Just imbecility or malice all around

April 2, 2016

Rohit Dhankar

First some unidentified people in JNU raised slogans threatening to break India. Some identified students among them chipped in, with less threatening but still bad enough, threats to continue war on India. They, in their revolutionary wisdom, think that rejecting the Indian state and waging war on the nation will ensure justice with Kashmiri people. One wonders what is more important for them: justice or malice towards India.

Then the head of a supposed to be ‘Hindu Rakshak’ organization (Bhagwat) tells the nation that time has come when our students should be taught to chant “Bharat Mata ki jai” rather than issuing threats to break India and/or wage war on it. The supremo of the august body thinks teaching of shouting slogans is a matter of indoctrination which could be done this way or that. His understanding of nation and citizens in it takes him only thus far. He seem to think that it is a matter of ritual rather than concerns and commitment.

This wise advice to the country irks a chief of a religious fiefdom (Owaisi) calling itself a political party; which has its roots in the communal Razakar militia. The chief interprets the self-appointed Hindu-rakshak’s advice as a compulsion and strikes a defiant pose proclaiming that he will not chant “Bharat mata ki jai” even under the threat of cutting his throat. He makes it as if the self-appointed Hindu-Rakshak (Bhagwat) actually issues such a threat. The defiant pose of the fiefdom chief raises a nationwide controversy. And every one either starts criticizing him or defending him; some start threatening him and asking his to go to Pakistan.

Stroking the fire further a lawmaker in a state assembly asks another lawmaker to chant “Bharat Mata ki jai” out of blue; without rhyme and reason. The matter under discussion had nothing to do with Bharat mata, and the point the lawmaker was making was actually a good one: why waste money of statues rather than using it for public good? Not to be outdone the other lawmaker firmly refused to chant Bharat mata slogan. That made all the lawmakers in that assembly forget their solemn oath of protecting the constitution and they all unite to suspend the recalcitrant lawmaker; and simultaneously giving a blow to the constitution. It seems chanting Bharat Mata slogan is the crux of running the nation, while the constitution is only an inconvenience.

Meanwhile the party in power at the center (BJP) loses all sense of its responsibility and passes a resolution in its executive to the effect that criticism of the nation and not chanting “Bharat mata …” will not be tolerated. Well, the constitution allows criticism of the nation and does not demand chanting of any mata’s jai; but who cares about the constitution any more. Nor does it specify what will it do if someone criticizes the nation and does not chat the desired “jai”? This totally illogical and malicious resolution can be defended by no argument. But its minions at the ground level take the hint and start beating those who refuse to chant the desired slogan. Perhaps that was the only purpose of that resolution: to unleash violent mobs on the citizens who do not agree with them and scare them.

How can the most respected religious seminary (Deoband) lose the opportunity to jump in the frey? So it jumps right in with its illogical fatwa. It proclaims that chanting “Bharat mata ki jai” is not acceptable in Islam as a Muslim can worship only the Allal. As we all know Allah is extremely jealous of his unique position and accepts nothing else as worshipable. But the seminary sees no problem shouting “Hinduatan jindabad” and calling India “mathare watan”. They forget that ‘vandana’ may be interpreted as worship but ‘jai’ is not worship at all. It only wishes victory. Terefore, chanting “Bharat Mata ki jai” is not at all worship; it simply means ‘hail Bharat Mata’ or ‘victory to Bharat mata’. Not chanting a slogan and declaring it against Islam is not the same thing. You can refuse to chant it, that is your right. But what it is no act of worship. How different is the idea of ‘mathare-vatan’ than ‘rashtra-mata’? If not much it is a matter of the name only. But who cares about such niceties. You have to offer your own hard illogical stand against the others idiotic and hard illogical stand. As if they are in competition with each other to bag the title of ‘most senseless and illogical pronouncements’.

One wonders, what next? Are all these people (from the sloganeers, to Bhagwat, to Owaisi to Maharasthra MLAs to Deoband, and their supporters) simply confused or interested in spreading malice? Do they actually have any convictions at all, or interested in one up manship only? Where will this cycle of stupidity stop? Who is the target of all this illogical malice? Who but the common Indian citizen?


Demand of the Nation: blind worship or critical commitment?

March 17, 2016

Rohit Dhankar

According to The Hindu (17th March 2016) Maharashtra assembly has suspended an AIMIM MLA for refusing to chant “Bharat Mata ki jai”. The assembly is said to be unanimous in this expression of pseudo-nationalism; as BJP, Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP all supported this resolution. This is deeply disturbing and shows how small minded people can misinterpret and misuse the constitutional processes.

According to The Hindu a “BJP MLA … asked both [AIMIM] MLAs to chant Bharat Mata ki Jai. Mr. Pathan stood up and. said he would not do so even at the cost of his life.” The BJP MLA demanded this chanting totally out of context; and therefore, a test of their respect for the country. It was totally uncalled for, and he had no right to slight fellow legislator by demanding proof of their nationalism in this mindless manner. Mr. Pathan was completely within his rights to refuse to chant the slogan. He later on said “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 Hind; Jai Bharat; Jai Maharashtra.” And still he is charged of “disrespecting the country”.

