Burying Patriotism Alive

Full Title: Burying Patriotism Alive: An Examination of the Threat of Modern Hindu Nationalism on Patriotic Values in India


Ariana Jaspal

ARTSSCI 1C03: Inquiry - Global Challenges



Abstract: The election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi magnified the prevalence and significance of Hindu nationalism in India. Naturally, the magnification of Hindu nationalism begets many questions: how is it materializing? What role does the government of India play in perpetuating it? Should we care—what is at stake? This paper will examine exactly what is at stake—patriotic values in India. Patriotism is practiced by preserving the values of a nation that benefit and protect all of its citizens. These patriotic values may materialize in the form of human rights and the nation’s constitution. Narandra Modi’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has been responsible for multiple human rights violations and is working to undermine many of India’s constitutional values in their effort to sustain Hindu nationalism. This paper will assert that modern Hindu nationalism, as perpetuated by the Bharatiya Janata Party, threatens patriotic values in India.


Discussions regarding nationalism and patriotism are often imperfect due to a general inability to make necessary distinctions between the two. While the terms will be defined more precisely in the next section of this paper, it is important to note that the two ideologies are not, and have never been, interchangeable synonyms. However, this is frequently overlooked as society strays from a true understanding of the terms. Further, when the terms are so often grouped as the same, a general disdain for nationalism leaves the observer with an equally bitter view on patriotism. Socially, patriotism can play a vital role in preserving the basic values of a nation and generally directly serves the interest of its people. Igor Primoratz points out a notable difference in the way that patriotism and nationalism operate, stating that when the ideology’s actions are carried out reasonably and without ill thoughts about others and hostile actions towards them, that is patriotism (n.pag). When the actions become uncontrolled and cause one to think ill of others and act towards them with hostility, that is nationalism (Primoratz n.pag). This statement demonstrates the staggering difference between the ideologies, and shows us that patriotism is capable of preserving the values of a nation without causing harm to any of its citizens-- patriotism works in their best interest.

Nationalism and patriotism can be more accurately termed as antonyms, as the disparity between the two causes them to frequently come into direct conflict with each other. This clash of ideological values is blatantly observed in India today where the nationalistic agenda of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) threatens to overrule the nation’s patriotic values. I will concern myself with patriotic values rather than patriotism as a whole, as it will be more plausible to distinguish certain aspects of patriotism that are being undermined by Hindu nationalism than to investigate whether patriotism in India is dying entirely. To begin, it will be important to define both nationalism and patriotism and point out key distinctions between the two. This will help to define a certain value or action as patriotic. This paper will delve deeper into the ways that Hindu nationalist actions, as perpetuated by the BJP, conflict with and neglect Indian patriotic values.

Patriotism is a broad term with many applications, but for the demonstration of the patriotic values in India, there are three aspects of the ideology I intend to focus on. First, as Igor Primoratz asserts, patriotism involves love for one’s country and special concern for its well-being and that of compatriots (n.pag). “Special concern for its well-being and that of compatriots” is the piece I deem to be most important, as it humanizes the ideology and reminds us that patriotism is concerned with the wellbeing of a nation’s people. One of the largest critiques of patriotism stems from the belief that patriotism encourages group attachment and that it is this group attachment that creates mindless followers of an ideology (Kateb n.pag). This harsh cyclic view of patriotism is one-sided and neglects the benefits that patriotism may have on a community. This leads to the second important aspect of patriotism: patriotism is the peoples’ awareness of their moral duty to their political community and patriotism is devoted to the way of life its practitioners deem best, uninterested in imposing its beliefs unto others (Primoratz n.pag). I recognize the subjectivity of “the way of life its practitioners deem best,” as it may be presumptuous to state that all citizens of a nation have a singular way of life that is best for them. However, a way of life that emphasizes freedoms and autonomy and provides physical protection and basic resources can be objectively considered as beneficial. I feel it is important to emphasize that patriotism begets group support and creates a nation that acts as a community, instead of enforcing group attachment and sheep-like thinking. This is also where patriotism differs significantly from nationalism, as nationalism intends to gain power and prestige for its nation through any means necessary, regardless of beliefs in a preexisting area (Primoratz n.pag). Patriotism, on the other hand, is not concerned with imposing its belief unto others, allowing for diversity in the nation and ensuring that no enmity will develop. The element of patriotism I will use to finalize my definition of the term is that patriotism “must be founded upon a knowledge of, and belief in, democratic values. But more is required since public servants must guarantee those rights to others under all conditions” (Frederickson et al. 547). This emphasizes that patriotism is devoted to preserving a system of equality that guarantees the autonomy of its citizens and generally serves the best interest of the people. It also reminds us that patriotism must involve ensuring that each member of the nation is given access to their rights in all circumstances. In “The Public Service and the Patriotism of Benevolence,” Frederickson and Hart go so far as to say that patriotism (being inherently benevolent) should be the primary motivation of all public servants (547).

