The Blinding Smokescreen of Rhetoric

It is often a common refrain that we as a society aim for an ideal utopia, and hence create a world as close to it as our sensibilities allow. We build laws and organizational systems, civic identities and cultures, even religions and technology, all in an effort to separate us from what we were before – animals. Given that the ideal is our eternal pursuit, it follows logically that we strive to improve the direction our society takes, and hold dear the structure that allows us to do the same. If we accept the aforementioned premise, then our constitution would be our proudest achievement, and also the source of our identity as a nation.

The problem with that entire problem statement is that we think as individuals, not a society. We follow individuals, and we let others decide for us what our identities are. We are told what it means to be a ‘good’ human, or a ‘patriotic’ Indian. For a majority of us, the idea of nationalism is tied to the rhetoric of a patriotic identity, which is set by uniting factors that we can interact with and experience, and most importantly remember. For instance, the Government of India, the Indian Cricket Team, the Indian Army, or even the prospect of an India Pakistan war is what sets our patriotic juices flowing; as opposed to a piece of text penned down by our forefathers called the Indian constitution. Of course, education and an understanding of the history of the nation has allowed for the upper and upper middle echelons of the populace to understand the essence and importance of said manuscript, but the same cannot be said of the common citizen, the one who doesn’t understand that India is not purely a territory, or government, but also its people. The common citizen who spends their time running about trying to ensure that their family is being cared for doesn’t have the time to understand the facets of nationalism. They understand it in simple terms based on their experience and memory – India good, Pakistan bad. In recent times, the rhetoric has also been a bit communal – Hindus good, Muslims bad, seculars traitors. This is not exactly news, and it is the most commonly exploited button of the right wing since times immemorial.

Now in the former ideal world, one would stand up for the constitution, which is truly fragile and open to change, based on the mandate of the populace. One would stand up against a majority which was misled as well, and it would be considered the most patriotic thing to do. The brilliance of a rhetoric regime is that the person who defines you can also use it against you. If patriotism is defined as never dissenting or standing against the wrong your government does, then you are an anti-national even if you speak up for the laws put up in the country. The essence of societal national identity is hence lost forever. The tragedy of this situation is not exponential, so it is never evident immediately. It is a gradual erosion. First we are okay with small slips and bending of laws, because it doesn’t betray our rhetoric of nation. Then we begin accepting wilful breaking of legal precedents, because our national rhetoric demands it. And then finally, we are willing to abandon any ideal notion we as a society might have set up, because it doesn’t translate to any patriotic importance[1].

Let us consider the JNU incident this past month. Recapping in short, on February 9th 2016 an event was organized at JNU, where some unsavoury slogans were raised by some masked unknown individuals, leading directly to an overreach by the Delhi Police, that soon snowballed into a national political spectacle – featuring sedition charges being distributed faster than platform tickets at the railway station; lawyers assaulting a detainee, witnesses and members of the bar; a masterful performance by an actress of the highest calibre at the Lok Sabha; the infamous silence of a Prime Minister famous for speaking his mind; videos being doctored, and without any pornographic references at that; lectures on nationalism being taken out in the open; orders being sanctioned to spend tax dollars putting up the national flag at all university campuses; bail orders with accompanying Bollywood song lyrics; condoms and beer bottles from JNU dustbins being counted by MLAs; and much more besides. Kanhaiya Kumar, the person jailed for 23 days under sedition charges, whose arrest led to the biggest ever student led protest in the country, was finally released on 3rd of March. He promptly went on to deliver a speech described as epic and a political masterpiece by pundits, using the same words “Azaadi” as his tagline as were used when accusing him of sedition, to punch back at every one of his ‘nationalistic’ detractors. To say that it has been a circus mockery made of the Indian democracy and constitution would be an understatement.

As mentioned above, in these past couple months, the government has filed sedition charges against accused who were dissenting students at worst, and courts still consider those charges despite legal precedent that mandates the case be thrown out, even if those slogans were raised by the accused. But no one cares, because in the court of public opinion, the students, and hence the entire JNU community are anti nationals. And hence the courts had to bow down to the public’s ignorant clamouring, and entertain a spectacle that could have been avoided ten times over. Lawyers have taken the law into their own hands and broken every oath made to the bar. Journalists have doctored videos and defamed students across the nation, the police have filed charges and sent students to central prisons, in essence putting a black mark on their fledgling careers. And no one, not the journalists, or the activists, or the pundits, or even the JNU students have been able to bring sense to the proceedings. Everyone seems to be wondering the same thing – Why would a government debase themselves to this level? The mob will disband one day, and sense will prevail, as it always eventually does. What will the government have gained from the grave they seem to have dug for themselves here?

The government’s parent organisation has always had a controversial reputation. Nor is ‘anti-national’ a new buzz word for them. In fact, the head of said organization had called JNU ‘anti-national’ way back in November of last year itself[2]. If one were to read on the rhetoric, it would seem eerily similar to the one used over the last month. It is only when the government faced flak on the Rohith Vemula disaster at the Hyderabad University that the news was pulled away by the JNU incident. Not quite incidentally it was proved that it was an ABVP member who let in the media in during the event on the 9th of February, and that it was an ABVP member who was caught on camera shouting pro-Pakistan slogans. Unfortunately, when the rhetoric is as loud as the present administration can make it sound, people do not focus on the specifics. A fake tweet and a ‘Muslim name’ are all that are needed to make the rhetoric stick. Hindu Good, Muslim Terrorist, JNU Anti-national.

Let us take a step back, and look at what else the government has slipped by us then. While the JNU juggernaut gained steam, there were other developments. The government waived off bad debts to the tunes of ₹ 1.14 lakh crores from big moguls such as Ambani and Adani on the same day as the initial JNU incident[3]. A reservation agitation in Haryana and UP held the capital’s water supply hostage, burned and demolished public property across the metropolitan cities, and raped women on open farms by the highway. The government swooped into action immediately, and accepted their demands[4]. An analysis of the two years of this regime showed that communal activity is up 17% than last year[5]. A big conglomerate was given rights to gold mining on land from which tribal populace were displaced[6]. A big cola company was allowed to be setup in Vidarbha, the country’s worst drought hit region[7]. That the entire JNU fiasco was a smokescreen to move attention away from the tragic death of Rohith Vemula is an uncontested accusation[8].

It is only when we recognise the fact that we, as a nation of ardent primetime TV watchers, are being blinded by rhetoric and are wilfully ignoring the growing mound of evidence stacked beside us, that we can see for ourselves the JNU situation for what it really is; a politically orchestrated conspiracy to clamp down on any and every critique of the state. And until then, every rhetoric uttered is another truth manufactured.



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Article by Anjali N.

Edited by Pallab Deb



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