It hasn’t taken long for the ill-effects of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) aggressive espousal of the nationalist cause to be felt outside its areas of influence.
India is too vast and diverse a country – it comprises 4,635 communities, as Vice President Hamid Ansari reminded us – for one slogan to be chanted with equal fervour by all.
On the contrary, an insistence on using the slogan to test a person’s loyalty can provoke an adverse response, especially by youths – who are naturally rebellious.
This is exactly what has happened at the National Institute of Technology (NIT) in Srinagar where India’s defeat by the West Indies in the T20 cricket World Cup was hailed by the Kashmiri students.
It is not impossible that at the back of their minds was the occasional harassment experienced by Kashmiri students elsewhere in India and their resultant insecurity.
For instance, four Kashmiri students were beaten up in Mewar. Rajasthan, in March following allegations that they were cookng beef.
In May, three Kashmiri students were forced to say “Bharat Mata ki Jai” and shout anti-Pakistan slogans in Noida near Delhi.
There have been other such incidents elsewhere in the country which undoubtedly fuelled resentment in the Srinagar institution.
Since two wrongs do not make a right, the egregious, even traitorous, behaviour of those who celebrated India’s defeat deserves to be roundly condemned. It is also understandable why the grossly offensive conduct provoked the non-Kashmiri students, leading to a battle of nationalistic displays with the latter raising the tricolour.
The rest is known, including the rough treatment meted out to the non-Kashmiri students by the local police. As a result, the central paramilitary forces have had to be deployed.
None of this would have happened if the Narendra Modi government did not come to the conclusion that it was time to check the patriotism of all Indians.
Mercifully, the BJP’s mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has seen the danger in forcing people to say “Bharat Mata ki Jai” and warned against any such attempt.
But the BJP politicians and their sidekicks, eager to prove their nationalistic credentials, have lost no opportunity to press ahead with their provocations, with a godman threatening to behead those who refuse to say the slogan and a chief minister saying that such renegades have no place in the country.
It is no secret that such chest-thumping nationalistic clamour has long been a part of the BJP’s tactics.
In the 1990s, slogans like “Jai Shri Ram” and “garv se kaho hum Hindu hain” (say proudly I am a Hindu) were the touchstones of a person’s loyalty. Now, it is “Bharat Mata ki Jai”.
It is not the slogans per se which are resented, but the assertion by politicians and their rowdy supporters that a refusal to say them can have dire consequences.
Such intimidation was seen in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Hyderabad Central University (HCU) against the restive students who do not subscribe to the Hindutva worldview.
But the continuing unrest in HCU and the attention attracted by the Left-leaning student leaders of JNU have shown that high-handed tactics do not work.
In NIT, such an approach will be even more unworkable because the reason why India’s defeat was cheered by the locals will be understood if not supported by a majority of people outside the campus.
It is worthwhile pondering why the government has been chary of booking the “guilty” students under the colonial-era sedition law, which it is so eager to use against all those who rouse its ire.
If the law could be used against JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar, although he did not personally call for India’s barbadi (destruction) at a rally, surely those who welcomed India’s defeat should also be booked.
If the Modi government has shied away from doing so, the reason is not only its ties with the Kashmir-based Peoples Democratic Front (PDP) with which the BJP shares power in the state, but also because it is slowly realizing – as the RSS has already done – that imposing a brand of nationalism of its choice is virtually impossible in a multi-cultural country.
The BJP has another problem. The party appears to have no idea about dealing with the younger generation who do not belong to the saffron outfit, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP).
Perhaps this failure is explained by the fact that the party does not have too many people in its ranks who have spent long years in the academia and imbibed the atmosphere of bold non-conformism which prevails there.
As a result, it cannot think of anything other than flying an oversized tricolour in the campuses, as suggested by Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani (who has studied only up to Class 12), or resort to the sedition law.
Given this myopic background, the BJP will do well to pay heed to an exchange of views between one of its icons, Vallabhbhai Patel, and Rajendra Prasad in 1937.
In reply to a letter from Rajendra Prasad who said that opposition to the hoisting of the tricolour and singing of Vande Mataram was growing because of the “thoughtlessness … of our workers”, Patel wrote that the attitude of the party workers was as “an unseemly demonstration of our intolerance”.
Tolerance is needed even more in dealing with students than any other group.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org)