Mobocracy and Nationalism in India: A Commentary on Theoretical Discourse

By | October 4, 2018
Mobocracy and Nationalism

Abstract

Mobocracy can be defined as a state of affairs which is primarily governed by the whims and wishes of majoritarian dictate (often accompanied by political mandate) rather than rational and just considerations. India which harbour the most diverse population in the world has had many incidents of strife and riots since its inception. But a new nationwide chain of the phenomenon of mobocracy emerged post-2014 after BJP assumed power with the rise of lynch mobs under the pretext of cow vigilantism, love jihad and anti-Romeo squads, and institutional bias exhibited by the State against the minorities.

To understand the post-2014 emergence of mobocracy, it is essential to understand the forces authorizing and encouraging such a state of affair. Mobocracy as a norm cannot survive without a socio-political support. Such a support cannot be manoeuvred without a parent ideology, which in the Indian context is well imputed to the Hindutva model of nationalism, and its proponents.

Mobocracy is the perversion of democracy. Its proponents are mere ideologues of an ideology. On a normative front, mobocracy can be repressed by suppressing the ideologues and depriving them of political legitimacy. But its proclivity to re-emerge cannot be neutralized without abrogating its ideological roots. Therefore, it becomes essential to address the ideology which incites and animates a cause to such an assemblage. The essay is a commentary on the origin, discourse and inspiration of Hindutva model of nationalism, which quite contrary to its claim of being a purely indigenous Hindu revival movement is, as a matter of fact, a pirated version of the European exclusivity model of nationalism. The essay in its light addresses the correlation between post-2014 mobocracy and the Hindutva ideological brigade and concludes with relevant suggestions.

Essay

Nationalism is essentially the violent child of the Romantic movement. Born in the cradle of the French Revolution of 1789 and build on the ideals of liberal and democratic traditions, it was radicalised over time to serve the state power and political domination of Conservative forces of Europe after 1848.

It is quite common within the academic field to misconstrue this whole process as a contortion and abdication of the original ideals of liberal democratic tradition and juxtaposing it with the diametrically opposite ideas which served the interests of the political regime. To a certain extent, such a construction cannot be discarded in toto. However, it is fallacious on their part, to attempt to track the historical discourse of a concept which lacks a precise and rational definition. A concept which owes its origin in abstract realms of romanticism and was essentially a ‘sentimental’ concept, was bound to be modulated to serve different masters and agendas, often for political hegemony and legitimacy. On an individually subjective level, nationalism for a peasant will have an altogether different connotation for a monarch. Therefore, what constitutes a nation may not necessarily qualify the same for another.

A soldier may have political and geographical demarcations determining the boundaries of his conception of a nation while a sportsman may consider the Olympics as his manifestation of a nation of sportsmen. The concept, therefore, is essentially a ‘sentiment’ of ‘solidarity’ which has a tendency to materialize (as it often does) in the form of a movement. This solidarity can be a manifest of a singular or combination of the political, cultural, religious, economic or other vested interests. Feminism and anti-colonial movements were consequently and essentially nationalist movements.

An illusion and misconstruction which has gained the status of ‘carte blanche’ are that nations, as well as national identities, are exclusive, i.e., a person can belong only to one tribe or nation (which are essentially homogeneous). The academia on the subject, notably Ernest Gellner, Elie Kedourie and Benedict Anderson, though, acknowledges this ‘exclusivity’ principle. It is in fact, never so. To elaborate: an Indian Muslim in a foreign land can have an affinity towards members of the Muslim community (not necessarily Indians) as they share a common religious and to an extent traditional heritage. While at the same time he shall also appreciate a sense of solidarity with other Indians he may come across, not necessarily of the Islamic faith. Ascribing himself to one solidarity exclusively in such a situation entails a conundrum which clearly points the fallacy of this ‘Exclusivity principle’.

