With us or against us

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The debate over ‘intolerance’ was one of the defining issues of last year. Dissent and criticism are necessary pillars of democracy and there should be no attempt to stifle that.

In the latter part of last year, the word ‘intolerance’ was freely bandied about and it even took on the connotation of a taboo word as whoever dared to mouth it found himself or herself being pilloried on social media sites and in some extreme cases, were even exposed to physical assaults and penal action. The great ‘intolerance’ debate has now been given a decent burial as the focus has shifted to ‘nationalism’, and here again a narrow definition of a nationalist has emerged by which only those who toe the government line can make the cut.

So in a sense, your level of patriotism is measured by your allegiance to the ruling party and your kowtowing to all its diktats without even a squeak of protest. Everyone else is deemed ‘anti-national’ and this definition cuts a very wide swathe; and includes inter alia, certain sections of the student community that professes an ideology totally at variance with what passes muster for the political masters, the media, both print and visual that takes potshots at the government and highlights its foibles and the shenanigans of its leaders, and last but not least, the opposition parties that go hammer and tongs at what they perceive are acts of omission and commission of those in power that compromise the interests of the nation as a whole.

There was a time when dissent was considered the hallmark of a healthy democracy. Not anymore. Today any form of dissent is sought to be misinterpreted and construed as the handiwork of those who are inimical to the country’s interests and are intent on working towards its destruction.

While one is at a loss to fathom as to how all those covered under the aforesaid categories can be termed as ‘anti-national’, the objective of the government appears to be crystal clear. The Narendra Modi government has often been accused of meekly following the diktats of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), of affording plenty of leeway to the fringe elements that constitute the Sangh Parivar and of pursuing the objectives of these outfits which are pushing a saffron agenda in diverse fields but primarily in education. The main motive of the BJP seems to be to turn the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a student body affiliated to it into a belligerent outfit and arming it with enough muscle to take on other unions, notably the ones which have a leftist slant. This has been resented by large sections of the student community and they have now come under the government scanner and by acts of subterfuge, like doctoring of videos as it happened at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, student leaders have been dubbed as ‘anti-national’. This is a rather alarming situation as it is evident that even if there is not a shred of evidence to buttress the charges against you, you can still be dubbed as ‘anti national’ and be subject to vicious physical attacks by the goon brigade baying for your blood.

There was a time when dissent was considered the hallmark of a healthy democracy. Not anymore. Today any form of dissent is sought to be misinterpreted and construed as the handiwork of those who are inimical to the country’s interests and are intent on working towards its destruction. This of course remains far from the truth and is just a stick to beat those who do not dance to the government’s tunes. The salutary feature in these developments however is that despite the strong arm tactics, the student community as a whole has put up a brave face. The same goes for the activists and the media, though certain sections of the media, keen on currying favour with the government have been acting as its handmaidens, denting the reputation of the fourth estate. There is an imperative need to correctly define ‘intolerance’ and ‘nationalism’ and to view them from the right perspective.


C. V. Aravind

C. V. Aravind

C. V. Aravind is a Bangalore-based freelance journalist.

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