Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, warned Dr Samuel Johnson. I wonder what the celebrated English writer and lexicographer would have said about our friends from the Bharatiya Janata Party who love to wear their patriotism on their sleeve, ever ready to wave their flags and tridents at the drop of a hat. One wouldn’t mind their patriotic zeal so much if it weren’t for their tendency to offer condescending lessons in nationalism to the rest of the world, implying everyone except them is a traitor.
Every time it finds itself painted in a corner or gets that sinking feeling that it’s running out of issues to keep itself in the media spotlight, it dips into its deep bag of tricks. Like the Bedu’s camel, patriotism – or politics of patriotism rather – is the cure-all panacea for the Hindutva brigade. Combined with bigotry, ignorance and hatred, this competitive patriotism could be really lethal.
One has lost the count of hate-spewing yatras the party has organised over the past couple of decades to burnish its image not just as the champion of the Hindus but Bharat Mata (mother India) itself. And it always seems to work. Who cares if such marches to cuckoo land end up driving the nation of a billion people over the edge? How many innocents are consumed by its cauldron of hatred and bigotry matters little. What really counts is how many people are taken in by your rhetoric and end up voting for you. At the end of the day, it’s all about power.
This is not the first time the Hindutva brigade has given the call to hoist the Indian flag in Srinagar, the scenic capital of Jammu and Kashmir. We have been here before. Exactly a decade ago, Murli Manohar Joshi launched an Ekta (unity) yatra from Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of India, to Kashmir. After much hand-wringing and sleepless nights in Delhi and Srinagar, Joshi was rescued by security forces from his own dangerous devices.
Joshi was of course trying to do a Lal Krishna Advani after stepping into his oversized shoes. India can never forget the terror and devastation sparked by Advani’s rath yatra in September 1990, which eventually led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, not to mention the thousands of innocent lives lost in communal violence that followed.
India has yet to recover from that long winter of madness in the 1990s. However, it helped the BJP grow and mutate from a marginal player with two members in parliament into the ‘natural party of governance,’ as it once lionised itself. No wonder the BJP and its numerous avatars are on an endless road trip, perpetually milking the golden cow called patriotism. Consequences for the country be damned!
This is what the party tried to do all over again this week with its campaign to hoist the tricolour at Srinagar’s Lal Chowk. The stated objective of this yatra was to protect the nation’s unity and pride and honour. Is the pride and honour of this amazing democracy so fragile that it constantly needs the Hindutva forces to protect it? As someone said, a politician can drape himself in the flag but it is the texture of his politics which will determine if he truly cares for the nation or not.
The truth is, this is nothing but old-fashioned politics of opportunism. It’s just another cheap, attention-grabbing tactic. Or should we say, attention-diverting tactic? There’s a distinct possibility that the BJP came up with the idea of Kashmir yatra to deflect the undesirable spotlight chasing the Hindu groups after the recent revelations of RSS leader Swami Aseemanand linking the saffron brotherhood to numerous terror attacks across the country.
Aseemanand’s stunning confessions implicating the Hindutva groups in terror strikes on the Samjhauta Express, Mecca Masjid, Ajmer shrine and Malegaon mosque, blamed all these years on local Muslims, have caught the RSS and company with their pants (shorts?) down.
Whatever the reason, the BJP is out to extract maximum mileage out of a sensitive issue like Kashmir all over again, at a time when the governing Congress is finding the going tough. To the opposition’s glee, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh is turning out to be a monumental disaster. The World Bank-trained economist with impeccable credentials has had the rare distinction of presiding over some of the biggest corruption scams in the nation’s history, squandering all the goodwill the Congress had generated under Sonia Gandhi.
Kashmir remains on Hindutva’s radar for the very same reasons that it has doggedly refused to acknowledge all these years. Even as the BJP and company refuse to acknowledge the special status of the Himalayan state and all the promises we made to the Kashmiris when they decided to join India after the Independence, they end up training the global spotlight on the K conundrum with these shenanigans.
Where were these patriots when Kashmir was burning until recently? Throughout last year, the state was rocked by fierce protests that were not just against governments in Srinagar and Delhi and security forces, they were a vote against all that has been visited on the state in the past six decades or so. In the last quarter century, Kashmir has lost nearly a hundred thousand people to this never ending siege within. Thousands of men, both young and old, have simply vanished. Tens of thousands of Kashmiri Pandits have been living in refugee camps in Delhi and elsewhere for years.
In the recent protests demanding the withdrawal of omnipresent security forces, more than a hundred youths, some as young as 13, died in police firing. Even if those boys were hurling stones at the security forces, how do we justify such lethal use of force against civilians? Protests are not unusual in other parts of India. But nowhere else in the country do the troops open fire on a crowd of protesters. The reality is, even as we Indians proclaim Kashmir to be an “integral part” of India, we seldom view the Kashmiris as part of the mainstream.
For the Sangh fanatics and much of the establishment, Kashmir is merely a prized piece of territory that we must protect at any cost from the devious designs of Pakistan and the ISI. The Kashmiri people were never part of this scheme of things. As Siddharth Varadarajan wrote in The Hindu this week, this approach is the product of a mindset that considers Kashmir to be terra nullius, an empty landscape to be coveted and possessed rather than a land with a people and soul who have as much right to a life with dignity as those elsewhere in the country do.
But I think this is less about Kashmir and more about the skewed worldview of the Hindutva clan, which wants to paint this melting pot of a nation with myriad identities and voices in its own colour. Now everyone is entitled to his/her views and beliefs and change the world according to them. The trouble arises only when you tend to accomplish this at gunpoint, as our Taliban comrades once did – and the Hindutva forces have been doing all these years. In this idea of India, there’s no place for nonconformity or cultural and ideological diversity.
This will not go on forever though. India is not the country it used to be, say when the Hindu extremists held the entire country to ransom with their temple-mosque politics. India and Indians as a nation have moved on. Today, they have little patience for those who not only remain handcuffed to history, they want the rest of the country to sleepwalk back into the past. Globalisation and the unprecedented economic empowerment of middle classes, and those trying to catch up fast, have transformed the country and its outlook. India has truly arrived and is enjoying its new exalted status. It will not tolerate anyone who tries to spoil the party by dividing Indians along narrow religious and sectarian lines.
[Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Dubai-based writer who has written extensively on the Middle East and South Asia. Write to him at email@example.com]