Nationalism by itself may not be a bad word depending on who defines it. Though it may not be the highest form of progressive political identity, it still has progressive, liberal and plural content to it. For the right wing in India, it remains a single nation. Nationalism for it has little to do with the values that emerged from anti colonial and anti imperial struggles by common struggles of various nationalities for the creation of a single multi-national state called India. These values mean little for them as they were never part of these anti-colonial struggles.
Nationalism for the right wing is defined by a mythical geography called Bharat which consisted of several present modern multi-national states consisting of whole of south Asia including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Srilanka including the current geography sof India. According to them this was a land of the Hindus. Any changes which occurred in religious identities of people are only due to ‘forcible conversion’, ‘financial incentive’ or ‘manipulation’. It never occurs to them that it also occurred through voluntary choices as a result of inequities within ‘hinduism’ in the form of caste system. Moreover, religious identities are a matter of personal faith and mean little in terms of defining ‘nationality’ or ‘nationalism’.
For them, the only way to become a nationalist is to become subservient to the concept of a single Indian nation which is nothing but ‘Akhand Bharat’ with a ‘Hindu’ religious identity. Hence geography and religion become the defining parameters of nationalism. This has serious implications.
In the process of equating nationalism with religion, they automatically exclude large sections of minorities within its definition of Indians. In the process of defining the culture of brahmanical and upper castes as Hindu culture, all other cultural practices become subservient. Hence Dalits become anti-national. Tribals who do not practice this ‘Hindu culture’ become anti-national. Subaltern cultures which do not worship the defined hindu ‘gods’ or worship so called hindu cultural symbols as ‘cow’ become anti-nationals.
Their inability to understand the concept of nationalities and their struggles for separation or adjustment within the Indian multi-national state in a more humane and equitable relationship is seen as a threat by them. Those struggling nationalities are seen as a threat to this ‘Akhand Bharat’. They get defined as ‘anti-nationals’ who are out to break away from India through instigation from outside. Kashmiris and People in North-east hence become anti-nationals.
The highest form of expression of patriotism is seen by them as owing allegiance to the concept of ‘Akhand Bharat’ defined in relation to ‘Hindu’ religion. Any ideological positions either moderate, liberal or progressive opposed to this concept based on concepts of ‘modernity’, ‘secularism’ is branded by them as ‘sickularism’ and used in a abusive sense. Their allegiance to primordial identities of religion and caste does not allow them to appreciate the values of ‘secularism’ or a progressive ‘nationalism’ based on opposition to colonialism, imperialism or any forms of oppression.
While the right wing claim themselves to be ‘Nationalists’, in reality they are only ‘Notionalists’. The reason for the same is that their nationalism is based on ‘false notions’. These notions are that a) nationalism is a concept that is purely determined by geography and religion and anyone not subscribing to the same is anti-national; b) the yardstick of a common culture and religion is essential to determine nationalism; c) nationalism is not about co-existence of diverse religions, cultures and ethnicities in an equitable and mutually respectful manner but that of marginal cultures and religious and ethnic minorities becoming subservient to the majority religion and culture; d) nationalism is not about accepting ‘secularism’ as a value but prevalence of ‘majority dominance’ and ‘minority subservience’; e) nationalism is not about expressing democratic demand and dissent for a more equitable share or right to self determination by ‘marginal cultures’ and ‘marginal nationalities’ but to live under ‘prison’ conditions to protect the sacred ‘geographical boundaries’ even at the cost of ‘force’ and ‘human rights violations’; f) nationalism is not about protecting and promoting modern values of liberty, equality and fraternity but that of promoting ‘un-freedom’, ‘inequity’ and ‘hatred’ for maintenance of a mythical geography; g) it is fair to equate religion and nation, religion and nationalism.
Since the nationalism by Hindu right wing goes against all the modern values, it is important to brand them as ‘Notionalists’. Fascists who define themselves as ‘Nationalists’ need to be redefined as ‘Notionalists’. This will be important to save ‘nationalism’ from some of its progressive content. This is without denial of the fact that internationalism is a value that is the need of the hour.
T. Navin works in an NGO as a Researcher. He did his M.Phil from Jawaharlal Nehru University.