A person can be a member of different nations all at the same time. A Hindu Brahmin orphan girl born in Gazipur and later adopted by a Sikh family of Bhopal can recognize different regional, religious, caste, class, gender and social affinities all at the same time. As a matter of fact, the forerunner of all nationalist movements, the French Revolution itself had two concurrent nationalist movements running simultaneously and coherently: the mass movement to establish a Republic on liberal democratic principles as well as a Women’s Suffragette movement (precursor of the Feminist movement). Therefore, the modern connotation of it being essentially an exclusivity doctrine defies its very own historical origin. To label, an abstract sentimental concept on ‘Exclusivity principle’ is neither practically tenable nor logically coherent. Benedict Anderson was therefore right in his attribution of nations as ‘Imagines Communities’.[1]

In his ‘Theory of Imagined Communities’, Anderson claims that in a nation, all its members are tied together to form a homogeneous lot based on one or certain parameters. “It is imagined because the members of that particular community might have never seen, heard or met but the idea of all of us belonging to a particular territory, as nation instils the idea of community and the feeling of togetherness.”[2] Therefore it more or less likely is determined by the subjective solidarity and belief of the individuals.

It relevant to point it out at this juncture, that all the noted academicians, examined and limited the concept of ‘nationalism’ as on parameters of ‘political and territorial integrity’. However, it operated on a canvas far wider than this enclosed ambit. Dipesh Chakrabarty in his article ‘Nation and Imagination’[3] while acknowledging the other facets of the concept, therefore, suggests a need to infuse and acknowledge into the concept ‘a plurality to make it globally useful’[4].

In fact, it is rather the widescale acknowledgement of the ‘Exclusivity Principle’ by both the academic and the general perception of the world which renders ‘nationalism’ vulnerable to drive a conflict insurrection, both internationally and domestically (hereafter referred in the essay as ‘Exclusive Nationalism’). As often the project of creating a nation state goes hand in hand with preventing others from doing the same, at international level, nationalism drives the State to averse other States and often leading to wars and colonisation tendencies. On the domestic level, an uncompromising and ruthless call for cultural, racial, religious, territorial, ideological and at times economical homogeneity may result into suppression and extermination of dissent and minorities. Nationalism, therefore, has built a notorious reputation to have a habit of thriving on conflict.

The essay shall be confined to the latter dimension: the operation of exclusive nationalism in the domestic sphere of a State. Exclusive nationalism when afforded the wheels of propaganda, dogma and force get radicalized to give way to ‘radical nationalism’. Notably, the Zionist movement founded by Theodor Herzl, the Hindutva movement of Savarkar, the Fascism movement of Mussolini and Hitler as well as Jinnah’s Two-Nation theory, are all radical incarnations of exclusive nationalism, which were (and still are) directly responsible for the establishment of mobocracy in their respective territories. So, when Ramchandra Guha summarizes the (European) model of ‘nationalism’ as adopted by Pakistan and the Hindutva brigade into a catechism of—”a single language, a shared religion, and a common enemy”[5], he is, in fact, referring to the radical model. India however, invented a diametrically opposite model.

The Emergence of Mobocracy in India:

Over the years India as a nation has served a paradox to the western mind. Prior to India’s independence, the national movement was subject to ridicule by the western scholars as a mere fantasy, owing to the country’s diverse socio-cultural and religious heritage. Sir John Strachey, in fact, reiterated many times in his lectures at the University of Cambridge, that there was no such country like India. It was rather “a name which we give to a great region including a multitude of different countries”[6]. Drawing a parallel with Europe, he writes that was more similarity between an Englishman and an Italian than between Bengali and a Punjabi. Therefore, negating any possibility of India surviving as a united nation. Theoretically, if we adjoin their analysis with that of the European model of nationalism (Exclusive model), their conclusion doesn’t seem irrational. Their analysis even hitherto the 1980s, decades after the Independence predicted the disintegration and balkanization of the country.

