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Filling the Gaps in Democracy

Enlightened Citizenship as a counter to Dark Nationalism in India can fill up the blanks in the idea of a ‘strong’ democracy

Communication breakage, narrowing down of dissents and squeezing of public spaces for free expression is the breakdown of fundamentals of the right to lives embedded in the constitution resulting into the siege of idea of any democracy, and when this happens to protect the idea of nationalism how do we react?

The current farmers’ protest in India and many more in the recent past in India have silently been contributing to the narrowing down of the idea of democracy as a political choice which India made long back.

After the incidents of violence during 72th republic day celebrations in Delhi, what we are witnessing is nothing but the breakdown of fundamental ethics of the constitution of India-fast and furiously, in the name of protecting the fair governance supported by digital media-generated nationalism.

Internet blockade at the protest sites on Delhi borders, blocking the roads of those who want to join the protesting farmers from nearby villages, changing the train routes away from the protesting sites, cutting off water supplies and laying down of roads with nails and barricading the roads with sharp rods are rarely expected in the democracies which are meant to represent people.

How do we define this nationalism and how do we counter this? 

Nationalism: Knowing its darker sides!

Though it’s modern beginnings and origins date back to the 18th Century, nationalism is often denoted as a nineteenth century practice. Rooted in highly romanticized perceptions of the ‘nation-state’ in Europe, nationalism became narrower and stricter in its connotations and implications just before and during the era of the world wars.

The world has witnessed various discourses and philosophies on nationhood and nationalism since long.  Yet the boundaries of self-determination, cultural oneness, and sovereignty that erupted in the eighteenth and through the nineteenth century tightened such over-competing group identities that the twentieth century saw the world pushed towards two of the most destructive and malignant wars in the history of mankind.

Having caused the First World War and become a steady fodder of divisive and violent politics of the second world war too, it is safe to assume that nationalism is as good as an obsolete, primitive, god-forsaken emotion which can wreak havoc if misconstrued and emulated craftily or worse, thoughtlessly. In other words, when nationalism becomes dark, it is often construed and propagated ruthlessly. Boundaries of ‘us’ and ‘them’ are drawn and re-drawn recklessly under contexts of dark nationalism. Undeniably we are in for trouble, no matter who we are and in which country or times we live in.

Dark Nationalism and Multi-Media Violence in India

Militant and warring forms of nationalism which ‘imagine’ and promote certain exclusionary and inclusive group identity/ies assertively, over others can not only have a politically, culturally and ethnically malignant component attached to them, but also be composed of malicious economies that inspire it.

Whether in times of industrialization, capitalism, world-Wars and post-World-Wars to the modern world and contemporary neo-liberalist economies, for instance, nationalism has defined economic motives and oppressions alongside performing other tasks.

However, malignant and dark nationalism serves a special purpose: In all eras that it appears in, it has also been used to cover up the failings of an actual territorial state, aside from frothing emotions over an imagined, overarching socio-political identity of its proponents. Economic nationalism does not shy of using the state apparatus as a façade to implement hegemonic designs of dominant nationalist groups.

One can never be sure when the doctrines of cultural, ethnic, political and economic nationalism flip over and compensate one over the other. It is a question of convenience and timing. For instance, in 2014, and right up till its re-election in 2019 in India, the far-rightist BJP government played up the religious and cultural card of the ‘Hindu Rashtra’ and created a state sponsored mania over Hindu-Muslim identities. However, its agenda ran out of ideas on how to cover up its miserable failings on the economic front and it turned out evidently for all to see how the party is evidently more pro- (select) businesses than it is pro-markets.

When the current ruling party in India desired to fortify its nationalist discourse in the first term, almost predictably, it rode on the back of various poorly implemented economic reforms in cohorts with its big-capital supporters. Meanwhile its parochially divisive politics continued steadily in the background by victimizing Muslims for gaining ground in the imagined as well as actual dark nationalist identities.

However, soon when the party floundered on the economic front, it compensated with a harder and darker take on polarization in its second term. So now it is persecution galore: It is no longer about Muslims and Muslims alone.

