Tracing the anti-national: you could be the next

Parijata Bhardwaj

Parijata is an advocate by profession who was with the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group from 2013 to 2015. Presently, she is practising in the bombay high Court with advocate Yug mohit Chaudhry.

‘Anti-national’ is the word of the hour. Whether it is shouted at nauseatingly high decibel levels by politicians and news anchors or become the justification for lawlessness, it has very firmly and surely occupied centre stage in lives of a vast majority. As many have argued the term has existed for long and has universally been one of the favoured weapons in the arsenal of the State to tarnish the credibility of anyone pointing out its failings. Though, the one factor which distinguishes the record of the present government from that of its predecessors is not only its Hindutva derived definition of nationhood but also the frequency and aggression with which it terms any dissent to this idea of nationhood as anti-national.

The Anti-national list

The BJP government came into power on 16 May 2014, but the term ‘anti-national’ was a part of the parties arsenal during the election campaign itself. The campaign was rife with party members labeling people opposing Modi not only as anti-national but also demanding that they should leave the country and go to Pakistan. Thus, equating a Modi to the nation and showcasing the reactionary nature of the party. The demand of shipping dissenters to Pakistan stems from the basic ideology of the parties patron saint, the RSS which vehemently defines India as a Hindu rashtra with Muslims as the marauders, who chose to sever ‘Mother India’ and create a land for themselves-Pakistan.

One of the first attacks unleashed by the Government, was the targeting NGOs, activists and intellectuals allegedly tarnishing the image of India based on a report of the IB. All of them were together labeled as ‘anti-national’. The government at no point clarified how these organizations, institutions and people working for the enforcement of the rights of the people became ‘anti-national’ but one of the charges leveled was the alleged foreign funds received by the institutions which the government termed coloured the intent behind their acts. Though, the same logic was not applied to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad which receives one of the highest foreign contributions. Furthermore, foreign funding does not seem to trouble the government when it comes to realm of the market. On all his visits out of the country Modi, never fails to make a pitch for increase in foreign investment in the country whether it be in the realm of infrastructure, mining or even education, irrespective of the implications of these investments for the vast majority of the population.

Then came the beef ban, for after all the food of the citizenry also needed to be in the interests of the Hindu nation. The considerations of beef being a staple constituent of meals for Dalits, the adivasis, the muslims and the poor were not important in the light of the hallowed status of the cow. Yet again criticisms to the policy were not met with any reasoned arguments but sharp allegation of being yet again anti-national for not according the respect the holy cow deserved. Of course, the basic respect which a person is entitled to by virtue of being a human was something irrelevant and this gained further clarity with the brutal Dadri lynching.

The tenor of the government’s response whether it be calling the incident an accident or stating that if the meat was found to be beef the killing was justified, revealed yet again with alarming clarity the aggression with which the idea of India as a Hindu nation was being propagated. It was this brazen insensitivity coupled with the murders of Dabholkar and Kalburgi, which initiated a revolt on part of renowned writers or popularly referred to as ‘award wapasi’. Apart, from the writers the incident also awakened the previously apolitical actors like Shahrukh Khan to express concern over the growing intolerance in the country. Though, once again the BJP stuck to its hard ingrained script and denounced all the critics as anti-national and demanded them to be shipped off to Pakistan. There was no attempt on part of the government to initiate a dialogue or to even make an attempt to hear out concerns of eminent intellectuals and writers.

pastor nimolar poemThe next major act in the anti-national script of the government unfolded in the educational universities. Whether it be the Ambedkar-Periyar Study circle at IIT, Madrass, the FTII movement, the Occupy UGC movement or even the Ambedkar Study Circle’s assertions at HCU, they were all commonly labeled as anti-national by the government. Infact, the script in these spaces was also suitably pumped up thanks to the presence of the ABVP cadres. Since it came into power, the aim of the present government has been to control the academic spaces in the country, whether it be through the appointment of puppet heads or stone-walling of any dissent. Further, in Smriti Irani, perhaps owing to her long stint in vendetta filled Indian soaps, the government found a willing actor to brandish its anti-national sword. Whether it be passing orders to expel students, ban student organizations or aggressively invite investment in education, Irani has not shied from brazenly putting forth the authoritarian face of the government. This becomes even more evident when one takes into consideration the sheer apathy of this country to the concerns of the citizenry. The institutional murder of Rohith Vemula was also brushed aside as a mere suicide, with Irani refusing to even discuss the complicity of the ministry and university in the matter.

Apart from these incidents the hate speeches by the likes of Sakshi Maharaj and others continue to increase without any action on part of the ruling government.