But as of 71 years after independence, the nation has not yet shown any strong subscription of disintegrating or rise of regional nationalist movements (with a brief stint of the Khalistan movement of the 1980s and the North-East disturbances prior to 1990s). The national solidarity can be attributed to the reinvented model of nationalism of Gandhi, ‘Swaraj’, which was strictly opposed to the European model.

Partha Chatterjee in his 1986 theoretical discourse[7] into Indian nationalism, elucidates the initial relocation of the concept by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay on the touchstone of modern and rational lines and not as a blind relegation of backward-looking, regressive and conservative institutions of the Indian society. It was radically reinvented into the concept of ‘Swaraj’ by Mahatma Gandhi, an all-inclusive model which explicitly refuted the European exclusive model. Swaraj was neither identified with a single religion nor with a particular language. Even more remarkably, it refuted hatred towards the British and instead preached the path of non-violence. Rather than showing a propensity towards homogenizing of the population, the doctrine thrived on the principle of “Unity in Diversity”. Instead of being driven on competitive lines to implant a national hegemony it rather sought for a politics of accommodation, tolerance and cooperation.

 On the other end of the spectrum, the European model of nationhood and nationalism which was profoundly injected by the Muslim League in the years preceding the independence were amputated from the mainstream discourse, to let thrive in a new state of Pakistan. Its radical Hindu counterpart, the Hindutva brigade (RSS and its affiliates) was politically insignificant to the whole Indian nation during initial days of the post-independence era. However, they were quite active in the social sphere. In the line of Jacobin clubs of revolutionary France, it rather focused on expanding its social base by setting up shakhas throughout the country. Their number already exceeding 55,000 in the year 2016 with a membership of above 5 million.

An ardent ideologue of radical nationalism to the extremities of fascism, the Hindutva brigade endorsed a jingoist form of nationalism with a xenophobia towards the religious minorities, diametrically opposed to the ‘Swaraj’ model. It pursues a policy of homogenizing the country on the lines of radical Hinduism ideology and establishing a non-secular ‘Hindu Rashtra’ of ‘Hindus’ exclusively, quite contrary to the ‘Swaraj’ envisaged by Gandhi and Nehru. Its core nationalist ideology ‘Hindutva’[8] by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar excludes minorities such as Muslims, Christians, Parsis and Jews from the definition of ‘Hindu’ and advocated the restoration of the ‘Manusmriti’, caste system and the ‘Hindu way of life’. The outfit is well documented both in the past and present to vehemently oppose the Indian Constitution.[9]

The emergence of the mobocracy characterised by ostracism and violence against lower castes and religious and ideological minorities after the 2014 Lok Sabha win by the Bhartiya Janta Party, the political affiliate of RSS and Sangh Parivar, disrobes the underlying tussle between Swaraj and the Hindutva model of nationalism.

Best elaborated in the words of Ernest Gellner, “nationalism (essentially) is a theory of political legitimacy”[10],  the Hindutva forces thereafter under the BJP rule of 2014 acquired a political validity to promulgate and direct their actions (with violence and harassment) towards minorities. The hate propaganda schemes such as love jihad, cow vigilantism, anti-nationals, urban-Naxals, Pakistan sympathisers etc were all directed with dual motive of instilling terror in the minorities and at the same time instigating contempt in the minds of the majoritarian Hindu community against such minorities. Propaganda slogans such as “Dash, bahu aur gai ko bachana hai toh Narendra Modi ko lana hai (Bring Narendra Modi to save the country, women and cows)”[11] were openly endorsed by the ruling government, while incidents of violence met with latent endorsement by the State.

State, as defined by Max Weber, is that agency within society which possesses the monopoly of legitimate violence.[12] The direction of legitimate violence rests but on the arbitrary discretion of the state. Therefore, when the state resorts to exercise legitimate violence on victims of crime and refuses the exercise on alleged perpetrators, it serves as an accomplice to the crimes of the perpetrators.