Polarisation is now blatantly evident on issues concerning the rights of women, migrants, farming communities and journalists, activists, grassroots leaders and whatever else we have. No matter who or where they are, when a state given in to dark nationalism, so desires to disperse the freedoms and rightful voices of the critically aware citizens, it finds reasons to arrest them, name call and defame them as non-patriotic or even tagging them as ‘terrorists’. Why would a state single out vociferous and self-respecting citizens and communities who offer resistance to dark nationalism and incite actual and multi-media violence against them on the grounds of them being ‘trollable’ by- products of too much of democracy?

Understanding the line between (Dark) Nationalism and Patriotism 

Ironically any nationalism that makes majority of its citizen’s insecure, marginalized and penalizes them can never be confounded with or defended in the name of patriotism. In fact, the harder that dark nationalism tries to argue how its closed group and proponents are the march of patriotism on Earth, the more it becomes clear how far apart from patriotism these may perhaps be.

Farmer Protest on Delhi Border
Farmer Protest on Delhi Border

The façade of patriotism aside and despite the pandemic, behind the scenes for the ruling party in India, 2020 and now 2021, seem to mean business as usual. The idea of a ‘bygone’ India is egregiously used by dark nationalists to rally around the question of ‘whose India’ for implementing their segregationist designs  by either passing laws hurriedly in the parliament or crushing dissent under the shadows of COVID-19-like the new farm Law of 2020.

India witnesses provocateur galore, goons pandering conflict, innocent citizens being targeted in the name of ‘harming’ the nation and courageous defenders of human rights and democracy being punished for sins they have not committed.

Flaring inequalities by sponsoring and protecting a select group of those who practice dark nationalism and demonizing others who don’t is the new mantra in India that ironically, aspires to shine and bring light for the world. Othering, polarizing, victimizing, marginalizing, exacerbating vulnerabilities, name calling, isolating people from their rights, threatening university professors, activists and their families in social media and/or in person, imprisoning the protestors, implicating them in false cases, tampering media freedoms are regular practices that go hand in hand with dark nationalism. It is worth the reiteration, dark nationalism is far away from patriotism. 

The nationalist bully-A hegemonic team-mate of Dark Nationalism

One wonders who are the people who make dark nationalism proliferate and succeed at the scale that it does in India nowadays? It goes without saying that dark nationalism cannot exist without them, ‘Nationalist Bully’. The nationalist bully, I would say, is hedonistically inclined towards the idea of the nation. The bully who perpetually tries to own the nation by throwing his/her weight around does no good to the country.

The nationalist groups can quickly degenerate into provocateurs comprised of bullies who excel in disrupting democracy, destroying hard-earned values amongst youth to create an architecture of fear among minorities and marginalized alike.

Who are the ones having the potential grain to counter such widespread negativity and hatred?

The enlightened citizen, who silently instils

  • leadership contexts
  • works for uplifting the marginalized other without prejudice against caste, creed, religion, sex or gender as well as
  • the one who questions the nation when the need arises and
  • is a helpful ally of peace and progress.

The enlightened citizens who project voice into the project of peace and progress and actively congregate, reflect and raise the public opinion, even at the cost of risking his/her life to debate national issues form the twin pillar of strength against dark nationalism.

Freedom of expression and honorable sharing of viewpoints is the food that nourishes the souls of citizens who aspire to contribute to their own as well as public welfare as stakeholders in nation building.

A nationalist bully on the contrary imagines a select few as stakeholders to divide and demolish more than they can build, give back or construct. A bully may frighten the enlightened citizen but can never be successful in stopping him/her to perform their bit for the nation.

Enlightened Citizens, the light ahead

Enlightened citizenship is, from all veritable senses, an asset, akin to a sacrosanct oath, a commitment, an honour and a vector of empowerment that is a boon to nations. It builds them and helps them come forward; creates social capital; imbibes values-systems among youth and future generations.

An enlightened citizen does not need external sermon on patriotism or carry it as a farcical value or a PR package of false appeal and propaganda as the nationalist bully: The former is courageous enough to abide by the norms and laws of a democratic constitutional way of being unlike the latter.

An enlightened citizen is therefore the only hope for India to break the regressive, codes of undue power, control and subjugation in the name of patriotism and favouring select big businesses. A vibrant, colourful , ‘shining’ and democratic India has much to offer to the world, but such a country can be build and re-build as the need be, only when enlightened citizens take over the helm of the nation.

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