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Questioning the BJP’s ‘National Integration’

Healthy electoral politics strives for reciprocity, not primacy between individual and national interests.


Predictably, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies in their election campaign continue to harp on a particular notion of nationalism, which, until the Pulwama attack happened, was militaristic and combative in nature. The BJP’s politics of “nationalism” seeks to convert its democratic dissenters into the enemy, thus furthering the continuum between India and the “enemy country,” which is Pakistan. The combative image of the nation has been aided by some of the Hindi television news channels as well as the print media, which have been using the militaristic terminology of waar and palatwaar (attack and counter-attack) or bada hamla (big attack). The rather dramatic announcement made by the Prime Minister about sending a missile to shoot down a satellite was the latest addition to this militaristic vocabulary. During this period of the run-up to the general elections, this has taken a more morally coercive turn. This is evident in the statement that the BJP’s members are making in various ways: “If you do not vote for the BJP, you will be voting for those who seek the disintegration of India.” The BJP, however, is desperate to create an internal enemy in the form of the Congress. This was once again made clear by the BJP spokesperson’s selective “criticism” of the Congress election manifesto as being anti-national. In fact, the BJP-led government at the centre has used its pet brand of nationalism as a stick with which to beat all democratic dissent into silence.

At other times, the BJP has been trying to define Indian nationalism in the framework of a combative relationship with Pakistan. In the times of elections, however, this is bracketed into a critique of Pakistan. In this context of the BJP’s election campaign, there are three crucial questions that emerge.

First, why does the BJP zero in on a single narrative of national integration and seek the voters’ support using emotional, rather than rational grounds for electoral mobilisation? Second, what does the BJP expect the voters to give primacy to—national integration, which is more imagined than real, or a nation in which voters from embattled communities can exist without any political party’s courtesy or nationalistic approval? And, finally, will voters comply with the BJP’s demand for the sacrifice of individual interests? Will a rational individual connect to an abstract concept of the nation by forgetting or ignoring the existential problems that are the result of the BJP’s rule until now?

In its 2019 election campaign, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has been compelled to overuse its emotive resources of combative nationalism, or generate sympathy for its leaders, or emphasise “Hindu hurt.” This is particularly so in the context wherein it cannot repeat the promises of giving ₹ 15 lakh to each account holder under the Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana or providing employment for millions that it had made in 2014. If at all the NDA and its allies try and inflate these promises in their “yet-to-be published election manifesto” for the 2019 elections, it is needless to mention that such empty promises would not have an impact on the voters. Second, if the party attempts to repeat such promises, it would be reducing the very conception of promise to the level of banality. This would be true of any party, for the failure to fulfil a promise empties it of its moral value. The NDA government’s disappointing record on core areas, such as employment, has resulted in the BJP’s election campaign taking a blatantly partisan turn. By now, it is evident that the BJP and its allies want voters to vote for them for
“national integrity.”

However, what is lacking in such an appeal is a broader and inclusive view of nationalism. In the BJP’s claims on nationalism, there is no reciprocal relationship between the nation and its citizens. However, the party wants us to believe its narrative of national integration without bringing into focus deeply frightening and socially divisive evils such as lynching, unfreedom, fear, and anxiety.

Realistically, in the particular context of this election, those who were at the receiving end of harsh policies—such as demonetisation and the imposition of the goods and services tax (GST), evasive promises on the employment front, not to forget the caste atrocities against Dalits, and lynchings of members of the minorities—will prioritise their individual and social interests while voting. They will evaluate the idea of the nation in terms of how it realistically treats them.

Thus, such constituencies of voters may not stay within the emotional framework as laid down by the NDA; they may lend themselves to be permanently trapped into the emotional binds of a different kind. However, they do have a stake in the nation as a framework that includes spaces within which they enjoy security from the vagaries of the market, a guarantee from the state that it will generate resources for employment, security from displacement, and freedom from the fear of being lynched and the anxiety of being haunted by the caste tormentor. A socially responsive and humanly sensitive state would imagine the nation in terms of plurality and diversity. Any party seeking power has the responsibility to create and gear its institutions towards eliminating the influence of divisive forces that thrive on rigidifying a divisive consciousness among the people. This, arguably, is the most creative conception of national integrity.

Updated On : 16th Apr, 2019


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