With the reported commemoration of honour and open support to the perpetrators of cow vigilantism by the ministers of ruling party to the framing of false charges against the victims of such violence as well as dissenting intellectual, a string of pattern emerges post-2014 which point towards a state-endorsed protection and immunity to such perpetrators. This strongly validates a connivance between the perpetrators and the State, which share a common ideological adherence: a state-sponsored mobocracy. The strategy employed contrasts Nazi Germany’s anti-Semitic propaganda of the 1930s under Paul Joseph Goebbels, ‘Minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment’ which demonized the Jew community through mass media.

The constant inaction of the State authorities forced intervention by the honourable Supreme Court. The 3-judges bench in Tehseen S. Poonawalla v. Union of India[13] which in its order dated 17th July 2018 took strict cognizance of the rising incidents of mob-lynching, mandating all State governments to take stern measures to stop mob lynching violence and asked them to submit a report in this regard. A recommendation was made to the Parliament to create a special law to address the mob lynching and providing adequate punishment for the same. Prior to this, the Supreme Court also intervened to negate the state-sponsored false propaganda of ‘love jihad’ in the case of Shafin Jahan v. UOI[14] (the Hadiya case).

Conclusion:

To understand mobocracy, it is essential to understand the forces authorizing and encouraging such a state of affair. Mobocracy as a norm cannot survive without a socio-political support. Such a support cannot be manoeuvred without a parent ideology, which in the Indian context is well imputed to the Hindutva model of nationalism, and its propagation.

Mobocracy is the perversion of democracy. On a normative front, it can be repressed by restoration of law and order in the society by the State. But its proclivity to re-emerge can be neutralized only by abrogating its ideological roots. In the Indian context, it calls for re-enforcement of the ‘Swaraj’ model which was manifested in the form of constitutional morality in the Indian Constitution and total abdication of Hindutva model and its proponents, which is contrast conflict to the Fraternal, Secular and Just tradition of the Preamble. The Hindutva model expressly propagates exclusivity on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex and place of birth. All the ground which have been explicitly renounced by Article 15(1)[15] of the Constitution.

On an ideological front, the Swaraj Model in essence needs builds a wider outreach and socio-political support for itself. The Supreme Court needs to re-examine and correct its erroneous construction of Hindutva by conflating it with Hinduism in Prabhoo v. Kunte[16], to afford the State a normative ground to proceed against the propagation of the said ideology. Any alternate exclusive model of nationalism aimed to abnegate the Constitution need be prohibited to operate in the public sphere and examined by the Supreme Court on the touchstone of the Constitution and Section 124, 124-A, 153B of the Indian Penal Code.


By: Mohammad Adil Ansari And Nishant Singh Rawat

Himachal Pradesh National Law University, Shimla


Footnotes:

[1] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections of the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (1983).

[2] Anderson, supra

[3] Dipesh Chakrabarty, Nation and Imagination (1999).

[4] Chakrabarty, supra 1.

[5] Ramchandra Guha, Patriotism v. Jingoism, (Feb. 05, 2018), https://www.outlookindia.com/magazine/story/patriotism-vs-jingoism/299735.

[6] John Strachey, India (1894).

[7] Partha Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse? (1986).

[8] Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Hindutva: Who is a Hindu? (1928).

[9] Pushparaj Deshpande, The war within: A Hindu Rashtra vs Constitutional India (Nov. 26, 2015), https://scroll.in/article/771765/the-war-within-a-hindu-rashtra-vs-constitutional-india

[10] Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism 1 (1983).

[11] Manish Chandra Pandey & Vikas Pathak, Muzaffarnagar: ‘Love jihad’, beef bogey sparked riot flames (September 12, 2013), https://www.hindustantimes.com/india/muzaffarnagar-love-jihad-beef-bogey-sparked-riot-flames/story-C4zF5w9K1FoS5Sffu0DU2L.html

[12] Max Weber, Politics as a Vocation (1919).

[13] Writ Petition (Civil) No. 754 of 2016

[14] SLP(Crl.) 5777/17

[15] Indian Const. Art. 15(1).

[16] AIR 1996 SC 1113


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