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Modern-day crusaders of Hindu nationalism running the country on theocratic lines

Young professional with working experience of 8.5 years in managing various functions of supply chain, especially in oil and gas and shipping Krishan Singh writes:
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While Nationalism is concerned with a country's identity with respect to other nations, the idea of Hindu nationalism is only concerned with taking only one faith's population into account and promoting it as whole nation's identity. For a country as diverse as India, a home to people from various religions, languages, culture, and tribes, this is a very problematic idea. 
For centuries India's diversity has being the object of fascination around the world. But the India of the past has been changing rapidly. From being seen as a vibrant democracy so far, the world today is looking at today's India with concern. As the country is being led by majoritarian politics and a party whose allegiance to principles of secularism is doubtful, we seem entering that league of nations which the world always viewed with suspicion. Giving up on its ideals of secularism and equality, the country increasingly seems to be running on theocratic lines. A country with such a diverse population has its own challenges, but India handled those challenges quite well until recently. Today's India is clearly divided like never before.

What made rise of Hindu Nationalism possible?

The scholars of political science are still trying to understand this sudden change in people's mindset and rise of Hindu Nationalism. Many believe that the path of secularism taken by the founding fathers and makers of the constitution opened up the opportunity for practitioners of identity politics. One thing that needs closer look is that despite communally charged climate after the partition, the leadership of that time was largely able to restore peace. If we leave out the riots of 1984, there were hardly any major communal riots until 1990s. The 1984 riots against Sikhs were sparked by a single incident, but any previous underlying communal was hatred against Sikhs was missing and therefore it can hardly be classified as communal riot, calling it a politically inspired riot will be more appropriate. In fact, majority of communal riots happened so far can be classified as political riots, as the necessary flames of communal hatred is generated or fanned by political parties. Following are the some reasons that allowed communal parties to come into prominence.

Muslim Fundamentalism

We must accept that the prevailing fundamentalism in Muslim culture didn't help its cause. Often, they are seen as following their own set of personal laws rather than the law of the land. This often made them the target of ever ready hate based politics. And perhaps it is this very underlying fundamentalism the majority of Muslim population still finds itself frozen in medieval times. About two centuries ago, the Hindus of that period were much more orthodox than they are today, but forcibly or willingly, they accepted the reforms. More than anything, the rising tide of hatred against the Muslims is the foremost reason why communal forces were able to make their appearances on political stage in early 90s.

Lack of faith in leadership

The government that came into being immediately after independence was largely consisted of the same people that fought for country's freedom. Such a government had already people's trust, but the later leadership didn’t enjoy the same trust. Also, the new leadership didn't have the same moral force that guided early leadership. Keeping power at any cost became the only principle. From then on it was just a matter of time that the leadership began losing people's faith. It was not Nehruvian secularism, but the failure of later leadership that allowed communal forces entry into politics on a wider scale.

Restoring Hindu Pride

Although the early leadership managed to keep communal forces at bay, but such forces were always there in the background. Keeping the communal fire alive, they kept reminding the people of historical wrongs they had no memory of, events they had long forgotten about. Through these constant reminders by 1990s they had generated enough momentum and support to demolish the disputed Mosque at Ayodhya while the case was still sub judice in the court. In today's busy life where people barely have time for themselves, their family, and friends, they we were somehow convinced into feeling sorry for the people long dead.

Lack of awareness of other faiths

Now, when at school we read the abridged versions of Hindu epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana. We also had some basic understanding of other Indic faiths like Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism through our history books. But we hardly had any books that covered other faiths like Islam and Christianity. It is important that are young students are introduced to other faiths too. Not having any basic understanding of other faiths leaves people susceptible to misinformation and easy target of hate mongers. The Muslims constitute 2nd largest part of Indian population, yet they remain the least understood and most feared group.

Striving for dominance not equality

While people like to talk and think about the lofty ideals like equality, but what they are really aspiring for is dominance. The emergence of Hindutva politics is the result of similar aspiration. The supporters of Hindutva politics believe that the state policy should be guided by the aspirations of Hindu majority population.