Nationalism also requires a clarified definition as its interpretations differ from person to person. In this paper, nationalism will be defined as an ideology founded upon the notion that an individual’s loyalty to the nation-state should exceed other individual or group interests (Kohn n.pag). This is another place where we see nationalism directly conflict with patriotism, as patriotism is first and foremost concerned with the well being of a nation’s people, and nationalism is concerned with the wellbeing of the nation. This statement may raise more confusion: how do we define a nation if not as the collection of people who inhabit it? Essentially, nationalism uses ethnographic principles and looks for homogeneity when determining a nation, generally disregarding parts of the population that do not fit into these groups. This paper will delve deeper into the religious and cultural elements that the Hindu nationalist movement in India is founded on.

The questions “what does nationalism solve?” or “why might nationalism exist” seem natural when we consider the perpetual and violent presence of nationalism throughout history. It seems most obvious that nationalism is a form of scapegoating. It is easier to assign blame to the “others” in society, than to acknowledge the role that the majority can play in resolving an issue. This acknowledgement can come with the uncomfortable realization that people with every capability to take action sometimes choose not to do so. Nationalism is a veil created by hatred that hides the truth behind problems within a nation.

The Bharatiya Janata Party is the political wing of the ‘family’ of organizations formed around the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) (Harriss 713). The RSS was established in 1925, operated by party-activists and propagandists with beliefs of Hindu supremacy, and it quickly turned into a quasi-military organization. Today, the RSS and its affiliations are credited with the successful spread of Hindu nationalism in India. This nationalism is rooted in the belief that “Hindu culture is the life-breath of Hindustan… that if Hindustan is to be protected, [they] should first nourish the Hindu culture… It is therefore the duty of every Hindu to do his best to consolidate the Hindu society” (Harriss 713). This reflects the idea that nationalism concerns itself with the interest of the nation-state over the interests of its people. Hindu nationalists ignore the diverse collection of religious groups that make up the country, identifying supremacy with an antiquated idea of preserving the once-prominent group. Further, “Hindustan'' was appropriately renamed to “India” to represent the heterogeneity of religious populations in the nation, a notion disregarded by the BJP’s insistence that the nation should be defined by the beliefs and customs of one religion. It is important to highlight that religious homogeneity is the largest goal of the Hindu nationalist movement that operates according to an Islamaphobic and generally anti-Muslim agenda.

Currently representing the BJP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has explicitly demonstrated his affinity with Hindu nationalism. While serving as chief minister of the state of Gujarat, Modi’s government was widely considered to be responsible for the most severe outbreak of violence between Hindus and Muslims experienced in independent India. Modi and the BJP have taken several steps in parliament to push their nationalistic agenda, including creating updates to immigration systems (Citizenship amendment act ), introducing legislation barring interfaith relationships (Love Jihad ), and harshly overrunning areas with large Muslim populations (The Kashmir Conflict ). Many of these actions directly conflict with the elements that define patriotism. By establishing which elements of patriotism are being contradicted by the nationalistic movement perpetuated by the BJP, I will determine how the Hindu nationalist movement is threatening patriotic values in India.

