The rather intriguing debate over what it means to be nationalistic – or variably, a patriot – that started with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat declaring that all Indians are Hindus, and was given a far Left turn in JNU, finally seems to have arrived at a consensus. A nationalist is one who can ‘spontaneously’ chant “Bharat Mata ki jai”. For some freshly self-anointed priests of nationalism, that is the only definition. The Shiv Sena believes citizenship should be decided by that. Waris Pathan – a Maharashtra MLA of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and a worthy follower of his maverick party chief Asaduddin Owaisi -has been suspended by a unanimous, even if patently illegal, resolution of the Maharashtra Assembly for refusing to give this proof of his nationalism.
Asaduddin Owaisi may be forging his AIMIM as a perfect counterfoil to the RSS, but the Congress supporting the resolution in the Maharashtra Assembly is proof that the country may be perilously close to giving in to the easiest-to-sell far-right nationalistic ideology. If you can’t beat them, join them. The Maharashtra Speaker said the action against Pathan followed the ‘sentiment’ of the House. When perceptions matter, they have to matter on all sides. It is not the words ‘Bharat Mata’, but the idea behind it that is sought to be conjured in certain quarters, that makes some among the minorities wary. Forcing someone to do something itself raises a red flag. In any case, if a person is accused of being anti-national, it is for the prosecutor to prove the guilt, not for the suspect to demonstrate his innocence.
Sober political leadership demands that the “nationalist” rhetoric be reined in before it gets totally out of hand. India is a fragile democracy. It is a dangerous game to allow narrow ideas and narrower men to deplete and disrupt our social harmony. The road to harmony in India is not to be paved with a steamroller of a single definition of nationalism but must be cemented with accommodation and cooption. Assimilation will follow, all it needs is patience.