The Mise en Scene
The Nationalist is angry. He wants to kill, maim and rape for his Mother’s honour. From the lawyer criminal who has a Rs 45 lakh fraud case against him to the extortionist television anchor – all are bellowing with rage. Another anchor, Mr Nation himself, whose publicly declared annual salary is Rs 5 crores, is suddenly choking with emotion at the death of the hapless army jawan, Hanumanthappa (who earned less than 120th of Mr Nation’s monthly salary and for whom the Nation never shed a tear till this collective arousal). Blood lust has taken over the land. In this scenario, the hysterical television anchor takes on the role of a lynch mob instigator and the cheer leader combined into one. He exhorts while the lynch-mob runs amok threatening, attacking and demanding that all anti-nationals – students, teachers and intellectuals in general – be shot, killed or sent to Pakistan. We have seen, as a consequence, all manner of angry nationalists offering prize money – Rs 5 lakhs for cutting Kanhaiya Kumar’s tongue and Rs 11 lakhs for killing him. More recently, he has been issued another death threat along with an ultimatum to leave Delhi by the end of March. Fellow Kafila-ite and feminist scholar Nivedita Menon has, for the last few weeks, been openly threatened with nationalist rape and more.
The Nation’s collective fantasy is orgiastic. And the current object of this collective fantasy is Jawaharlal Nehru University. Witness the BJP MLA who spends his free time (which is perhaps most of his time), not only showering money on dancing girls, but even more, fantasizing about the orgy that he believes is JNU. According to The Indian Express:
In perhaps the most bizarre comments on the JNU controversy so far, BJP MLA from Ramgarh in Rajasthan’s Alwar district, Gyandev Ahuja, on Monday said that daily 50,000 pieces of bones, 3,000 used condoms, 500 used abortion injections, 10,000 cigarette “pieces”, among other things, are found at JNU, where girls and boys dance naked at cultural programmes.
There is no end to the sexual fantasies of the angry nationalist. Here is one link to a photograph of Kanhaiya with a friend, lifted straight from the friend’s Facebook page but slyly given the caption ‘JNU teacher ki god mein baithaye Kanhaiya ka vivadit photo viral‘. In the world of angry nationalist journalism, this is something the sites propagating these sexual fantasies often do not even feel the need to add minimal disclaimers. Here, for instance, is what the text of the above report says:
देशद्रोह के आरोप के बाद जेएनयू छात्रसंघ अध्यक्ष कन्हैया कुमार एक बार फिर सुर्खियों में है। कन्हैया को अब तक उसके भाषणों और यूनिवर्सिटी में छात्र अधिकारों की मांग उठाते हुए देखा गया था। लेकिन अब उसका एक नया रूप सामने आया है, जो किसी शिक्षिका के साथ है। सोशल मीडिया पर कन्हैया की यह विवादित फोटो खूब वायरल हो रही है। खास बात ये है कि टीचर कन्हैया कुमार की गोद में बैठी है और उसके गले में हाथ डाला हुआ है। कन्हैया इसमें मुस्कुरा रहा है। – See more at: http://www.patrika.com/news/miscellenous-india/jnu-teacher-sitting-in-kanhaiya-kumar-lap-1200867/#sthash.3Y4ljA7B.dpuf (We are retaining this last line/ link for purposes of authenticity, lest the site noe remove it equally slyly).
This report from Patrika.com says (in the italicized part above) that “the important thing about this photograph is that in it the teacher is sitting on Kanhaiya Kumar’s lap, with her arms around his neck.” For anyone who has seen the photograph, it is clear as even this Zee News story is forced to eventually clarify, that (a) she is his friend not his teacher and (b) she is sitting on the arm-rest of the sofa on which he is sitting. (Zee News was forced to clarify this because the friend concerned had herself come and openly contested the canard that was being spread.)
The depths which Indian journalism has plumbed in these past few weeks is a matter for more responsible people in the profession to discuss and for institutions like the Press Council of India and Broadcaster’s Association to take note of. Here my purpose is not to go into this seedy side of media politics but to pause a bit to think about what it is that connects this rising tide of nationalist indignation, its blood lust and its sexual fantasies.
Sexual Fantasy and the National Unconscious
While it is true that ‘nation’ and ‘nationalism’ are ideological formations in every sense of the term, the coming to be of nations, of the Indian Nation in particular, has to be seen as something that goes far beyond what we might understand as an ideological formation. It is neither simply a body of ideas nor a mere system of representations. From the very beginning, dating to the early years of the twentieth century, the constitution of the modern Indian Self involved, simultaneously, the formation of the National Self, figured primarily as upper caste and male. This upper caste male subject does not pre-exist its self-definition as Hindu and is therefore, an embodiment of the Nation. Even though Hindu nationalism in its RSS version never became hegemonic, the fact remains that the Hindu Mahasabhaite version undergirded much of what went in the name of secular nationalism embodied in the Congress.