Nationalists and Anti-Nationals

Having discussed what Hindu Nationalism is, it is time to see what being a Nationalist means in true sense. As per Cambridge dictionary, the word Nationalist means "a person who strongly believes their country is better than others". This not how we Hindu Nationalists see themselves. Their aim is not to prove that how they their country is better than others, they are more interested in proving how their faith is better than other faiths.
It is fairly common for these self-appointed Nationalists to tag others as anti-nationals if they are found to be in opposition with any of government's policies. Opposition to a ruling party or its policies is understood as being in opposition to country's interest. Identifying people on this basis is not just wrong but harmful as well. Therefore, any policy should be rigorously discussed in public sphere and all ideas should be considered before government goes ahead and makes a final decision.
The fact is, if you leave out a very small minority that is involved in involved in acts of terrorism and violence, almost everyone wishes for his/her country's well-being. Everyone wants to live in a developed and peaceful country. Any criticism is basically the result of frustration when people's certain expectations aren't met.
No matter how you understand or define Nationalism, it essentially involves putting country's interest ahead of yours. And going by that understanding, how many of us can confidently proclaim ourselves as nationalists? It is a well-known fact that human beings are basically selfish by nature and almost always likely to put their interest ahead of others, it doesn't matter to them whether their interest deserves to be put ahead of others or not. Imagine being in a situation where an act of yours furthers everyone's or country's interest but yours, would you still do it? I suppose many won't. Unless one is willing to go any lengths to ensure country's well-being, one can hardly call himself a nationalist. This can involve - putting one's life & limb at risk, incarceration, or any other similar hardships. Instead, for most people, their love for the country doesn't go much further than their activity on social media. And such activities involve sharing theirs or others’ viewpoints, ridiculing or using abusive language for people whose thought doesn't match with theirs.
Such people consider themselves as the defender of country's reputation and are always on lookout for people whose opinion they might perceive as not in country's interest. But their area of interest and influence is limited to social media, rarely they come forward when they stand to lose personally. They are quick to backtrack if they feel that an opinion expressed by them can cause them any hardship. One can see the insincerity of conviction in their beliefs by deleted Facebook posts or Tweets. This is done to avoid any problem with government authorities.
Now, the question that follows is what allows people to proclaim themselves a patriot or nationalist, and others as anti-nationals or Urban Naxals? Only recently we are hearing these words with such a frequency. Did so many such people spawn suddenly or were they always between us? The answer is, such people always existed amongst us, but they aren't anti-nationals or urban Naxals. And probably the right choice for such words for such individuals is active citizens. And, we all have been such citizens at one point or another. It is obvious that if a government's policy doesn't match with your convictions you will be in disagreement. Where to protest, how to protest or not to protest is an individual's decision. Just being in disagreement with the government doesn't make anyone an anti-national.
It is impossible for any person to remain unbiased and at the day of election we all need to vote for one party or the other. Voting for a party is completely different from being a party member. People need to realize that even if they voted for a party that forms the government, it doesn't mean that they can't oppose its policies they think they are not in nation's interest. A true nationalist would be more inclined towards asking questions to his government than answering on its behalf and defending it.

Are Political Parties Nationalists?

Political parties often like to project themselves as Nationalistic in nature. Since parties are made up of individuals, they can't be expected to be more nationalistic than the individuals are. In fact, it wouldn't be wrong to claim that that no parties are nationalistic in nature. The primary goal of any party is to be in power, the path they take to arrive at their destination is not of so much importance to them. Well-being of the country and its people is the distant second goal.
In a parliamentary democracy, the opposition is always hoping for events that might embarrass the government and provide them with the opportunity to attack and dislodge it. This desire for such events extends so far that they don't care if such events come at a great price to the country. You will hardly ever find any opposition lauding government's good work. That's how opposition think like, what about the ruling government? As soon as a party comes to power, its immediate task is how to consolidate its position and grab more power. In pursuance of this goal, no act is beneath its dignity.
Also, a government that truly cares about country will keep its people informed on country's current state of affairs. However, it is common for the governments to suppress any information or fudge data, if it thinks that availability such information in public domain can embarrass the government. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines nationalism as "loyalty and devotion to a nation". Do these acts seem like acts of loyalty and devotion to the nation?
Political parties are short sighted in nature, and all policies are principally led by one and one concern only, that is, how a policy affects their electoral vote share. That's why we keep hearing it from certain state government they will try to cap the number of workers in their government and private sector jobs from other states. Such policies may help the state governments in increasing their vote share, but this is clearly not in nation's interest, but then winning an election is always the foremost concern.

Pegs Hindu Nationalism rests on

Today's Hindu Nationalism pretty much rests on its real or perceived past greatness of Hindu culture and hate for Pakistan & the Muslims. Indians love to hate Pakistan, but this trend has only seen rise in recent times. Even after over 70 years of partition, the obsession with Pakistan hasn't seen any decline. The hate harboured against Islamic state Pakistan is channelled against Indian Muslim population. Whenever one feels like insulting Indian Muslims, the common refrain is to tell them to "go to Pakistan". The recent CAA & NRC have the result of same hatred. The Indian government has decided to give citizenship to population of every other religion but the Muslims. India has been the land of origin of religions like Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism. And in the event if they are persecuted in any other country then they may have nowhere to go but India, so at one level it is understandable at level that citizenship is automatically provided to population from these religions. Now, the Christians and the Muslims share the almost same history without respect to India - both arrived as outsiders and ruled over the country. So, it is not clear that why the Muslims only have been kept out of CAA. If anything, the Muslims have more right to be citizens of this country. For one, the Muslim have been settlers in India for far longer period than the Christians are. And, unlike the Britishers, the Muslim rulers didn't loot and transfer the riches to any other country.

