You are now the political establishment. By definition you have to be part of the establishment to be counted as nationalist. You have earned this position through political hard work. The overwhelming political power you have will not be seriously challenged in the near future, notwithstanding a few social movements. So you indeed can make or break the nation.
As nationalists, you are maligned by others. You are, after all, creating a new India. How dare any relics of old India stand in the way? Unity in Diversity was a great fraud. Unity in Purity is what we need. Nationalism does not require just unity. It requires sameness: Every tweet shall march to the same beat. You were misunderstood just last week. Your opponents say that you displayed deep insecurity and political myopia by launching an attack on tweets from random celebrities based abroad. They ask: Which secure nationalist government launches a propaganda blitzkrieg against some foreign pop stars or activists, whose tweets and retweets have little bearing on Indian politics?
But they completely misunderstand your purpose. Like a strong nation, we don’t now care for what the world thinks. The purpose of the blitzkrieg was not to enhance India’s reputation. It was to strengthen our resolve and nationalism. Look at all the things this massive national counter attack against Rihanna and Greta achieved?
First, nationalism requires that our allegiances be constantly tested. Tweeting in unison against “foreign” tweeters allowed you to call out who stood for the nation and who against it. It was a kind of Rorschach test of ideology. We know now who stands with the establishment and who does not. No nation can survive without this knowledge. How can we give passports and government jobs without this information? How will the RSS know if these assorted types from the Foreign Service have made the transition from being Lutyens bureaucrats to being true nationalists? How else will we know if Bollywood stands for India? After all, to paraphrase Lenin, only the enemy of the people never obeys a command to tweet.
Second, it allowed you to define foreignness in the way you usually do: By blood and race. If you are members of the Hindu race you are never foreign, regardless of nationality and location. This is the real meaning of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”. Third, it allowed you to demonstrate India’s Great Power Exceptionalism. Rules for Others, Not for US. See, India is so great: It can organise rallies in Houston and endorse American presidential candidates. But no one can comment on our affairs. We are “Vishwa Guru” not “Vishwa Shishya”.
Fourth, it allowed you to show that we are learning from all the Great Powers. If the American right wing establishment could attack the vice-presidential candidate, at least we can attack the niece. If the spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry can come across as aggressive, at least we can draft statements that make people’s head spin. You see we would have beaten the Chinese on internet bans, requiring academics to seek government permission if they want to hold Zoom conferences, denying journalists access to protest sites, managing social media, but too much democracy comes in the way. But, at least, we are prototyping our barbed wires and barricades.
Fifth, we demonstrated that no one is bigger than the nation. So what if the Indian cricket team vanquished Australia. None of them can become big enough that they don’t express the same thought in the same language. The nation has to diminish its mightiest. Sixth, it will be a demonstration to anyone in India: If Sachin Tendulkar and Karan Johar tweet in the same voice, how can anyone else think otherwise? Think of the demonstration effect. Power creating its own power. This is how nations are built.
Seventh, a nation is created by identifying enemies. After the anti-CAA protests, Delhi Police was running out of new suspects. Where is the fun in humdrum policing? There has to be a big national cause behind it; now we have got an international one. Eighth, most nations are built by getting priorities right. It would be a shame if the nation got distracted by cuts in the education budget, situation on the China border, minutiae of government finances, stagnating defence budget, habeas corpus, or Mr Adani. Our attention is now single-mindedly focussed on the deep conspiracy to defame India.
So you are right. You have been completely misunderstood. You have not brought the nation to disrepute. A great nation is beyond repute and disrepute. You have instead created the foundations of a new India.
There are a lot of thinking people who would argue, on policy, both that the government is wrong and the farmers’ position might not be tenable in its entirety. Neither the government’s nor the farmers’ position addresses the long-term challenges of the environment. But equally, the government’s position does not address the real long-term issues of precarity in the agriculture sector.
You claim you were ready to compromise, put the Bills in abeyance. But that will not be enough for two reasons. You denied standing to those who disagreed; they were the ground on which allegiances were tested, not policy debated. It is abundantly clear the changes Indian agriculture requires cannot be done within the framework of these Bills. The only way to move forward is to repeal the bills and start from first principles. You will get new allies and a better outcome. But we are in an era of new nationalism: It is not important that the real problems in agriculture be solved. It is more important that our Supreme Representative not be seen to bend. When new nationalism requires everyone else to show they have no spine, one spine must remain firm, even if the country breaks.
When I was growing up, my political nightmare was not just the Emergency but the election campaign of the 1984 elections. The Congress ran an insidiously communal campaign, referring to the troubles in Punjab. The slogan was: “Will the country’s border come to your doorstep?” The new nationalism had to be better than the Congress. It had to actually bring the border to our doorstep.
No, it had to go further: It had to partition our identities, our communities, our families and our souls. After all, the more borders we create, the stronger the nation becomes. On behalf of all those who do not pass the establishment test, we sincerely apologise for misunderstanding you.
This article first appeared in the print edition on February 6 under the title “Dear Nationalists”. The writer is contributing editor, The Indian Express.