The last few days have witnessed perhaps one of the most brazen and aggressive attacks on the student body by the present regime. Whether it be the immediate deployment of security forces into the university or the slapping of sedition charges against students or the arrest of the JNUSU student and the open hooliganism inside courts, it seems nothing short of a planned action on part of the State to quell dissent.

This need to quell dissent has once again gained momentum in Bastar where the police is evicting the lawyer group in Bastar -Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group, which has been working for the last 3 years in the area to enable access to justice to the marginalized and Bela Bhatia renowned academician and researched who has been working in Bastar since January 2015 as well as adivasi leader Soni Sori. The police has already been successful in forcing Malini Subramaniam, one of the last independent journalists in the region to leave her house for her alleged ‘anti-national’ coverage.
The aggression with which this label is being employed now promises that this list is going to expand.

State and its efforts to safeguard national interests

Now, while the State has viciously gone out of its way to target all the ‘anti-nationals’ it might be interesting to see what State has done to forward the national interests of the country. One of the primary agenda even during the elections was the constant assurance on part of the BJP to cater to the interests of the corporate, the constant hob-nobbing of the Prime Ministerial candidate in the private helicopter of Adanai further supported this assertion of the party. Unlike the other election promises, this was one of the promises which the party immediately geared up to implement, by diluting the labour laws and further initiating the single window clearance system for projects to remove unnecessary and harrowing clearances like the environmental checks etc. The next on the agenda was the dilution of the land acquisition act to make the task of procuring land for ‘developmental purposes’ easier. Of course, the large scale displacement and alienation which would be fostered by this policy change was not a concern for the government. The fact that the new land acquisition bill brought farmers on street demanding an end to their persecution prevented the government from passing the law but it did not make them sit up and take note of the basis of the protests. For within a few months later, villagers of Omkareshwa who were protesting the proposed increase of the dam height on the ground that it would displace them, were labeled not only as anti-development but also anti-national. Recently, in the Sarguja district of Chhattisgarh the forest rights of the adivasis were summarily cancelled for coal allocations in the interest of ‘development’.

The next focus of the government in its aim to serve the national interests was the future of this nation the children. The party has gone on and on about the duty of the child to ‘Mother India’ but somehow the State washed its hands off its duty to its citizenry. The government consistently worked to dilute the few safeguards the laws had provided for children. Thus, whether it be legalizing the work of children below 14 in household businesses or reducing the age of the juvenility, this government has had no qualms in stripping the child of the minimal security it had previously enjoyed in the welfare State. It is baffling how this State plans to instill nationalism into an entire generation by further exposing them to situations where they are bound to be exploited and face injustice, instead of nurturing them.

It is also interesting to note that the very same government which has been shouting itself hoarse at the students and intelligentsia for not showing the required respect to the slain army personnel in the Himalayas, is still dilly dallying on the demands of the armed forces on the issue of One Rank One Pension. The latest on it being a wishy washy statement of the defense minister apparently waiting for the analysis of the reports submitted as well as issuing a caveat against army personnel who retired for ‘personal reasons’ and not in the interest of Mother India. The truth is that the State while conveniently using the armed forces to forward its vision has systematically failed to even look into the basic demands made by them time after time. A report on the condition of security forces in Central India revealed that the primary reason for the deaths of the forces was not the bullets of the Maoists but due diseases like malaria and dengue which were exacerbated by the poor living conditions of the people. The concern for the armed forces like many of this governments words is mere rhetoric with nothing to back it.

The continuous attack within court premises of JNUSU president and complete disregard for the constitution reveals their lack of respect for the national institutions of the very country they are claiming to be defending. The truth, as written by an ex ABVP member, is simple the idea of nationalism as expounded by this government is nothing but hooliganism and fascism.

So what now?

As a young student while reading of the holocaust during the WWII or about the rule of Mussolini, I would often think how could the people have let things escalate to such an extent and be caught up in the tizzy of fascist nationalism. But as I grew up I realized that people especially the privileged sections have the ingrained ability to a turn a blind eye to injustice and work selfishly to safeguard only their personal interests. The injustice for them is a phenomena happening outside their world and while some of them might even have sympathies for it, this sympathy seldom translates into action. What is happening in the national capital is but an extension of prolonged the oppression of the dalits, adivasis and minorties. These sections for long have not only been labeled anti-national but also deemed to be perfect sacrifices in the raise for development. The only difference between the actions in Delhi and the experiences of the marginalized is the fact that developments of Delhi having affected several of the indifferent sections of the society has managed to mobilize support on a much larger scale and it is this support which must be capitalized. We should ensure that this momentum continues and work and creating solidarities across the country to challenge this fascist regime every step of the way, for if we remain silent now, years down the line the future generation is going to ask the very same question I asked, how could we have remained silent?