Ideology’ is a strange thing – in the name of achieving a median of perceived normalcy, it creates a belief system that only posits a necessary abnormal. History provides testimony to the fact that dominant ideologies, ones that promise to bring kinetic change, can hardly function in a space of stability. In other words, there cannot be popular ideological mobilisation without a measured creation of the ‘abnormal’, which eventually becomes an absolute prerequisite and more often than not, an obstruction to reconciliation.
The above assumption, however, is better comprehended in a categorically defined political context. For a multifaceted country like India that is marked by the shared existence of so many psychosocial strands of being, ‘normalcy’ has been no more than a running trophy for the opportunistic ruling class that is routinely used like a fishing bait to induce the passive masses. In the current environment of rankled politics, this conundrum of ideology has come out to be far more compounded than usual, prancing about like Brownian particles within tiny moulds of hyper-nationalism and hyper-radicalism.
What better space to look for the threadbare theatrics of abnormality than India’s bludgeoning nationalist anti-Pakistan psyche?
Across her postcolonial history, the Indian polity and popular, both have experimented with many different shades of nationalism, manifested in varied archetypes. But, one particular variant has had a fairly linear historical trajectory – anti-Pakistanism. Not many have dared to tweak the disharmonious chords of India’s obsessive disdain for its equally sentimental neighbour, not even seemingly avant-garde leaders like IK Gujral or fine-talking cricket commentators.
Yet, the reason why the two countries have been able to muddle through the stinking diatribe of hatred and reach impressive bilateral agreements that stand till this date is because there has always existed a visceral desire for normalcy at the diplomatic-political level, notwithstanding the occasional squabbles. This was a bona fide desire to find loose-hanging threads of common needs, and tie them together to maintain a semblance of sanity. But what we are witnessing today is dramatically different.
The post-2014 anti-Pakistanism seems to be one that isn’t aimed at taking the higher moral ground by discharging the country’s enviable ability to de-escalate a conflict through mediation, but one that is premised upon the very idea of maintaining a perennial sense of warlike friction.
With the recent uptick in violence across the volatile northern border, this deep-seated yearning for normalcy has suddenly dispersed into the not-so-thin air – the same air that now smells of gunpowder and suspicion. Clearly, our tradition anti-Pakistan constituencies are shrinking, to be replaced by a septic discourse of paranoia and political egoism.
To take the tedious path of self-reflexivity, we must ask ourselves whether we even want our relations to return to normal? Or is the daily bloodletting of our soldiers at the borders now a ritualistic and necessary display of India’s might and glory, to be vicariously relished by an emotionally broken nation? We see the most watched television news channels brazenly drop in the word ‘war’ in their primetime headlines when there actually is none. We see the Home Minister travel to the border, wearing a combat cap, and holler on the microphone about how only cowards fight from the back and heroes from the front. We hear preachy pop-culture patriots and their lumpen followers tell us to stop beating the drums for Pakistani cultural figures and pretending things are normal, ‘because they are not’.
Are we all, in dangerous unison, scripting a disastrous story of blood and gore that none of us actually seek? Just like every war-weary society (or polity) does before it goes on to become war-weary?
It is not hard to realise that ‘normalcy’ is less of a wild horse running amock in the wilderness, and more of a jointly-owned public good that can be tamed at will through our collective perceptions. Denying normalcy, in itself, induces abnormality. On the contrary, rejecting abnormality can make space for normalcy. The situation, however, begins to look bleak and impervious when we burrow deeper into the ground to look for interrogative signs of a slow moral genocide – has Indian nationalism, over the past few decades, unwittingly invested in a strong dialectic of tension when it comes to Pakistan, so much so that maintaining a state of constant antagonism actually benefits the ‘custodians’ of the nation? Are Indian nationalists stakeholders of a frictional India-Pakistan relationship, because it keeps them relevant?
That is a thought straight from the nightmares, indeed. But, it is barely shocking. The process of nation-making is often like charting stormy seas – it needs lighthouses to not break and collapse. Pakistan, and its militaristic deep-state, serve as great lighthouses for a sizable chunk of India’s nation-builders to find direction, wade around, and gather a larger armada of hatemongers. After all, what better enterprise can there be for hypernationalist entities, especially fringe parties like MNS, than an interminable festival of anti-Pakitanism?
A toxic discourse that ought to remain fiction, may be coming to fruition – in the failure of Pakistan, lies a distinguished victory for India’s otherwise peripheral nationalist galvanisers; in the celebration of martyrdom of our jawans, lies the quotidian pleasures of India’s lumpen majoritarian aggressors, including but not limited to men in suits running disdainful propaganda programmes in the name of ‘TV news’.
‘Border pe Diwali!’ (Diwali on the border!) is what our primetime slots have come down to, only affirming the belief that as a country that is self-aware of its greater military prowess over her western neighbour, India is actively breeding an entire generation of fierce nationalists who are stakeholders of a permanently distraught and wounded India-Pakistan dialectic. These guys cannot afford a peaceful international border in Jammu, or an unhappening LoC in Kashmir, for that would bring to end the great circus of celebratory valor and pride.
The compelling image of made-up news anchors, in perfect hairdos and bright blazers, breaking to us, with gleaming smiles and shining eyes, the news of how our jawans shot to death 15 Pakistanis at the border looks more like a dark wartime satire than peacetime evening news.
As a loose set of peoples adhering to a broad-spectrum ‘Indic culture’ marked by cross-civilizational assimilation and inter-faith syncretism, we were supposed to be a harmonious tribe that continually eschews violent confrontations and interventions, very unlike the forward-marching ‘empires’ of the world. Instead, we are on the threshold of metamorphosing into a bizzare, religio-cultural war-tribe, albeit not irreversibly. Who do we blame? Our distressed selves or an exogenous political force that was never in our control?
The obvious way ahead for us is to mend the broken fences, and curl the barbed wires upward. Our guns are fast, our snipers precise, our artilleries powerful, our frigates merciless, our jets indomitable, and our nukes hot – but so are their’s. We would perhaps use up only half of our ordnance supplies before they are burnt to ashes, but as a race that prides itself of not dropping a leg into the countless unnecessary wars of the postcolonial world, do we really want to initiate the most apocalyptic battle of this epoch, or still stick to what we could do marvelously (de-escalate)? Do we really want to replace our real ‘mediation rooms’ with holographic ‘war rooms’, like those resourceful TV-people did some days back?
I am not sure anymore what we want. By placing the stinging sound of artillery gunfire at the centre of daily news, and digging the democratic plains of our country to create crevasses of overt militarism, we are perhaps really moving towards a tectonic shift in our national ‘thinking’, just as the motto of one of the highest-grossing news channels go – ‘Soch badlo, desh badlo” (Change your thinking, change your country).
[This piece was published on 01 November 2016 in The Huffington Post India]