Universities need to be antinational, and not just in these times
“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” (Audre Lorde)
As folks from the Left join the battle over reclaiming the “Nationalist” tag from the Right, it is turning into a macabre competition. Nationalism as a social location is a state of privilege – master’s tool, that exclusively benefits some at the cost of others. For instance, India as a national construct works for those who directly reap dividends off the system – this includes many celebrities who cannot afford to live with antinational tag, no matter how progressive or reactionary they may be otherwise. And yet this “nationalism” as a center of contention holds very little to no value for the majority of people who inhabit the land called India (or any other country).
Instead of reflecting why and how we have systemically enabled our society to proudly wear nationalism on its sleeves while majority of citizens are forced to lead despondent lives, the focus of the debate is veering only towards resisting some folks who claim they are more nationalist than some others.
I have always considered JNU as a beautiful campus with great diversity and scopes for intellectual debates that are electrifying. But despite its progressive credentials, JNU was never much of a threat to the nationalist conception of a monolithic India and nor it remains so today. In many ways, JNU was the epicenter of contradictions that was just waiting to happen. Instead of wearing “antinationalist” as a badge of honor for decades now, JNU was traditionally comfortable with being representative of the akhand-bharat idea, notwithstanding many radical political voices that emerged from the campus.
The current crisis is unfortunate and students must not be arrested by a government in the name of patriotism, but let us not forget that it was not BJP or its predecessors who called for “integrity of the nation”. It was Indira Gandhi who had enacted such an amendment in the Preamble. It was the Congress which had turned India into a “unitary state” reducing the individual rights to nothingness. The point is not to critique “where were you during 1976” but to say that our collective comfort at cherishing a unitary state with “iron hands” has a long and rather uncomplicated history. The right-wing parties have merely from time to time tapped into that terrain to issue us degrees in patriotism.
Much as Sainath, Sardesai and Sen will like to look at the crisis from the prism of Modi’s draconic terror – and they are not entirely incorrect in perceiving it this way – the issue is far beyond ABVP/BJP/Modi. In the guise of opposing BJP, let us not fall into the trap of celebrating the very weapon which is being utilized by BJP – that of “as Indians, we have reason to be proud of our tradition of tolerance and plurality” (Sen). Because contrary to what both Smriti Irani and Amartya Sen would like to claim, there has clearly been no such tradition of tolerance in India to be boastful about. The traditions to have overwhelmed every other in each decade since independence from colonial rule have been that of subjugation, annexation, and hegemony. Consequently therefore, India has largely been a Hindi-Hindu land, proud of its “5000-yr old civilization”, through Nehru’s discoveries to Shourie’s own, and whether or not Aryan invasion ever took place.
The need is to destroy whatever remains of that civilizational myth. Not to sugarcoat it with ridiculous defenses of some golden era of great tolerance which is suddenly under threat now. Because such defenses of the past are as much hoodwinking as are Make-In-India plans by this rogue regime for future to make India a “Superpower”.
We have attacked organized religions everywhere and proved how shallow and counterproductive are such attachments. Religions are profit-seeking establishments that divide human beings and loot them; and if success of PK is anything to go by, we have by and large accepted this. Like Aamir Khan’s epic work provided that populist platform to rework our imaginings, what Modi’s misrule is providing us with is an opportunity to see through the profit-seeking establishments that the modern sovereign republics are. Organized countries that remain indifferent to their millions of destitute families, and to thousands of refugees and annexed provinces under the pretext of unity and integrity, their sacred flags and anthems and cops and prisons, their ruling class histories – they are just about as dangerous concepts as religions are, if not more. There should be nothing sacrosanct about either religions or nationalities.
By bringing in a bunch of patriots-in-nostalgia to the campus, universities unwittingly employ the tools of nationalism that they need to remain far away from. JNU needs to be anti-national not merely because a fascist Modi is in power or because Afzal Guru can be appropriated, but regardless of them. Anti-nationalism is not a dissenting act of temporary nature, it is at the very core of a revolutionary. We need a world without borders, without national military establishments, without private claims over territories and without fanciful harking to the feudal days of yore. For that to be, India needs to be accepted as a geographical land mass inhabited by various disparate nationalities and socio-political locations, and not just one, or a contesting second. No amount of claims that the Left embodies more authentic form of nationalism and patriotism than the Right shall aid in redressing this crisis, let alone recognize the inherent contradictions in glorifying nationalism as a virtue.
As Sahir had aptly, albeit poignantly put it, on behalf of the majority poor identified across the world only as one working class, and for whom debates over nationalism hardly ever matter –
“Chin O Arab Hamara
Rehne ko ghar nahni hai
Saara jahna hamaara”