Reconciling the Past with the Present

The new discoveries and inventions have completely changed our modern lives, and this makes the task of connecting the past with the present increasingly difficult.
Unlike other major religions like Islam and Christianity, the laws of Hinduism aren't codified in a single religious book. The Hindu culture has been more like a collection of practices picked up and dropped overtime. The Hindu customs that are practiced today are different from the ones those were followed before 19th century reforms. The Hindu conservatives fiercely opposed any reforms and meddling in their culture then. The banning of Sati practice is perhaps the biggest reform from this period. The Britishers finally outlawed the practice after centuries of resistance put up by the Hindu conservatives against various regimes. The Vedic age is glorified as the golden era of Hindu culture. Though very few Cow vigilantes of today know that sacrificing cows and consuming them was a common practice then.
While unrestrained and unrelenting in glorifying their past, the very same people can't wait to leave this hallowed land to immigrate and settle abroad. And those who finally manage to accomplish this task cheer for Hindu culture from their new adopted countries with no intention to return.
Such people's pride in Hindu texts like Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas and Hindu epics, it doesn't go much further than theirs superficial knowledge, many have even never laid hands on some of these texts. Very few people can read these texts today in the original language they were written. While proud of academic excellence of ancient India, these very people want to have their children modern education and to be sent to private English schools. No wonder that very few Sanskrit scholars have been left today in the country. Another source of pride has been the Indian medical science. To see the neglect of Indian medicine system, you only need to visit any hospital today to see what kind of medical treatment and medicine is being practised there. The usage of Ayurvedic medicines has been restricted to less serious ailments, while for more serious ailments people prefer modern treatment. One can see many similar conflicts in their modern life and the past they glorify. The reality is that our lives have been completely transformed by modern science and the achievements of past have very little relevance today. But perhaps the biggest challenge that the educated Hindu conservatives face today is from ultra conservatives or less educated conservatives. The ridiculous claims made by these people on the advanced Science and Technology ancient Indians had, have been the constant source of embarrassment for educated fundamentalists.

Consequences of Blind Nationalism

Not too long ago there was a time when you could discuss country's affairs with almost anyone without being too concerned with which party or ideology they belonged to. It was common for people to blame government for everything wrong with the country. Topics like corruption, population, poverty, education, infrastructure, etc. used to be common themes of any discussion. But things have come to change rapidly in past few years. We have seen emergence of these modern crusaders. Blinded in their devotion, this group can't accept or see anything wrong with the policies of the government they voted for. The topics of national importance have lost their relevance. Identifying anti-nationals seems to be the prime preoccupation of this group. Emboldened by the faith of their supporters and not afraid of any backlash, the government has been pushing through its decision without much consultation and consensus. The TV media has been reduced to an object of census building and support for political parties. Individuals seen questioning government policies are thought be in opposition to the government are being jailed in the name of national security. Probably some years from now we will be able to make sense of the current frenzy prevailing now.
For far long Muslims have been criticized for being too fundamentalist and wearing signs of their identity in the open. They are often ridiculed for not being able to adjust to the century they are living in. And now the majority of Hindu population seems to be heading in the same direction.

No single faith or an ideology can't hold the nation together

Some people are of the view that there will be a complete harmony and peace once a certain section of the society can be completed suppressed and made to act like everyone does. Same people are also of the opinion that in the past, before invaders arrived, India was a peaceful country, and all the disharmony that we see today is the result of foreign invasion. It is a common misconception. Even in the past, when there was only one dominant religion in India, the society was divided on the basis of caste. We persecuted our own people; members of one caste suppressed the other even if both belonged to the same religion. Fights between kingdoms was common, maybe that's reason why that when foreign invaders attacked, the country failed to stand up as one and defend its land.
People will do well to remember that prevalence or dominance of a single religion can't ensure peace. Just look at the Middle East, even though being consisted of Islamic countries, the Shias & Sunnis (both Islamic sects) divide has been a major underlying theme of most conflicts. Similarly, one can also look at bloody conflicts between Catholics & Protestants (both Christian sects) in Europe in the past. History of all nations is filled with blood and war. Trying to go back in Indian past and finding a peaceful period will be a futile attempt. A society consists of different individuals with different minds and will always be divided. Even if we are left with one religion on this land and all religion based inequalities are removed, the people will still be divided among themselves on socioeconomic inequalities basis.

Conclusion

This brings to the dreary conclusion that majority of us aren't as big a nationalist as we think we are. And for most of us our love for the country is secondary to our own well-being. Thinking that any political will be anymore nationalistic then we are is simply a wishful thinking. TV News and Social media have been the biggest factors for today's toxic environment we live in. While TV News media has largely given up every scruples of journalism for ratings, the Social media was never really under any restraint. It has proved to be the favorite platform of hate-mongers, who think that by ridiculing, insulting and raising petty issues they are doing a great service to the nation. While we already divided on the basis on caste and religion, we have added another categories like nationalists and anti-nationals recently. 
Blinded by their hate and preconceived notions, people can hardly see any reason in opinions of others. In 1904, H.G Wells published a short story "The country of Blind". It tells story of a country which gets cut off from rest of the world and after a disease outbreak the natives began to lose vision. After many generations all population loses sense of vision completely. One day an explorer finds this long lost country; since he had vision, the natives thought that he was afflicted from some disease. So, to treat the disease they decide to operate on him and gouge off his eyes. Luckily, the outsider manages to escape from the country just moments before operation. The story perfectly captures the mood of our time.

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