By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
10 April 2016
Amid the cacophony of voices proudly proclaiming themselves as the true sons of mother India, nothing was more jarring than that of Yoga Guru Ramdev. Sadly, restrained by the law of the land, Ramdev had no compunction in announcing that left to himself, he would have cut off the heads of hundreds of thousands who refused to chant Bharat Mata ki Jai. One is at once reminded of the prophetic words of Ambedkar which warned us of the dangers of India becoming a Hindu state.
Ramdev is not the only one, though perhaps the most odious. Different leaders hailing from the ruling dispensation have been categorical in their assertion that anyone living in India must necessarily say yes to Bharat Mata ki Jai. One chief minister even suggested that those who did not want to chant this slogan were free to go to another country. Targeted on the Muslim minority, the statement came against the background of one Muslim MLA’s refusal to say Bharat Mata ki Jai. This became an excuse for the ruling dispensation to paint almost the entire Muslim community with the same brush and argue that most of them had a problem with saying Bharat Mata ki Jai. And the logical corollary was that since they refuse to chant this slogan, they do not love their country and hence they must be considered traitors.
But why is the BJP insisting on this slogan and keeping the embers of this controversy alive? On the face of it, the controversy helps its very ideological foundation of portraying the Muslims as the Other of the nation. At its very core, the Hindutva ideology is built upon the assimilation of minorities into what is called the national mainstream. Of course this mainstream is defined by certain congeries of upper castes and their cultural lifestyles. However, keeping the controversy alive also serves another function. The BJP promise of delivering development to all has actually till now meant an empty promise. Owing to a combination of factors, the ruling dispensation has failed to deliver on its promises. The failure on the economic terrain is now sought to be compensated by the cultural and nationalistic turn which the BJP has taken. By plunging the country into mindless debate about Bharat Mata and Gau Mata, the government has successfully prevented any meaningful debate on its performance over the last two years. What is even more interesting is the way in which the opposition parties have been unable to see through this game and have responded to the agenda set by the government.
But till the time the opposition sets up and forces an alternative agenda, they are only playing a losing game. For in this age of bigotry, there cannot be a bigger champion of nationalism than the BJP. Far worse, in many ways, the intellectuals of this country have created such a discourse on nationalism that it will only help the Hindu Right forces in the country.
For long and perhaps even today, the intellectuals on the Left have been beholden to the idea of nationalism espoused by the Congress. In many ways and rather shamelessly, they can only be called as the intellectual arm of the Congress Party. And what is the position of the Congress on nationalism? Perhaps it does not know itself! The party which today opposes the application of sedition on JNU students applied very different principles when it was in power. One just has to think of the cartoonist Aseem Trivedi and the way in which he was hounded when the UPA government was in power.
In fact, there is not much to choose from between the nationalisms of the Congress, BJP and the dominant left parties in India. In the recent debate on nationalism in the wake of the JNU incident, there was nothing which could fundamentally critique the idea and practice of right wing nationalism, rather the debate was between which party was more nationalist or more truly nationalist. This is classic shadow boxing, where the real issue gets side-tracked through the conscious or unconscious participation of both the proponents as well as the opponents of nationalism.
But Bharat Mata is also used through her negation. The intransience of a section of Muslims, led by the Deoband and Jamaat-e-Islami is a case in point. The Deoband fatwa against chanting Bharat Mata ki Jai equated the slogan with idolatry which contravenes the principle of monotheism. Considered as the most important article of the Islamic faith, Tawheed, or belief in the oneness of God, is understandably the essential component of Islamic faith. The problem, however, is that throughout the Muslim world, Tawheed is understood and expressed in different ways. For example, within many Sufi traditions, Tawheed is also understood as the link which binds human beings to the Almighty through a very complicated scared cosmology.
The Ahle Sunnat wa Jamaat in India (popularly called the Barelwis) link the individual soul to the One through a very complex web of chains called the Silsila. So according to this rationality, bowing to the grave of a Sufi divine is not a negation of the principle of Tawheed, but its very affirmation. The act of Sajda near the grave of the Sufi is an occasion to remember the divine, to come closer to the Almighty. The act of bowing transposes the faithful into a sacred time, linking him or her to the Almighty through the grace of the Sufi.
But alas, for the Deobandis and other purist Salafi reformists within Islam, this beautiful imagination of spiritualism must be condemned as tantamount to associating partners to Allah. Scores have killed and others having a similar conception of divinity within Islam are under constant threat of being killed. Thankfully, in India, the followers of a mediated Islam have only been called un-Islamic but one shudders to think what would have happened to them if the purist Salafi Islam in India had as much clout as it has in the neighbouring countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Thus it is important to understand that the fatwa against chanting Bharat Mata ki Jai is an exercise for hegemony within Indian Muslim society. In other words, it is more fundamentally a position within Muslim society which has the potential of erasing multiple religiosities of Muslim experience in India. As Hindutva uses the icon of Bharat Mata for its own exclusionary purpose, the reformist Islam uses the icon of Mata to extend its own hegemony through its own interpretation of Islam. What gets lost amongst this manipulative nationalism is the myriad other imaginations of the nation, which provides the real glue that binds this country together.
A newageislam.com columnist, Arshad Alam is a Delhi based writer.