Whether a single specific written document or a collection of documents and statutes, a constitution forms the fundamental organizing principle of a political state (Spiro n.pag). While every state has a constitution, the extent to which its doctrines are abided by varies drastically. The constitution can be regarded as a nation’s democratic values, and thus, attempts to preserve constitutional values and ensure that constitutional rights are guaranteed to all citizens can be regarded as inherently patriotic. Frederickson and Hart explain that liberty is directly correlated with a nation’s constitutional values, enforcing that patriotism which defends the constitutional values of a nation plays a critical role in ensuring the well-being of its citizens (548). Similarly, actions that deliberately contradict constitutional rights and values can be considered anti-patriotic. In examining how the BJP’s actions attack Indian patriotism, I will demonstrate two specific constitutional values being undermined by the government’s nationalist goal to establish Hindu-supremacy in the country.

First, and perhaps most significant in the discussion of current Hindu nationalism, is the constitutional value of secularism. The Indian constitution begins with a resolution to constitute India into a “sovereign socialist secular democratic republic” (The Constitution of India). India was established as a secular state, ensuring the right to freedom of religion to its citizens. This is a discipline that the BJP constantly debates, leading with the argument that Indian secularism has transformed into minority appeasement in an attack on the majority (Bharatiya Janata Party n.pag). While previous governments have also ineffectually upheld secular principles, their failures were generally in the form of errors, rather than the result of deliberate anti-secular policies (Ganguly n.pag).

The passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is the first of these endeavours I will examine. The CAA aims to ensure expedited citizenship for oppressed minorities in the bordering countries of Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan; however, the legislation excludes Muslims from this accelerated citizenship process. This deliberate exclusion is blatantly unsecular and contradicts the Indian constitution’s declaration that “the State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India” (art. 14). The update to the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is in accordance with the CAA’s desire to redefine citizenship on religious grounds (Ganguly n.pag). The NRC intended to determine the legitimacy of Indian citizens, and an update to the NRC for the state of Assam in 2019 found nearly 700 000 Muslim citizens excluded (Ganguly n.pag). This sparked widespread protest, which was intensified when the BJP announced its intention to update the NRC nationwide. The NRC crackdown is further complicated by the illiteracy, poverty, and itinerancy that often leaves mass populations in India without the legal documents required to prove citizenship. Residents excluded from the NRC become labelled as illegal immigrants and may be placed into detention camps while their claims are adjudicated. However, the CAA provides an escape from prosecution for most religious groups. This leaves Muslim residents with an illegal status, and puts them at the highest risk of deportation. This process once again demonstrates a conflict with India’s constitutional value of secularism and its assurance of equal treatment concerning religion.

The second constitutional value at stake under the BJP’s leadership is article 370 regarding the special status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. On August 6th, 2019, a presidential order revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. The terms of the ordinance divided the state into two union territories that will be directly ruled from New Delhi, and many critics have regarded this move to be an ode to the BJP’s advancement of Hindu nationalism. The previous autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir allowed the state to restrict migration and property purchasing, maintaining the state’s predominantly Muslim population. By stripping away this autonomy, the BJP invites a shift in the demographic of the nation’s only Muslim-majority state, allowing for the immigration of non-muslims. This can ultimately lead to the loss of significant Islamic tradition and culture in the state, assimilating it with the rest of India’s majorly Hindu population. The introduction of the CAA and NRC as well as the rescindment of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, are all examples of the BJP’s perpetuation of Hindu nationalism to establish a state which demonstrates Hindu supremacy. Further, these nationalistic actions directly conflict with the nation’s constitutional values and can therefore be viewed as inherently anti-patriotic. Continuing to govern in this nationalistic manner will continue to dwindle patriotic values in India.

“Human rights” is a term that does not have a universal concrete definition, generally because many questions arise in conversations regarding human rights. For example, how should they be validated? Who should validate them? Should they be considered irrevocable? Are they political tools of predominantly progressive “elites” and do they perpetuate Western imperialism? (Weston n.pag). To simplify our explanation of human rights, we can refer to “empowerment” rights which are generally accepted worldwide: Freedom of assembly and association, freedom of speech/expression, freedom of religion, freedom from violence, and worker’s rights. All of these rights work towards creating a state that guarantees the autonomy of its citizens and is concerned for the well-being of its citizens. We can see how human rights are founded upon the same principles which motivate patriotism, and we can assume that actions that violate human rights can also be considered anti-patriotic. In “Nationalism and human rights: A replication and extension,” Holzer expresses that nationalism is negatively associated with government respect for human rights (n.pag). This is because nationalism prioritizes the interests of one group over any other concerns, identifying with their idea of the nation-state while disregarding any others. I have chosen to examine three instances of the BJP’s perpetuation of Hindu nationalism that have caused human rights violations.

