What nationalism and whose nationalism? How would BJP-RSS’s warped ideas of nationalism unite a land of million nationalities? Rahul Gandhi Doesn’t Have a Vision or Agenda and that’s a good thing. To learn from the case of Assam.

The Congress party has no vision or ideology – This has been an oft repeated rhetoric from the right wing camp. As Raul Gandhi appeared to be coming of age and putting  up a fight against Modi, every concerned individual asked, but what is his vision for the country?

In their debate series called ‘Talk Point’ the current affairs website ‘The Print’ asked “Is Congress’s ‘jan aakrosh’ a sound strategy for 2019 or is it just a political slogan?

Again, during Rahul Gandhi’s interactive session with Bengaluru citizens at the launch of Samruddha Bharat Foundation on Tuesday, one of the audience members asked him, “…what is your imagination, your agenda, your vision for Congress and India…”

Rahul Gandhi gave a great answer,

“It is not my agenda for the country…I am an enabler, I don’t impose upon the country some fancy dream I got. I have come to realize you can’t build a vision for a country, just on an individual basis. My job is to listen to you, have these conversations and then translate that into what you feel comfortable.”

Rahul Gandhi, Bangalore, May 2018.

This search for an “agenda” is a convoluted idea and should be abandoned right away. Political parties should not have any other agenda beyond following the Constitution and focusing on citizen’s needs. While every political party must have a manifesto with some promises for the future but these should be related to governance, administration and the various social and economic development goals we have as a nation, and should not become something so loaded as “agenda”. No party should come with an ‘agenda’ to change the very basics of a nation, the very DNA.

That’s a mistake the Bhartiya Janta Party has made in Assam. They came to power with an “agenda” like a pro, the mother of all agendas, an agenda on steroid – Hindu Rashtra.

BJP carries the RSS agenda of fulfilling their Guru Golwalkar’s unfinished project of making India a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. A nation for Hindus where non-Hindus can stay only at the mercy of Hindus, with no rights whatsoever. To quote Golwalkar,

“the foreign races in Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture…must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment-not even citizen’s rights.

Page 104, We Or Our Nationhood Defined’, 1939

RSS kept its eyes on this goal for seven decades of independence and tirelessly peddled the ideas and beliefs of Hindu nationalism in every nook and corner, in every home, in every heart.  

What is nationalism? Whose Nationalism?

Nationalism is an identity based political ideology that first emerged in early 19th century Europe. It is based upon the idea of inclusivity and exclusivity of certain people to the claim of certain land. Who legitimately belongs to the nation and who does not? Nationalism survives upon a combination of threat perceptions and hatred. For the nationalistic fervor to survive there is always a need to have an enemy, the proverbial “other” – whoever doesn’t seem to fit the chosen identity. Nationalism is like a fictitious story in which you have a hero (Hindu upper caste males), his woman (mothers daughters sisters of the Hindu male), a villain (Muslims, Christians) who is coming to destroy the hero, take his woman (by love jihad) and his land, resources, and so on. The “other” must be both hated and feared and kept within the control, be shown their true place, reduced to second class citizen, lest they become too powerful.

For six decades RSS weaved the story of Hindu nationalism invented misplaced hate and fear for the imaginary foreigners and finally their hard work paid off in May 2014 when Narendra Modi, RSS Pracharak and three times Chief Minister of Gujarat under whose watch over 1500 Muslims were butchered in one of independent India’s most bloodied anti-Muslim riots, as Prime Minister of India. And their hard work has been since paying off, state after state.

How would BJP-RSS’s warped ideas of nationalism unite a land of million nationalities?

Unfortunately, nationalism don’t take you too far. It is a narrow self-eroding idea that alienates and disorients people. As BJP is coming to realize in Assam, that it might be easy to consolidate Hindu votes by vilifying and othering Muslims, but it is not as easy to manage the sub-nationalities that exists within the umbrella of Hindu nation – the caste nation, language nation, and a thousand other identity markers in a country as diverse and multicultural as India.

Case of Assam – Citizenship Amendment Act 2016

The tension in Assam between Bengali Hindus and Assamese Hindus in the wake of the Citizenship Amendment Act 2016 proved that BJP is utterly inefficient and clueless in governing such a vast and diverse country like India, wearing unified Hindutva glasses.

In a bid to increase India’s Hindu population the Center introduced amendments in the Citizenship Act of 1955 which will allow India to grant selective citizenship only to Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and few other countries. This is against the Assam Accord signed in 1985, which is held as sacrosanct by the Assamese nationalists of Brahmaputra Valley, and which fixed 25th March  1971 as the cut-off date for accepting immigrants as citizen. But the Bengali Hindu population in Barak Valley have taken completely opposing position on the bill, they say the Assam Accord is not so sacrosanct, it didn’t accommodate the interests of all parties involved and are adamant that the Amendment Bill is passed failing which they will seek separate statehood.

The conflict opened up the fault lines of the valley rekindling age old enmity between Bengalis and Assamese. Assam nationalist groups of Brahmaputra valley fear that by adding Bengali population to Assam, the region’s indigenous culture will be destroyed. “Assamese khatre mein hai (Assamese are at threat)” so to speak.

The Indian Express reported, “Cutting across political parties, a large number of people protested against granting of Indian citizenship to Hindu foreigners, saying it would threaten the existence of the indigenous people of Assam.”

It is ironic that BJP sought votes in state after state on the same Hindutva plank, raising dead like Jinnah, Aurangzeb and Tipu Sultan, insinuating that former PM and Vice President are conspiring with Pakistan, manufacturing fake news to spread hate, fear, and violence; PM Modi in speech after speech in the most uncouth manner attacked opposition in all sorts of frivolous fake grounds – yet it is this very Hindutva that was failing in Assam unleashing utter chaos and possible violence.

People of Assam may have overwhelmingly voted for a Hindu nationalist party because of their internalized hate for one type of foreigner Bangladeshi immigrants, which was a major poll plank during both the election campaigns Lok Sabha elections in May 2014 and Assam Assembly elections in May 2016. “Come May 16, Bangladeshi immigrants must pack up,” said Modi in one of his speeches. Now the foreigner has a new dimension to its identity ‘Bangladeshi Hindu immigrants.’

What is amusing is that leading voices against the Amendments relied upon principles of secularism to justify  their position. “Amendment to this Bill is going to violate the Assam Accord. Our country is secular, you cannot divide it on religious lines,” said AGP leader opposing the bill.

As it seems then, the Hindutva agenda backfired in Assam. Assamese are united as a linguistic nationality, not Hindu nationality and are rather relying upon Secular values to oppose a selective intake of immigrants.

Note, I have added emphasis to the word foreigners throughout this article, to ask, who is a foreigner and who is Indian? The danger of following nationalist agenda is that the hate for foreigners is insatiable. Nationalism would keep inventing foreigners or “others” for its own survival. And that brings us to NRC – National Registry for Citizenship. Read here how NRC experiment in Assam too backfired and that’s why they had to bring the CAB for the second time after it failed in 2016 so that Hindus who are found to be illegal immigrants can be granted citizenship, and together they will complete Golwalkar’s Hindu Rashtra project.

Modi government has returned to power for the second time in May 2019, and the bill is all set to be introduced tomorrow, Monday, 9 December 2019 in the Parliament’s ongoing winter session. There are once again similar widespread protests in Assam. It is likely to be passed by both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, and the real question would be whether it passes through Supreme Court.