Patriotism and Sedition

The forced suicide of Rohith Vemula raised a nationwide controversy, and the role of Union Human Resources Development Minister Smriti Irani in this institutional murder drew widespread flak. The event of Kanhaia Kumar, an AISF activist and President of the Jawharlal Nehru University Students' Union has again raised a nationwide controversy. Even a casual observer of the event and the sequence following it may feel simultaneously amused and outraged at the wave the Police Commissioner of Delhi has exposed himself as a man of the establishment. Kanhaia Kumar was first arrested on charge of sedition (deshadrohita) and then beaten up on the court premises in front of the police. One of the main points at issue is whether he gave any anti-patriotic speech or slogan in the JNU campus. It is not yet known when and how the Kanhaia Kumar affair will come to a close, but the fact that the Modi government is at bay over the issue has made it clear that things have started to go awry for it.

It is, however, notoriously difficult to define concretely the term 'patriotism'. A leaf out of history may not be altogether irrelevant. Adlof Hitler, the Nazi dictator, posed as a great patriot and with his chariot of patriotism trampled communists, social democrats, Jews and finally even the Brown Shirts within the Nazi Party. But when the counter-productive nature of Germany's foreign adventures began to be apparent, dissension inside Germany and within the Nazi Party itself grew in intensity. At first it was brutally suppressed, but gradually it came to affect even the morale of the German army. Quite a few generals and other important army officers thought that physical destruction of this tyrant was essential for saving Germany. The closest attempt on Hitler's life, which was nearly successful, was made by an army officer named Count Staffenburg, but Hitler and his close lieutenants luckily escaped. Staffenburg was later caught and killed; some other army officers met the same fate. Rommel, the legendary army general, was charged with treason and forced to commit suicide. History has, however, given its verdict. Hitler came to be branded as a traitor who used the German masses for adventurist wars abroad and thus did incalculable harm to the nation. After the case of Hitler became hopeless and an unconditional surrender was demanded, Hitler and his three principal associates, Goebbles, Himler and Goehring, took to the path of killing themselves and a number of others were hanged or sentenced to long-term imprisonment. Himler was caught while trying to flee, and saved himself by committing suicide. Goehring was sentenced to death at the Nuremburg trial and, one day before the execution, took poison smuggled into his prison cell. Mussolini, the Italian fascist dictator, was killed a day earlier than Hitler's suicide. He was caught while trying to escape into Switzerland, then tried in front of the assembled crowd and shot dead along with his mistress. Nobody in Germany or Italy thereafter called Hitler or Mussolini a patriot.

It should be mentioned that M S Golwalkar, the most important ideologue of the RSS, was an advocate of the Hitlerite way of nation-building. In his book We or Our Nationhood Defined, he expressed his admiration for the way Germany had driven out the Semitic races from her soil, and advocated the same policy for India. Was he a patriot or a traitor to the country? If Hitler was a traitor masquerading as a patriot, his Indian adherents were not otherwise. Hence the question arises as to whether his worshippers should be called patriots or traitors. If the acolytes of Golwalkar, himself an open adherent of German Nazism, accuse somebody as being unpatriotic or anti-national, it must outrage anybody who hates Nazism and is opposed to its replication in India. Golwalkar was, however, an open admirer of Hitler, but his present followers do not have the courage to admit that they are so, lest they should get exposed in advance.

Why has Kanhaia Kumar been accused of being anti-patriotic? In a speech delivered on 12 February, he attacked the Manusmriti and the caste system, accused the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) of allying with the British and repressing freedom fighters, dubbed their Ambedkar adoration as hypocritical and so on and so forth. A careful perusal of Kanhaia Kunmr's speech makes it clear that nobody except the adherents of the RSS brand of patriotism or nationalism would be outraged at the drift of the speech. On the other hand, the contents of the Supreme Court judgment on the confirmation of Afzal Guru's death sentence leave much room for debate. Only those who are afraid of facing the debate can brand such debates anti-national.

The JNU episode has provided the Congress with a stick to beat the ruling party with. The Bharatiya Janata Party now needs friends in parliament to face Opposition heat. There are signs that the Central Government may not move much further on the chit fund scams in West Bengal.

The Sangh Parivar and the ABVP's efforts to cow the JNU students into submission represent a desperate bid to sarffronize education. The mass protests that emerged after the suicide of Rohith Vemula have caught the Sangh Parivar on the wrong foot, and hence they must go ahead with their agenda with greater ferocity. But fascism shall not pass; the European nightmare of the 1930s cannot be replicated in India.

The stability of India despite its diversity and widespread poverty is largely attributed to its liberal institutions from the colonial regime. The saffron brigade is out to destroy their character to bring in Hitlaite rule characterised by Einvolk, ein Reich, ein Fühner (One People, One Empire, One Leader), which echoed in their slogan of ‘One Nation, One Culture, One Religion, One Language!’ Contrary to the pedagogic claim that Indian state has three legs—legislative, executive and judiciary that maintains its internal balance the fact is that the executive has always been in collusion with the political masters. The police has always been subservient to them. The way they are conducting the JNU episode marks a qualitative shift.

In truth what is happening in India lately portends worse than Nazism and fascism. Indian state today is far more powerful than Hitler’s or Mussolini’s, matured to use liberal facade of democracy with fascist content. And one may recall Samuel Johnson to narrate the present state of affairs—‘patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels’.

Vol. 48, No. 37, Mar 20 - 26, 2016