The debate on 'The New Indian Nationalist' at the Manorama News Conclave 2019 in Kochi saw some sharp exchanges from the far corners of the political spectrum on Friday.
For BJP general secretary P Muralidhar Rao, the new Indian nationalism is rooted in cultural nationalism or what he termed “spiritual nationalism”. Rao said the idea did not involve conflicts or conquests. “New India is completely inclusive. We worship diversity,” he said. In short, for the BJP the nation was the new deity. Rao even argued that the country had lost its nationalistic spirit in its pursuit of modernism post Independence.
Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra spurned Rao's concept emphatically. “The new Indian nationalist is trying to thrust patriotism upon all of us. The new nationalist says your country is greater than everybody. I don't believe my country is greater than justice, definitely not greater than my allegiance to humanity,” she said, and added: “Any kind of nationalism that seeks unquestioning fidelity to a flag betrays the very idea of India.”
Moitra, who made a forceful debut speech in the Parliament, said that India was not just a democracy. “What we have is liberal democracy,” she said. “Being a nationalist doesn't mean catering to what the majority wants,” she said. Moitra gave the example of Britishers who mobilised money for General Dyer who ordered the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. “For majority of the Britishers what Dyer did was not wrong,” she said.
She then likened these pro-Dyer Britishers to BJP leaders who are too eager to garland those who had gone around lynching people in the name of religion. “Scary is the idea of fidelity to the flag completely bypassing justice or constitutional morality,” she said. Majority opinion, she said, can never be a substitute for constitutional morality.
Communist Party of India (Marxist)'s Mohammad Salim took on Muralidhar Rao for equating the new nationalism with Swami Vivekananda's ideals. “There is a lot of difference between Swami Vivekanada and Sakshi Maharaj,” he said. “Patriotism is not something to be forcibly demonstrated. Subhash Chandra Bose named his army Azad Hind Fauj because he wanted his outfit to be universally identified by the Indians. Bhagat Singh's youth organisation was Bharath Nava Jawan Sabha, yet another name that could be shared equally by all Indians,” Salim said.
Muralidhar Rao countered charges of majoritarian brutality saying that events like mob lynchings were “mere aberrations”. “You cannot speak of mob lynchings as if it had happened all of a sudden. This had happened during the last 70 years. When Gandhi spoke about non-violence, even during the freedom movement, there were violations of that philosophy. Aberrations were never accepted as the core,” Rao said.
Perhaps brushing aside the Sakshi Maharaj connection, Rao said: “Considering the words of small-time persons as the main philosophy is not right,” he said.
Both Moitra and Salim said that the BJP was rooting for a primitive country. “There is a talk about the medieval greatness of India and that we were plundered and that our collective ego has been hurt. We as majority Indians must go back to the ideas of original Bharat Mata and avenge what had been done to us,” she said.
Salim said that RSS had missed the bus. “They were not part of the discussion and debate during the freedom struggle. They were supporting princely rulers and the British,” the CPI leader said.
Moitra and Salim were also critical of the way Article 370 was abrogated in Kashmir. “We must stand against this thing that is being thrust upon us. I am talking about the process by which the decision was thrust upon us. Any constitutional authority, be it the governor or the president, cannot use his power to do what the constitution never intended him to do. This is not the India that I have signed up for,” she said.
Salim was sarcastic. “What is happening in Kashmir, you call participatory democracy,” he asked. Rao had earlier said that the BJP was sworn to participatory democracy.
The BJP leader, however, said that the BJP government had employed nothing that earlier Congress governments had not in the earlier years. “After all, Article 370 was only a temporary provision,” he said.