra is. Saying that the CAB-2019 impinges on the rights of Muslim citizens of India is a huge problem, it does not.

To my mind the bill facilitates faster citizenship to those persecuted minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who are residing in India for decades. To deny persecution of Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and Christians in these three Islamic theocratic states is impossible for any objective person, unless s/he happens to be a WI. The Muslims who have come from Bangladesh and Pakistan to India have not come here because of religious persecution. I do not understand why they should be offered citizenship on faster track? They can apply normally if they want.

Shias and Ahmadias are persecuted in Pakistan. But they also campaigned aggressively for separate Muslim country. They got their promised land. They have to fight their political battle there if they are still persecuted in their ideal theocracies, created by their significant help. Rohingyas are another example of persecuted minority in Myanmar. But it is a complicated story that has much Rohingya-bigotry in the background. Reading their history of separatism and violence on Rakhines has to be taken in to account when one decides on them.

In my view the people who deride and attack India for CAB-2019 are essentially arguing for faster citizenship to huge number of Bangladeshi Muslims. If there are any arguments for granting citizenship to illegal Bangladeshi Muslim migrants, I would like to know them.  Views and ways of thinking as I have expressed above may be wrong, and can be criticised. Counter arguments can be given. But a balanced person will not malign India and its democratic process for that.

The WIs need to be countered in side India and internationally not for a fair critique of the bill but for maligning India. SHs are ideologically unfit and intellectually deficient to do that. That is why we need a class of balanced intellectuals who can be sensitive to RIs, who can remember our tradition and our constitution with commitment.

We are still a nation, and want to remain one who believes in

अयं बन्धुरयं नेति गणना लघुचेतसाम् ।

उदारचरितानां तू वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम् । । ७१ । । (महोपनिषद ६.७१)

“Only small-minded discriminate saying: One is a bandhu; the other is a stranger. For those who broad-minded the entire world constitutes but a family.” Therefore, no discrimination on faith, but the faiths have to accept the same principle; no faith can be allowed to be special and discriminate against other people.

We are still a nation who believes in

न तत्परस्य संदाद्यातात्प्रतिकूलम यदात्मन: ।

एष संक्षिप्तो धर्मेर्ततवप्र: यन्दामकः ॥ (महाभारत १३.११४.०८)

“One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of Righteousness. One by acting in a different way by yielding to desire, becomes guilty of unrighteousness.” Therefore, no atrocities to anyone, but no one can be allowed to perpetrate atrocities on others as well.

We need to protect our constitution and its promise of secularism, equality, justice, freedom and dignity to all without discrimination.

For that we need intellectuals who do not make false exaggerated claims to prove their point. Who do not vie with each other to attract attention by being abusing India.  We need intellectuals who can criticise each and everything that is against these principles but without abusing us for what we are not, nor we want to become. Also, we need to silence, through pure force of reason, these Winged Indians who declare India a Hindu Pakistan on the drop of a hat.

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10 December 2019