The word nationalism has acquired a rancid, venomous meaning in Narendra Modi’s ‘new’ India. Instead of meaning love and pride for your country, it has become a weapon to be used against anyone who does not show blind faith in government policies and unquestioning devotion to the Great Leader. Ironically, in this time of serious hostilities with China, the Prime Minister, and the BJP, that is now imprinted with his personal stamp, have adopted the Chinese version of nationalism. It is a version that exists in all totalitarian countries but should be considered an abomination in our proud democracy.
The one thing we have that makes us a much, much better country than China is our democracy, so those people who have taken it upon themselves to create this new definition of nationalism are truly India’s biggest enemies. And, it is they who we see on primetime debates banging their strident, jingoistic drums and hurling abuse at anyone who dares question the Prime Minister on any of his policies. Sadly, some of the loudest, noisiest drums are being beaten these days by famous TV anchors. They seem to have forgotten that most fundamental of journalistic principles, which is to speak truth to power.
Modi has had a terrible year. Never in his long political career has he been more in need of people who tell him the truth. If someone had dared tell him the truth when the Shaheen Bagh protests happened, he would have learned that the women who were ready to protest through Delhi’s icy cold winter nights, often with small children in their arms, did so because they were genuinely terrified of losing their right to be Indian citizens. They were not idiots so they knew that it was not the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that was the threat but the way in which it was linked by the Home Minister to the National Register of Citizens (NRC). The Home Minister said menacingly and often that these two things were linked and then used Shaheen Bagh to try and win votes in the Delhi election.
The BJP lost. But, the poison that was spread in the name of nationalism and anti-nationalism had no antidote by then and Delhi saw Hindu-Muslim riots for the first time in decades. These happened even as the Prime Minister and his high officials were entertaining Donald Trump in Rashtrapati Bhavan. The media contingent that travelled with the American President came from the world’s oldest democracy and saw where the story was. They lost interest in the State visit and concentrated on the riots that killed more than 50 people.
When the violence ended, Covid-19 arrived. By then the poison of communal hatred had seeped into the political fabric of Delhi. So, senior BJP leaders tried to blame Muslims for spreading the virus. Rumours spread across the country that Muslims hated India so much that when they were taken from the Tablighi Jamaat conclave to hospitals to be tested, they spat at nurses and doctors in an attempt to spread the disease. A speech by the head of this Islamic group played repeatedly on news channels in which he was heard urging Muslims to continue praying in mosques because what better place to die than while at prayer. Speaking of which, where is Maulana Saad? How is it that so many months on he still manages to hide from justice?
When it became clear that the Chinese virus was spreading well beyond the borders of Delhi the Prime Minister responded with what is now acknowledged as the strictest lockdown in the world. It happened at four hours’ notice, and none of his close advisors appears to have noticed that when migrant workers lost their jobs in the cities they would be forced to flee to their rural homes. When Barkha Dutt walked with them on national highways to bring their stories to us, she was called a traitor many, many times on social media by people whose handles announce their political loyalties.
The lockdowns have not done much more than slow down the spread of Covid-19 but people in the Prime Minister’s inner circle are telling him that if it were not for him there would have been corpses piled high in the streets of our cities. If the media were doing its job, he would be told instead that the virus is going to stay for a while and that if we do not deal with our huge economic problems people will be dying from hunger and not disease.
It is in this terrible time that the Chinese have chosen to make incursions into our territory in the Galwan Valley. The brutal massacre of 20 Indian soldiers will go down in military history as one of the most barbaric acts of war ever. The Chinese are still on our territory and they are showing every sign of making permanent bases in the Galwan Valley. It was good to see the Prime Minister visiting troops in Ladakh last week but what he needs now more than ever are real nationalists around him. People who dare to tell him the truth about how he can lead India in this year in which his leadership is being so tested. Real patriots and nationalists are those who speak truth to power in the fullest sense of that term. Modi needs them today more than ever.
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