This is blatant imposition of one single imagination of the nation on all its citizens. This is an attempt to create a religion out of nationalism, and deification of the nation. “Bharat Mata” is being seen in the same way as Durga or any other Hindu goddess. This imagination if taken toofar will decrease the respect for the nation rather than increasing it. Of course there are many people who see the nation in this manner. Of course, this slogan has been historically used my many patriots who contributed to the freedom movement and shaping this nation. Many of us grew up chanting this slogan. And so it is fine if you imagine the nation as Bharat Mata and love or worship it in that form. It is your freedom as an Indian citizen.  But all this does not make it the only way of expressing our respect and commitment to the nation. And it can take dangerous interpretations if pushed too far.

A nation is a shared imagination of its citizens. It includes their visions of living and flourishing together. It includes their aspirations and frustrations. It includes their cooperation and confrontations. It includes varied imaginations of the nation itself, of values and of peoples place in the system that they themselves create to make this collective life possible. The relationship of a democratic citizen with his/her nation is not necessarily that of a worshipper, or that of love. It is not a surrender of the citizen to the god of nation. It is a relationship of continuous creation and critique; of shaping and reshaping the nation. We as citizens shape the nation, we make it as per our imagination of good human life and aspirations of all. Deification of the nation demands abject surrender to that god, which cannot be questioned, cannot be critiqued, cannot be shaped and reshaped. This is a relationship of a blind bhakta. A nation that has only an army of blind bhaktas will be a poor nation and will not be able to take care of all democratic interests and aspirations of its citizens.

In this sense this imagination of the Indian nation as Bharat Mata makes it possible to love that non-existent imaginary goddess without respecting and caring for its citizens. Calling all of us Bharat Mata’s children in a sense infantilizes us. This is an example of a useful metaphor taken too far, too literally. It creates a false imagination that Bharat Mata is some kind of mysterious being that will take care of its perpetually infant offsprings. Or that it stands in need of these children to safe guard its honor. This is poetic imagination that might have its beauty, but the undeveloped minds who start taking this imagination as some kind of mysterious existence do a lot of harm to the very idea of a nation.

Remember the starting words of the preamble of Indian constitution: “WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC …”. It is we who create this nation, it is we who want justice, equality, freedom, fraternity and dignity for all. Once you create an imaginary goddess called Bharat Mata it becomes possible to worship that imagination and forget autonomy if its citizens. It becomes possible to profess false love to that imaginary goddess and support injustice and perpetuate inequality in the sections of its population. Making chanting of “Bharat Mata ki jai” mandatory for all citizens is an attempt to change the relationship between the nation and its creator citizens.

A critical citizen cannot be demanded to love and to worship the nation. All that can be demanded from her/him is respect for the constitution, respect and care for all its citizens and their rights, and commitment to its integrity and flourishing. Mr. Pathan violated none of it. Charging him of ‘disrespect for the nation’ is an expression of demanding expression of respect and commitment in a particular way that some people favour.

We as critical citizens of a democracy should avoid bind love and worship; and inculcate thoughtful respect and commitment. And st the end, let us recognise without doubt that the demand that every one chants “Bharat Mata ki jai” and that  shouting of “Bharat ki barbadi tak…” be considered ‘freedom of speech’ fuel each other. Both are unjustified and both are harmful for this nation.


Dividends of Divisive Politics: National Hysteria

March 15, 2016

Rohit Dhankar

Living and flourishing together in harmony requires acceptance of some principles and some dispositions. The first principle to my mind is to recognize all as your equals. This is to recognize that as you have a right to live in this world as per your own percepts others have the same right too. As you have the right to influence the words so that your chosen life becomes possible others have the same right too. But the differences are bound to be in perceptions, imaginations of desired lives, and therefore, proposed schemes of social organizations. The living and flourishing together necessarily requires ways of resolving these differences without making shared social life impossible and without subjugating the other; as subjugation will violate the recognition of the other as an equal. That makes it necessary to engage with the ‘other’ in a negotiation, a dialogue.

No dialogue is possible without an attempt to understand the other’s position. Therefore, the second principle has to be to make an attempt to understand the other without willful distortion. If one assumes the other to be evil even before the dialogue begins there can be no possibility of apprehending the other’s position. The third principle, then, has to be to begin with an initial position of trust. This trust is not a commitment to always consider the other as acting with good will. It only requires to keep an open mind, till it is proved otherwise. It demands a certain mental alertness to catch nefarious intentions and willful distortion of reasoning by the other and still maintaining basic trust in his/her humanity and authenticity as a person. The fourth principle I would propose is an unconditional commitment to the wellbeing of your opponent, even when in a serious battle with him/her, just because the other happens to be a human being. I know it is difficult and may be misinterpreted, but a genuine public dialogue is impossible without this. In this scheme of things the fifth principle has to be of being consistent in public reason. This demands epistemic fairness; you cannot use two different sets of reasoning, one for your friends and another for suppose o be opponents.

