This week I write from New York. It is the day after Thanksgiving. I have come to this city twice at this time of year because it is the only way that I can be with my exiled son on his birthday which is sometimes on the exact date of this most wonderful of festivals and sometimes a day or two later. Before going any further I would like to remind you that it was suddenly discovered by the BJP that he was a ‘paid ISI agent’ after he wrote an article in Time magazine that was critical of the Prime Minister. He grew up in India in a Sikh household and did not meet his father or go to Pakistan till he was an adult but in the atmosphere of ugly nationalism and fake patriotism that has been created since Narendra Modi came to power, anyone with any connection to Muslims or Islam can be charged with being a Pakistani agent.
A Hindu actress in Bollywood, married recently to a Muslim actor, has been brutally and stupidly trolled on Twitter last week for supposedly insulting the Indian Army. This was because of a tweet in which she said something about the Galwan clash that could have been interpreted as a tribute to our soldiers and not an insult, but the abuse was so relentless that she was forced to delete her tweet. The Prime Minister himself defended China when he said that nobody had entered Indian territory or occupied any of our border posts, but he cannot be accused of being a fake nationalist because it is he who decides who is a nationalist and who is not.
Once he signals a target his supporters get on with the business of tarring, feathering, and insulting. In my view this is fake nationalism and most people who hide behind anonymous handles on Twitter would run for their lives if they were inducted into the army and sent to one of our borders. But, the noise these fake patriots make is loud and angry and meant to create not harmony but hatred. The reason I begin by saying this is because I want to talk about the genuine, joyous nationalism that I discover every time I come to New York for Thanksgiving. There is much that we can learn from the Americans about real, spontaneous, joyous nationalism.
On the two occasions I have been in New York for Thanksgiving, I have spent the festival with a friend and her family. After the food and wine has been abundantly consumed, everyone participates in a play that tells the story of America. This play was written for a child many years ago by Peggy Noonan who conducts the event. She is one of the world’s finest columnists. Her play tells the story of the pilgrims who came in search of the new world, the travails and hardship they faced on their journey and after landing on Plymouth Rock. It tells of how three years later the first Thanksgiving was to celebrate the first abundant harvest to thank God and the Indians.
Before those of you who are phony nationalists remind me how the Indians were massacred and robbed of their lands, let me remind you that in our own perfect land many things have happened that we should be ashamed of. Instead of confronting our own flaws we are being told by our neo-nationalist rulers to rewrite history so that we can make sure that every Indian child in school today is reminded of the Islamic invasions so that he can grow up hating Muslims.
In this peculiar neo-nationalist mood, we forgive the British somehow just as we forgive China today and focus only on Pakistan being the real enemy. We should start asking why this is. Could it be that the drumbeat of hate only rises in higher and higher decibels when it comes to the Islamic invaders because the purpose of neo-nationalism is to create divisions and not bring peace, love, and harmony?
Other countries have dealt with the wounds of history, and we should too but this is not the purpose of those who rule India today. The purpose is to create more divisions and more hatred. I have been critical of the Bharat Jodo Yatra in this column but concede that Rahul Gandhi is right when he says that there is too much hatred being spread in the guise of nationalism and patriotism. I have it on good authority that there is a method here. Those closest to Modi believe that the only way to win elections is by dividing Hindus and Muslims. People do not vote for ‘vikas’, a senior leader of the BJP has privately said more than once, their motivation to go to the polling booth is hatred. Well, good for the BJP to have come up with a formula to keep winning elections but is it good for India?
These are questions we must ask. But the voices of those asking them are drowned out by the raucous noise that comes from the other side. As an Indian who remembers well that ‘old India’ that is slowly disappearing, my favourite memories are of festivals like Diwali and Eid that were celebrated by Hindus and Muslims coming together to eat and rejoice. Festivals should bring people together in fun and festivity. This is what Thanksgiving does.