One of the many shifts the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has brought to contemporary politics is the primacy of nationalism. The party has rooted itself in a strident, machismo-fuelled, with-us-or-against-us nationalism. And this self-proclaimed distinction has worked for them electorally.
I have often disagreed with my liberal compatriots on this issue. The failure of progressives to understand the sentimentalism of millions of ordinary citizens – and why we are moved by our anthem, our flag, men and women in uniform, and of course, the self-image of us as proud Indians – is one of the many reasons why the ideological right-wing entirely owns the patriotism space today. There has been an esoteric and self-indulgent scorning of the idea of the nation-State and its cherished symbols by liberals, instead of an embrace of constitutional patriotism – one that could have been an alternative to muscular nationalism.
The result is that the BJP and its supporters do not just define the discourse on nationalism, but virtually dictate it. “Anti-national” is a foolish troll phrase that has been mainstreamed by hawkish TV anchors and their alter egos on social media. Anyone disliked by the right-wing is immediately slandered as treasonous, often on the flimsiest grounds. And, of course, the moment they disagree with us, we are asked to “Go to Pakistan”.
This is why the BJP must be asked to account for the fact that Pragya Thakur was given a ticket to contest the elections to Parliament. By the party’s own self-proclaimed standards of nationalism, Thakur fails on every count.
When she first praised Mahatama Gandhi’s assassin and slandered 26/11 hero Hemant Karkare, the party promised an enquiry and possible disciplinary action. No less a person than the prime minister told journalists that he could never forgive Thakur for her comments. In that case, why was she not expelled or thrown out of the BJP before she could enter the Lok Sabha? And, if there was really a genuine intra-party enquiry, how did she end up on the parliamentary panel on defence from which she has now been removed after she repeated her praise for Godse?
The BJP dropping Thakur from the defence panel or barring her from parliamentary meetings is cosmetic. If it wants to send a message, it should throw her out of the party. After all, this is judging the party only by its own avowed standards, not by those of the Opposition. If Thakur is not anti-national, then by the right-wing’s own philosophy, I really do not know who is.
Supporters of the BJP have pulled out archival comments of Shiv Sena’s Balasaheb Thackeray and his praise of Godse. They point to Chhagan Bhujbal, sworn in as Nationalist Congress Party minister this week, who once called for the erecting of statues of Godse, instead of Gandhi. It is legitimate politics for them to call out the doublespeak of the Opposition that has frontally attacked Thakur, but pulled its punches on the Sena for similar comments in the past.
That said, if the Maharashtra alliance is post-ideological, so was the BJP’s own partnership with Mehbooba Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party in Jammu and Kashmir. The debate around Thakur is not one about political opportunism or even about whether there are Godse apologists in the non-BJP camp today. On opportunism, no party in India can claim the higher moral ground.
But what of the BJP’s claims to a distinctive nationalism? Can we forget so easily that Thakur faces charges in a bomb blast that killed six people and injured 100? This included a 10-year-old.
We just marked 11 years of the Mumbai terror attacks and commemorated our heroes. Thakur has brazenly vilified one of the bravest among them. Her words about Godse from the floor of Parliament – remarks she is now trying to deny – are the ultimate blot on our democracy.
If the BJP truly believes in nationalism, it must sack Thakur. Else, it will have to accept that its assertions on nationalism will be seen as corroded and compromised and merely realpolitik.
The BJP’s original sin was to give Thakur a ticket to contest the parliamentary elections. The party has to undo or atone for that mistake.