We as Indians now have a long history of divisive politics on the part of BJP and RSS; and of partisan politics on the part of left and Congress. That has violated all these principles. And has vitiated the atmosphere so much that the basic trust in and good will for other almost completely destroyed. The present day politics from both sides is a politics of hate, a politics to completely subjugate the other. It is not a politics of listening to the other; it is a politics of willful distortion of the others meaning to discredit. And therefore, it generates daily new cycles of stupidity.

The most recent cycle of stupidity is between Bhagwat and Owaisi. The steps of this cycle of stupidity can be roughly outlines as below.

  1. The Indian state fails to uphold the principles of justice, equality, freedom and dignity for large populations of its population. (Something could not be properly addressed after independence. Mainly due to control of a section of the society on the state.)
  2. This instigates some left-leaning students to shout slogans that indicate rejection of the state and the very idea of integrity of the nation. (The students are incapable of analyzing the complex situation. They fails to grasp the implications of rejection of the state and integrity of the nation; and to estimate the costs of such actions. They also choose wring symbols.)
  3. Bhagwat sees in this the opportunity to emphasize his narrow brand of nationalism, and declares that “Now the time has come when we have to tell the new generation to chant ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai (hail mother India)”. (He fails to recognise that there might be genuine reasons for the disaffection of the students and large sections of the population. He also fails to recognise that you have to improve the situation and get into a dialogue with the disaffected students, rather than “telling” them. He is blind to the fact that this country might have people who resepct it as much as he does but do not endorse the metaphor or imagination of the country as “Bharat Mata”.)
  4. Owaisi sees in this the opportunity to highlight his brand of divisive politics and declares “he will not chant ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ even if a knife is put to his throat” (The Hindu, 15th March 2016). (He deliberately accentuates the issue completely ignoring that Bhagwat is talking to ‘teaching’ this to the new generation and not at all of forcing people with knives at throats. Owaisi also ignores that different people come from different backgrounds and may use different metaphors and languages.)
  5. Now Shiv Sena jumps in and tell Owaisi to go to Pakistan! (As if it is a constitutional necessity to chant ‘Bharat mata ki jai’. They want to misappropriate the love of India for themselves and those who don’t agree with them should leave the country.)

Another related cycle of stupidity involves Professor Nivedita Menon. Which develops as follows, from the same starting point.

  1. The Indian state fails to uphold the principles of justice, equality, freedom and dignity for large populations of its population. (Something could not be properly addressed after independence.)
  2. This instigates some left-leaning students to shout slogans that indicate rejection of the state and the very idea of integrity of the nation. (The students are incapable of analyzing the complex situation. They fails to grasp the implications of rejection of the state and integrity of the nation; and to estimate the costs of such actions.)
  3. This gives an opportunity to the government to make an attempt to show that the JNU is a hot bed of anti-nations, and handle the issue in a highhanded manner by arresting Kanhaiya. (Without allowing the internal process of the university.)
  4. JNU in its wisdom stats a series of lectures to preach the kind of nationalism or its absence espoused by the dominant faction there. (Through this successfully converts the issue to that of freedom of speech and draws attention away from the real issue of slogans.)
  5. Professor Nivedita Menon happily declares that the whole world considers Indian occupation of Kashmir illegal. (Without defining under what parameters the accession of Kashmir is illegal. I have written a piece on this, it is here.)
  6. Some media channels start a campaign against her for this, some ABVP people also lodge an FIR (?). (They resort to vilification rather than taking on her in a debate.)
  7. The university academics and students come to her defense and call Professor Menon’s declaration of illegality of Kashmir occupation as ‘right to free speech’ but others’ rejoinder as ‘attack’, double standards. (They also eulogize her work and her teaching style but none provides answer to why the Kashmir occupation is illegal? As if a good academic and good teacher has all the right to make baseless declarations. They successfully fabricated another case of throttling freedom of speech while the government did nothing in this case. Also, completely ignore and make public forget her untenable claim.)

Now it should be clear to the common Indian citizen that the both parties (they are not homogenous) are grinding their own axes. Want public support for their espoused causes; but both are severely assailing the capability of the people to think clearly. They are fast distorting the public thinking and destroying public capability for rational thought, by being deliberately partisan. The Indian public is on its own in keeping its cool and keeping its mind clear. The BJP and RSS were always for indoctrination and brow beating their opponents. The so-called intelligentsia is more interested in perpetuating their brand of dogmatic thinking rather than clarity of reason and reflection. Both want to convert our not-so-well-functioning democracy into mobocracy of their choice.