First, is the callous disregard the government displayed towards the actions of Hindu vigilante groups that have attacked Muslims and other religious minority groups involved in the cattle trade. The apparent justification for these attacks was that the traders were transporting cattle for slaughter and the police in BJP states (where most of these incidents have occurred) repeatedly turned a blind eye to the perpetrators. Cow slaughter is forbidden in most parts of the Hindu-majority country. However, its mention in article 48 of the Indian constitution is included in the directive principles of the state as a means to help guide states in policymaking without enforcement. BJP leaders have made strong statements about the need to protect cows to appeal to Hindu voters, which in turn has enabled -- and in certain instances incited -- communal violence. In Uttar Pradesh, a BJP governed state, the chief minister referred to a specific attack as an accident and went on to emphasize that cow-slaughtering is illegal (Ganguly n.pag). This is one of many instances of neglect demonstrated by the BJP’s government towards violent cow protection in India and the right of its citizens to freedom from violence.

Next, a series of arrests based on sedition demonstrate the government’s blatant disregard for freedom of speech. These arrests were made in compliance with section 124A of the Indian Penal Code. Sedition was used to criminalize dissent in multiple arrests, which included Pa Ranjith, a director, Hard Kaur, a rapper, and Shehla Rashid, a Kashmiri politician and activist among multiple others who have spoken out against the Indian government. The provision of sedition has been widely critiqued throughout history, and during his trial in 1922, Mahatma Gandhi expressed his belief that section 124A was designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen (Correspondent n.pag). The BJP’s abuse of this provision is rooted in its nationalistic motives. Nityanand Rai, minister of state for home affairs, refused to remove it, saying that the provision is needed to effectively combat anti-national, secessionist and terrorist elements (The Times of India n.pag). The BJP has dangerously associated freedom of speech with an attack on the government and has told Indian citizens that disagreement with the BJP’s ideologies will result in punishment.

Finally, freedom of expression was violently disregarded following nation-wide protests of the CAA. On December 15th, 2019, police forcibly entered the campus of Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi and used physical force to disrupt the peaceful protests. Four days later, various administrative authorities imposed bans against public gatherings, especially in BJP governed states. In January, members of Akhil Bharatiya Vidya Parishad (ABVP) entered the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi and attacked students belonging to a left-winged student union (Ganguly n.pag). The ABVP is the student wing of the RSS, the militant arm of the BJP. Police passively observed these attacks reminding us of their relationship with the BJP and its nationalistic ideals. In defending the nationalistic CAA, the BJP has demonstrated that they have little regard for human rights in the country. In the examples of violent cow protection, sedition-based arrests, and the oppressive response to the peaceful CAA protests, the government has shown its citizens that the preservation of human rights, an inherently patriotic value, is not enough to stop their nationalistic agenda.

Patriotism serves to defend the patriotic values of a nation. These include human rights and proximity to the nation’s constitutional values. Patriotism is concerned with the wellbeing of every citizen of a nation and is not concerned with defining and dividing the nation in ethnographic ways. Current Hindu nationalism in India is perpetuated by creating enmity between the citizens and catering only towards the wellbeing of one majority group. It is further enforced by a government that is driven by these ideals and systemically implements them, demonstrating little regard for those affected. Modern Hindu nationalism frequently contradicts the patriotic values of India, threatening to drown out patriotic values in the nation entirely. A government that works to systematically enforce nationalism will eventually bury patriotic values and those who attempt to enforce them, as repeatedly demonstrated through the BJP’s violent disregard for human rights. This paper was not entirely concerned with the validity of nationalism as a concept, but now raises the question of how serious its implications truly are, especially if it will so obviously work to dismantle patriotic values in a country. Is patriotism a cost that nationalists are willing to pay, and how long will it be until they feel the sting of its absence? After examining the realities of the BJP’s perpetuation of Hindu nationalism, I assert that it poses a colossal threat to Indian patriotic values.





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