The Rising Totalitarian Nationalism in India

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No nationalism is complete. In several ways, one can trace different hues of nationalism in India. But in recent days, the nation seems to be challenged with a totalitarian form of nationalism.

Notions of nationalism and anti-nationalism have become a discourse in media, with some drawing clear lines between people, separating those who are with the nation and those who are deemed as not. The lines drawn, and people are bracketed as anti-nationals, often based on fluid, trivial and almost irrational grounds.

One’s food habits, love life, and slogans one raises or refuses to raise strangely become the basis to mark the nationalists from the anti-nationalists. Hindu religion and culture is being identified with the nation and nationalism. It helps to look at all those who do not accept Hindu cultural hegemony as anti-national. Within this framework, democracy seems to be ruptured and hollowed out by a totalitarian nationalism. And that it remains uncontested, is profoundly discomforting.

The exclusionary nationalism is fundamentally not national enough, and can steadily lead to the collapse and death of liberal democracy in India.

Prior to the start of the nationalism debate, the nation witnessed a spate of events that showed some Hindu groups inability to tolerate differences in opinion, culture and faith expressions. There were umpteen media reports on attack on Christians, and how fanatic groups were passing orders banning Christian worship and mission work in villages of India. Christians along with Muslims have always faced the allegations about loyalty to religious authorities outside the country. Sometimes Christian response to growing poverty and injustice against the people is being misconstrued as allurement for conversion. Though, India has not shown any significant growth in the number of Christians the issue of conversion has always been an explosive issue in our country. Besides, there were incidents attack in book publishers, murder of atheists and rationalist all because they had a different, non-conformist, view point.

The danger that nationalism faces in this atmosphere of intolerance is deeper. The hostilities that emerge from intolerance has put on the mask of nationalism to the extent that one can shout certain slogans and indulge in vandalism and hooliganism beating up fellow Indians, and yet seemingly remain above the law. Some lawyers admitted publically before the media that they beat up a person in a New Delhi courtroom just because he refused to raise a particular slogan, which is widely perceived as one associated with Hindu religion.

The hooliganism at the New Delhi court room is not just a stray incident but is also a symbolic instance that often religious minorities have been facing regularly in this country. Everyone condemns violence yet violence when combined with nationalist slogans suddenly transmutes into some kind of patriotic action and instantly gets defence and legitimacy from several quarters. That is a danger. That is why India should critically watch nationalisms of all shades because it can degenerate into xenophobia and mindless chauvinism, justifying organised violence and tyranny.

The wide diffusion of an intolerant totalitarian form of nationalism cannot but leave us terrified as the very idea of India seems to be crumbling right in front of us. The prospects the rising tide of totalitarian nationalism is bad news to Christians and other minorities in Goa. Steady loss of diversity of Indian culture through its crafty homogenization and sigularization has always unhomed Christians in their own country. This state of being on an exile in once own home country will only accelerate in the coming days.

No one disputes that several forms of nationalism were evident in the post-independent India, but the aspiration for a nation free from colonial British rules brought all together despite difference of culture, language and religion. But when nationalism revives and hybridizes the divide and rule policy of the British colonizers, we are in danger of the new forms of colonisations from within.

While nationalism is a doctrine invented by Europe in the 19th century and borrowed into our country, it was naturalized, appropriated and assimilated and given Indian civilizational value by the right wing that never really fought to free India from the colonial masters. The two nation theory that emerged during the colonial era and resulted in the partition of India is still afflicting Indian society. Hence, it is not surprising that some ultra nationalists bracket some people as anti-national, sometimes based simply on mere food habits, and want them to go to Pakistan.

This indicates that we in India are travelling in a ship whose inhabitants throw people they deem anti-national into the ocean. The ship that is moving in search of a nation is allied to the mad ship that Michel Foucault, a French philosopher portrays his magnum opus, Madness and Civilization. This seems to stand out in the way we have witnessed how dissent is being silenced and stifled with the strong arm of nationalism by the present regime that has not refrained from using state apparatus against student rebellion at different universities in our country.

Impatience and resentment against a nationalism that teaches us lessons of hate is growing among the young people in the country. Besides, the attempt to promote Hindu hegemony through syllabus and administration, there seems to be an attempt to police and crush free thinking of students by framing them as anti-national just because they challenge certain ideology.

A number of incidents in the recent past that involved university students across the nation typify the way totalitarian nationalism has hijacked democracy in India where the denial, deprivation and erasure of democracy masquerades as nationalism.

The growing demand for constitutional nationalism made by Kanhaiya Kumar, a student leader arrested and jailed from New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University appears both relevant and urgent in the present scenario.

The developments in the country should only strengthened Indians resolve to resist and defeat a totalitarian nationalism that wounds India’s democracy, undermines its constitution and denationalizes Christians and other minorities.


Doctor Victor Ferrao, is professor of Philosophy in Rachol Major Seminary in Goa archdiocese and a social commentator in local dailies in this western Indian state, a former Portuguese colony.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao