Among the nationalists


In recent weeks chanting the slogan Bharat Mata Ki Jai has emerged as the new benchmark for being the nationalist in India. And those who don’t want to shout it,  have some reservations or don’t want to be forced to shout it are anti-national. Or at the best they are less national. So, when you shout Bharat Mata ki Jai, you are national. And when you don’t you are anti-national. It is a no-fuss and no-frills test. No space for argument is allowed. Any reasoning means you want to back out of shouting the slogan and hence you get automatically marked out as the anti-national. The slogan has thus divided India: on one side those who want to shout it and on the other those who have a more refined notion of the patriotism. Muslims have specifically fallen afoul of the slogan. Asadudin Owaisi, a major Indian Muslim leader, has refused to  say Bharat Mata Ki Jai.

“I don’t chant that slogan. What are you going to do, Bhagwat Sahab,” Owaisi said at the rally in Udgir tehsil of Latur district in Maharashtra early last month. There was a loud applause from the crowd. “I won’t utter that (slogan) even if you put a knife to my throat”.

This soon snowballed into a major political controversy with Shiv Sena calling for Owaisi’s deportation to Pakistan for saying this. However, in Owaisi’s aggressive response, Sangh Parivar got its pet adversary in the trap. The slogan move had hit the bull’s eye: it acquired the desired communal dimension and split the people along religious lines, with RSS possibly drawing the disproportionately large chunk to its side.  The political gambit, as one can imagine, was primarily directed at Muslims. It is the perception of the community’s “suspect allegiance to the country” that comes handy to Hindutva forces to mobilize support.  And playing to this perception has more often than not succeeded.

Raising the slogan issue was a smart move. It was strategically deployed in the secure knowledge that Muslims would have reservations about chanting it. No, not because they lack the patriotism – leaving aside Muslims in J&K who generally look at the issue through a different political prism – but because of the religious reasons. Bharat Mata signifies personification of India as the Mother Goddess and it is antithetical to the Muslim faith to recognize a divine power other than God. Accepting ‘No God, but God” is basic condition of being a Muslim. The declaration of Islamic faith, the Kalima states precisely the point that there is no God but Allah.  Muslims believe in absolute monotheism and there is no scope of any alteration in it. And ideally in a country whose calling card is secular and democratic, no organization can impose its beliefs or its notion of nationalism on others.

Having said that, making chanting of a slogan synonymous with nationalism is such a cheap and a reductionist view of the nationalism. It trivializes the relation between an individual and his country, reducing it to a few contentious words. It is so unidimensional and unimaginative. And it hardly becomes a country of the size and the diversity of India, which has a 5000 year long history and a rich contribution in philosophy and Arts.    

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