The Nation, figured as the Enslaved Mother, places before her modern Indian (Hindu upper caste) male progeny an immense challenge – that of virility. The colonial image of the effeminate Hindu had to be overturned, for that was also the self-image of the upper caste Hindu. This son of Mother India, as Sumit Sarkar has shown, saw the colonial era as Kaliyug, marked by loss of manliness, assertive lower castes and disorderly women – features we would do well to bear in mind when we discuss the collective arousal around JNU. The new ethos of this besotted son of the enslaved mother was fearful of unrestrained sexuality, leading him to an embarrassed denial of the traditions from which he came. In this new ethos, the fear of female sexuality was so central that he set about reconstituting tradition itself. The eroticism of the sexually active nayika was to be replaced by the chaste and virtuous Hindu wife and mother – as the work of historians like Tanika Sarkar and Charu Gupta and many others has shown. Ritikal poetry was denounced as decadent by important luminaries like Ramchandra Shukl who saw its poetry as an index of the decline of Hindu masculinity and power. These erotic aesthetic pursuits were now seen to stand in the way of single-minded pursuit of the Nation-Mother in the emerging new discourse. Thus Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi says:
“Let us see what is written in these books: examples of dirty deeds of parakiya and prostitutes! Sinful conduct of unmarried girls!! Meaningless babble of shameless and lewd women, who corrupt the minds of men!!!…I plead for an immediate stop to the publication of such works and the proscription of those already existing.”(cited in Charu Gupta, Sexuality, Obscenity, Community, Palgrave 2002)
Clearly, the imagination of used condoms and naked dances that apparently constitute life in JNU (the den of anti-national activities), has a long and hallowed lineage! Tanika Sarkar rightly suggests that the chastity of the Hindu woman, articulated within strict notions of monogamy became central to claims of nationhood. Of course, the great anxiety then was, as it is today, that popular practices of the lower orders – at once lower castes and lower classes – were replete with precisely that which the likes of Dwivedi decried. The point here is that this is where the National Unconscious is constituted – as the factory for the production of the son’s desire. The more he rails against sex and eroticism the more he begins to incessantly and compulsively fantasize about sex.
The upper caste son of the Mother has to demonstrate his virility first of all, by silencing all those whose very being seems, even by implication, to be inimical to the task of liberation of the enslaved Mother. Lower castes/ Dalits, Muslims, recalcitrant counter-nationalist imaginations – all these have to be firmly put down. Difference in any form is intolerable to him. The virility of the new Hindu Man has to be demonstrated in the violence of his speech and his language and if need be, actual violence, in relation to the Other – especially the Muslim. The ‘Muslim’ then becomes, as historians have shown in great detail, the object on to which/ whom the internal conflicts of the Hindus are displaced. In other words, the violence and sexual virility of the New Hindu Man are constitutive of his ties with the Nation-Mother. The Nation is constituted through a series of libidinal investments, and rape fantasy becomes central to it – rape of the Muslim and the Dalit. In the Hindu Nation both Muslim and Dalit have to be reduced to the position of ‘woman’. Violence, after all, has its own erotics. It is this libidinal investment in the Nation that makes it impossible to confront it at the level of pure reason or argument.
Parenthetically, we might note that the Dalit and other lower castes were soon to become an embarrassment that this upper caste nationalist would have to keep negotiating, and being haunted by. This story that began in the early years of the last century and has returned with a vengeance to confront this nationalist self in recent times – especially in the wake of Rohith Vemula’s tragic suicide and the ‘discovery’ that ‘they’ eat beef and worship Mahishasura.
