August 23, 2015

Dissent, Hindutva & Politics Of Being Anti-National

Archana Prasad

LAST week, Sakshi Maharaj, a BJP MP, was once again in the news for calling all those who attended Yakub Memon’s funeral as anti-national. Just before that the minister for parliamentary affairs, Venkaiah Naidu stated that anyone questioning the hanging of Yakub Memon was “doing disservice to the nation”. A few days later, three news channels were served with notices to explain why they had questioned the president and the decision of the Supreme Court on the hanging of an “anti-national terrorist”. These statements reveal that any democratic dissent is being branded as an illegal and anti-national act by the NDA regime. This effort has been followed up by a systematic effort to infiltrate educational and cultural institutions with Sangh Parivar sympathisers and thereby influence and transform the consciousness of the nation. However, given the history and the diversity of the nation, such an intense and concerted attempt is facing resistance from both secular and democratic functionaries of official institutions like the judiciary on the one hand and the Left and democratic minded movements and individuals on the other hand. The recent pronouncements in the case registered against Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand provide both hope and evidence of this resistance.




It is well known that the case against Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand has been politically motivated and engineered to stifle dissent against the Gujarat government. The additional solicitor general argued in the Mumbai High Court that Sabrang Communications, the company run by Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand was pursuing activities that advocated a “separate criminal code for Muslims and also supported to keep the 2002 incidents in Gujarat alive”. According to this argument the work done by Teesta Setalvad and her company is anti-national and defamatory towards the republic as its proposal to the Ford Foundation claims that “in the past two decades, India has faced ever growing attacks on the constitution and there are recording of outbreaks condoning anti-minority carnages and programmes”.

Countering this argument, the High Court order is clear when it states that it finds no reason to believe that the activities of Teesta Setalvad and her associates are anti-national in character. Rather it explicitly states that after hearing the prosecution the Court is unable to find any evidence of the “sovereignty and integrity” of the country being violated by Teesta Setalvad and her associates. It even goes further when it states that: “an Act which is seditious in nature and dangerous to the security of India, cannot be tolerated under the law. However, a citizen may conduct social activities and may hold a different philosophy or view which may not be liked by the government. However, in a democratic State, a citizen has right to have different ideology, belief and different point of view and it is a duty of the State to protect the said right to have freedom of expression to the same. A dissenting view or expression cannot be always said to be against sovereignty of the nation. The terms 'against the nation' and 'against the government' are two different terms”.

These observations by the court hold up a citizen’s fundamental right to dissent in a liberal democracy. By the same measure they also expose the political intent by which the NDA regime is using the CBI to brand those who oppose it as anti-national. This use of government machinery to stifle dissent is linked with the conservative majoritarian backlash that accompanies policies of the NDA regimes.




The larger politics behind the stifling of dissent is the way in which Hindutva forces view personal liberty and democracy. In their own estimation, the limits of personal liberty and freedom are set by a brahmanical morality that lies at the very core of the Hindutva project. Within this any social or political dissent is unacceptable. Hence, the moral policing by the Sangh brigade, and more recently the use of police by the Maharashtra police to raid hotels where couples were rounded up and charged with ‘indecent’ behaviour. This illegal and illegitimate action was justified in the name of Indian culture by a BJP minister in the state government who said that the Mumbai police was simply upholding the values of Indian culture.

The question of culture lies at the very core of the Hindutva notion of the nation which militates against the conception of liberal democracy and a heterogeneous culture where everyone can practice freedom of speech guaranteed by the Indian constitution. In contrast, the Hindutva notion of nationhood is linked to a conception of religious morality and a concept of freedom that is innately anti-minority in general and anti-Muslim in particular. Hence even on the website of the ruling BJP an article titled ‘Hindutva: the Great Nationalist Ideology’ by Mihir Meghwani states that real freedom lies in the establishment of a Hindu nation bereft of foreign (read Islamic) influence and that the new wave of ‘Hindu jagriti’ witnessed today is a result of the Ramjanambhoomi movement. As Meghwani writes: “The humble and fair demand for RamaJanmabhoomi could have resulted in a freedom for India.... For the first time, Hindus had demanded something, and it was justifiable that a reasonable demand from an undemanding people would be realised..... The destruction of the structure at Ayodhya was the release of the history that Indians had not fully come to terms with. Thousands of years of anger and shame, so diligently bottled up by these same interests, was released when the first piece of the so-called Babri Masjid was torn down....It is a fundamental concept of Hindu Dharma that has won: righteousness. Truth won when Hindus, realising that Truth could not be won through political or legal means, took the law into their own hands.... Hindus have been divided politically and the laws have not acknowledged the quiet Hindu yearning for Hindu unity which has until recently taken a back seat to economic development and Muslim appeasement. Similarly, the freedom movement represented the supercedence of Indian unity over loyalty to the British Crown. In comparison to the freedom movement though, Hindutva involves many more people and represents the mental freedom that 1947 did not bring. The future of Bharat is set. Hindutva is here to stay. It is up to the Muslims whether they will be included in the new nationalistic spirit of Bharat.”

This long quotation makes it clear that essential to the Hindutva notion of nationhood is the idea that Muslim minorities are second class citizens and should accept the cultural and political domination of the majority. The freedom of expression and personal liberty (seen as “foreign influences” in this philosophy) are acceptable, but only within the broad parameters and boundaries laid down by the majority. It is therefore not surprising that the people opposing capital punishment and the undue hurry in hanging Afzal Guru and Yakub Memon have been branded as anti-national. By the same measure Teesta Setalvad and her associates’ direct challenge to the Hindutva brigade and Narendra Modi in the 2002 Gujarat riots has elicited a vicious response from the State apparatus. 

These developments show how deeply the forces of Hindutva have been able to hegemonise the media. The State apparatus is being used to create political conditions that are akin to Emergency. In this situation the court order in the Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand case is a good political instrument to buildup resistance against an authoritarian government.