Democracy, Citizenship and Nationalism in India

Image Source: Indian Express

The students in India are agitated and are on the roads. Several campuses of higher education have witnessed explosive protests of the students. Along the growing unrest, one can trace high handed state repression of the same. Are there any lessons emerging from this student unrest? What do these protests and resistance movements tell us about Democracy and citizenship and nationalism in India?

The UGC and the HRD ministry has become a centre of controversy and conflict and continue to be in an aggressive retaliatory mode. The brutal response of the Government to several student uprisings has only strengthened the resolve of the students. Moreover, political support and legal impunity that pro-Government faction, the cadres of ABVP, the student wing of the RSS enjoys in this battle has won the agitated students sympathy and solidarity across the country and the world at large. The balance of unequal powers that are on the road of collision is obvious.

Beginning with the agitation against the scrapping of the non-NET fellowships in higher education, appointment of the Chairman of FTII, the crushing. of the Ambedkar and Periyar study circle in IIT. Madras, the controversy around the ‘institutional killing’ of dalit scholar, Rohith Vermula, and the burning issue of anti-nationalism in JNU which saw an amplifying effect in other universities like Jadavpur University in Kolkata and Fergusson College in Pune student communities have raised their voice against growing threats of fascism in their campuses across the country. The resistance to the attempts to revoke the minority status of Aligarh University also has growing supporters.

The growing discontent among the students has a pattern and message to the government and society at large. Thanks to the cry of azaadi, we are faced with a plain truth: ideals, values and institutions like democracy, nationalism, citizenship have been almost. hallowed and eroded. of their meaning and new layers of a dangerous semantic matrix has slipped into them. This has wounded liberal democracy in India.

When democracy is juxtaposed with primacy of national interest or national security, suddenly unsuspecting citizens are rendered signatories to several forms of denial of democracy that are pushed on our people. This is so because that which is presented as national interest summons them to an authentic response. and their love for. the nation is milked to manufacture consent to the denial of democracy to save the nation.

Unfortunately, the imperialisation of democracy stays hidden and puts on a mask of legitimacy under the cover of a bigotry that poses as an authentic nationalism. The dilution of democracy and the constitution has rightly become the centre of the student agitation. The students. have felt the growing democratic deficit in their campus and are resisting its loss aggressively. Much against the intent of the Government, the student agitation is uniting other students across the country. Besides, the high handed response of the Government has only increasingly isolated the Government among the people.

One can find parallels to this politics of erasure of democracy and the way Christians and other minorities are unhomed in India. There is a steady erasure of the constitution that bestows citizenship by birth and a ‘photoshopped nationalism’ that calls itself hindutva.. has produced a discourse that held. majority of Indians captive leading to an uncritical acceptance a thinking that believed that one belongs to India by being a Hindu.

This juxtaposition of citizenship with Hindu nationalism has drained and squeezed the constitutional content out of citizenship and it appears legitimate to otherize and alienate the Christians and other minorities from India. The dilution of the constitution and denial of citizenship remains hidden in the background of what passes as legitimate nationalism.

Hence, the student agitation for azaadi in India and not from India becomes the door that opens us to a harsh reality of a steady denial of democracy that is being pushed on a significant number of its own people. We can discern the democratic deficit in other fields too. The free trade economy for instance, is not free. The free market is drained of its freedom for the local and small time players.

Hence, this loss of democracy almost on all fronts challenges every right thinking Indian to join the battle to save democracy and the constitution of India.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao