“Jab lal lal laharayega, tab hosh thikane ayega.”
“Bhagwa jab laharayega, tab hosh thikane ayega.”
“Tiranga jab laharayega, tab hosh thikane ayega.”
These three slogans are largely symbolic of the three kinds of nationalism seen on campus — left, right and Nehruvian. The first two are extremist, exclusionist, and imported. They selectively adhere to the Constitution and use political propagation tools of violence and intolerance. Rahul Gandhi’s visit to the JNU campus was in defence of the Nehruvian idea of nationalism. It is democratic, inclusive, pluralistic and tolerant as well as based on consensus rather than confrontation.
For the rightists, nationalism equals a monolithic Indian nation-state with fixed geographical contours. Allegiance and patriotism are symbolised through the sari-clad, saffron flag-bearing Bharat Mata, and in slogans such as “Bharat mein rahna hoga to Vande Mataram kahna hoga.” Anyone with a contrary viewpoint should thus migrate to the “other” country — Pakistan. The RSS had betrayed India’s freedom struggle in 1942, and had failed to unfurl the tricolour until 52 years after Independence. In the RSS mindscape, eulogising Nathuram Godse as a patriot is not an anti-national act. This majoritarian idea of India is one that excludes not only non-Hindus but also the many deprived and marginalised communities among Hindus.
As for the left, however much it may now project the importance of the tricolour or even use it in speeches or the “nationalism teach-ins”, their record speaks differently. A section of the left betrayed the freedom movement in 1942, and the country during the 1962 war with China. As followers of an ideology that owes more to Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Mao, there is a dichotomy between the left’s stated principles and its political actions. Refusing to condemn the Tiananmen Square massacre in China or the killing of top Congress leaders in Chhattisgarh by Naxals, opposing the inclusion of Jawaharlal Nehru’s portrait in the JNU students’ union office even as portraits of Marx and Lenin adorn the walls, and insisting on taking out a march on August 15, not celebrating Independence Day, but as a symbol of its “fight” against imperialism need to be seen in this context. That is why “Naxalvad se azadi” and “Aatankvad se azadi” cannot find space in Kanhaiya Kumar’s azadi slogans.
Freedom of expression and nationalism have, therefore, always been used conveniently by both the left and the right. Independence Day, Republic Day and Gandhi Jayanti are not even part of their programme calendars. The left clearly forgot their much-touted ideals of freedom of expression when, ironically, they disrupted then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s speech, while according a red-carpet welcome to Hugo Chavez, then president of Venezuela. The Sudanese ambassador was welcomed while the Israeli one was heckled and forced to return. Henry Kissinger was welcomed with open arms but not his compatriot Richard Boucher. More recently, the left objected to Baba Ramdev addressing a conference on the campus. Is this form of silencing really “freedom of expression”? Similarly, the ABVP has often disrupted lectures by the likes of S.A.R. Geelani on campus, even after his acquittal in 2003. A selective manifestation of freedom of expression and intolerance towards others are clearly evident on both sides, and numerous other examples exist outside JNU, too.
The freedom struggle was the principal force behind the Nehruvian idea of nationalism. Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, B.R. Ambedkar, Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad, and other towering leaders clearly laid down the contours of the Indian idea of nationhood, with democracy, pluralism, secularism and social justice as its four pillars. It is an ideology that says “Na Naxalvad na faasivad, Hindustan Zindabad.” The Nehruvian idea of “Bharat Mata ki Jai”, as stated by him in The Discovery of India, pertains to the victory of the mountains and the rivers, the fields and the forests, and, most crucially, the people of India. And that is the nationalism and the azadi that we must strive towards.
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