It is not as simple a binary as it is appears to be: national versus the so called “anti-national”. There are dark underlying forces at play that seek to create ghettos of the mind. Let’s make it clear that it is the nationalist Hindutva groups that call the Other “anti-nationals” in a bid to create a perception that some Indians are more Indian than the Other.
The More Indian is being projected as the pure Indian, the true nationalists, who are the upholders of a united Bharat Mata. While the imputations against the Other (the ones who are called beef-eating anti-national) are that the impure, lazy strain feeds off the fat of the land and do nothing except try to divide India geographically.
These loud accusations are accompanied by mob hysteria and murderous violence. And a fear is engineered that the idea of India will disintegrate unless India is protected from the enemy. So an illusionary enemy is created and to do so national is pitted against the so called anti-national, non beef-eater against beef eater, Hindu against Muslim, Hindu against Christian, Dalit against Muslim, Hindu against Dalit, egalitarian society against reservation, dying soldiers against student politics, the true tolerant against the pseudo- tolerant, the good Indian actor against the anti-national actor and so on and so forth… And then to make the illusion look real an enemy is identified.
Usually an ordinary law abiding Indian is singled out and regarded as the enemy. Then there is much ado that this enemy has the sinister design of dividing India. We have witnessed two prime examples of one man accused of keeping beef in his fridge in Dadri and of another, raising anti-national slogans in the JNU campus. He is then thrashed physically while his character is attacked on television and social media. (In both cases the accusations have been proved to be false.)
The natural corollary to all this is that Indian is pitted against Indian. The so called nationalist forces have succeeded in producing instability in society and have managed to divide India much more than any enemy, illusionary or real, has done since Independence.
In this context we must read again JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar’s speech on the night of March 3, on his release on bail from Tihar jail. Kanhaiya has challenged this pure, exclusivist, Brahaminical notion of Nationalism that Hindutva forces are propounding. Kanhaiya carefully stitches together all that the Hindutva forces have tried to divide. He weaves into his narrative a universal brotherhood of the farmer being his father and the soldier his brother.
He questions the BJP’s divisive politics even as they doctor videos to prove that he is an anti-national. He exposes the binary they are erecting and the false debate they are creating in the country. Here is the translation of his speech on March 3, from The Wire website:
“You cannot simply dilute our struggle by saying that on the other side of the picture are the country’s youths who are dying on the border. I salute these heroic figures. I have a question for a BJP leader who made a statement in Parliament…. On the floor of the Lok Sabha this BJP leader thundered that the country’s youth are dying at the border.
I want to ask that leader – is that youth a brother to you? The thousands of farmers who are committing suicide, who grow grain for us and our youth on the border; farmers who are fathers to these youths – do you have anything at all to say about that, about them? I want to tell that leader the farmer who works in the field is my father, and it is my brother who joins the army. By erecting this binary don’t you go creating a false debate in the country – because those who die for the country die within the country and also on the borders of this country.”
Interestingly, it is just not politicians and lumpen elements who are working on this binary, even actors like Anupam Kher are busy at it. And strangely so is Malayalam film star Mohanlal. It came as a surprise when the superstar in the middle of February articulated his views titled “Respect Freedom, Respect it’s price too” (sic) in his blog: The Complete Actor. He carefully pits the students against the soldiers. Mohanlal’s post opens with the question: When India is dying what are we living for? He then goes on to express his disgust at the discussions and fights going on in the name of nationalism. He calls these debaters traitors for they do it from the comfort of their campuses and office spaces unlike the soldiers who are defending the country from the icy peaks of Siachen.
He makes sweeping generalisation of Indians accusing them of sleeping till 10 am in the morning under the comforts of thick blankets during winter and using hot water to brush their teeth, have their bath, and then troop off to offices and universities to fight about nationalism. He adds they continue their discussion sitting by the “fireside” and drinking “whiskey” while soldiers are sacrificing their lives for the country. “We are mocking our soldiers who have sacrificed their lives when we fight about nationalism in the most dirty manner.”
However this superstar’s blog has not gone down too well with netizens. It has been neatly torn apart by his many fans and critics even before Kanhaiya spoke so eloquently about this binary that is being erected. They have been quick to point out that though Mohanlal is a fantastic actor his political views are very immature. One commenter puts it in a matter-of-fact tone, “Mr Lal, after reading your blogpost I have realised you don’t know a chukku ( a thing) about India….” Though there are some fierce defenders of Lalism his critics seemed to hold sway with writers like Benyamin and Basheer Vallikkunnu lending their bit.
Mohanlal’s choice of words (whiskey, fireside) seemed to be out of sync with at least 90 per cent of Indians was another comment because most Indians live below the poverty line and the others are struggling to survive. His didactic tone exhorting all parents to teach their children about culture was questioned by a critic.
His defenders say it was a timely intervention on the part of the actor for he holds an honorary military post. Mohanlal, who has acted in over 320 films, was the first actor to be given an honorary military post of Lt. Colonel in 2008. Others feel that Mohanlal’s exercise linking the death of the soldiers to the debate and protests in JNU is too simplistic for he has failed to understand the nuances.
Writer Benyamin on his FB post has warned that such glorification of the military is unnecessary in a democracy as they are expected to do their duty. Benyamin points out that one does not have to look far to see the countries which had military despots ruling them like Saddam Hussein, Pervez Mushraf, Zia Ul-Haq, Idi Amin, Colonel Gaddafi etc… While a few actors in the film fraternity who do not want to be quoted think this is a political statement from Mohanlal for he may be hoping for another Padma from the government.
However, if Mohanlal wants his political views to be taken seriously then there has to be a lot more than creating simple binaries with a dose of Lalism. For a start Mohanlal should listen to Kanhaiya’s speech and decide if it is “dirty” after all. Monae Dinesha!