Hindutva/ Sanghvaad – the Malignant Overgrowth of Nationalism
From the above discussion, however, it should not be concluded that the Hindutvavaadis of the RSS and especially those of the more recent Modi brand are just the heirs of nationalists like Ramchandra Shukl and Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi. Hindutva is to Indian nationalism what Nazism was to German nationalism – its fascist underbelly. For all its problems, Indian nationalism had to always negotiate the complex terrain of anti-colonial struggle – from which Hindutva always stayed studiously away. In the course of forging a larger anti-colonial unity, Indian nationalism had to negotiate different impulses and acquired its political form through those negotiations. The secular nationalism that emerged from that struggle and through the labours of the Constituent Assembly was an unstable and deeply contested formation, but a formation nevertheless, that bore the stamp of Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar, Maulana Azad and a whole host of others. Hindutva or ‘Sanghism’ (taking the cue from the recent term ‘Sanghvaad‘ used by Kanhaiya Kumar and other JNU students in their slogans) have never been comfortable with that face of nationalism. ‘Sanghism’ – a term that actually parallels precisely the term used by the Italian fascists (fasc(io) – referring to a bundle, a tight unity) – is predicated on achieving what the more virulent forms of that nationalism could not, namely the ideal of the Hindu nation that would erase all difference. Sanghism never had any faith in the Indian Constitution and has always dreamed of achieving its ideal of Akhand Bharat – one that reveals its militaristic and imperialist ambitions of ‘uniting’ every bit of land from Afghanistan to Myanmar under this rubric. ‘Uniting’ in this lexicon has a very special meaning – that of uniting under North Indian Hindu upper caste hegemony. Central to its project is the idea of samrasata or homogeneity, that basically seeks to unite all ‘Hindus’, especially Dalits and other lower castes under this hegemony. The Savarkarite project based itself on two clear aims: (a) Hinduization of the polity (that is to say, rejection of both secular nationalism and the vision that subsequently came to be embodied in the Indian Constitution. (b) Militarization of Hinduism.
There is no doubt that in generic terms, Sanghism belongs to the larger family of what we understand today as fascism – though strictly speaking, fascism’ and ‘Nazism’ both refer to very specific formations. What makes Sanghism a part of that larger family of fascism is (a) its glorification of the Nation/ State, where the military power (and the armed forces) becomes the phallic extension of the exalted Nation. (b) Following from (a), its commitment to a political culture of violent suppression of all dissent and difference – as these are seen as signs of the ‘weakness’ and therefore a return to the dreaded ‘effiminacy’ from which the son has so valiantly tried to escape. Dissent and difference are also seen, in the paranoid discourse of Sanghism, as the ‘fifth column’ of ‘antinational’ forces – which, in the current conjuncture, is identified with global Islam. But as the RSS is fond of repeating, its key enemies are the ‘three Ms’: Marxists, Muslims and Macaulayputras (descendants of Macaulay – a man generally disliked by most but lately venerated by many like Chandrabhan Prasad as the one who opened the floodgates of education for Dalits). Unlike its European counterparts, however, Sanghism does not have any anticapitalism even in its rhetoric. Like many of the European fascist movements it is culturally anti-bourgeois but in economic terms its relation to corporate capital is hardly one of opposition. On the contrary, as we will show in a follow up post, the current campaign against ‘antinationals’ is more specifically aimed at eliminating or silencing the opposition to corporate plunder of the country’s resources and its commons.
An important aspect of fascist movements is that they express a specific pathology of nationalism. Nationalisms, howsoever benign, are the condition of possibility of any fascist movement. Nationalism, as a modern political movement, provides to the masses of people entering the arena of politics for the first time in history, a promise of a new kind of community, a ‘brotherhood’/ fraternity where all members supposedly participate in as equals, without distinctions of caste, class, or rank. Yet, this is a promise that is never achieved, nor achievable, for as Ambedkar noted more than once, the nation is always internally divided. The only way in which this promise of equality is kept up is by periodically finding external and/or internal scapegoats. That has been the story everywhere, except for brief periods in Europe, following World War II and the New Deal that renewed the promise in an altogether different way. The rise of Donald Trumps or the resurgent tide of anti-immigrant nationalist parties in different parts of Europe in the wake of the financial crisis and the more recent refugee crisis only go to show that this is an always present threat or possibility within nationalisms. From this point, the dividing line between a nationalism and its fascist shadow begin to disappear. The one tips over into the other. As far as Sanghism is concerned, its nationalism only ever promises samrasata, never equality, for it could never countenance the lower orders of the caste hierarchy as members in a community of equals. But its need for external and internal scapegoats has been no less for that reason. It is in fact, rattled by demands for equality, especially when they are raised from the subaltern castes – the dalitbahujans.
This brief discussion of Sanghism will of course remain incomplete without returning to the question of sex and sexual fantasy. For entire pathology of the besotted son, discussed above, was largely inherited by the RSS shakha-going man. This man, inward-looking and insecure in all possible ways, is in the end, an extremely scared man. Paranoid to the extent of seeing enemies and conspiracies all around him. And in all conspiracies, it is the sex question that troubles him the most: ‘love jihad’, ‘Muslim men having four wives’, kiss of love, of women going to hotels and pubs, gay sex – all these conjure up images of the virile Muslim out to emasculate his community, of miscegenation and of people out to corrupt his community. His strength and power come from belonging to this larger community of people who share his paranoia. This is the world where the likes of Mohan Bhagwat never tire of repeating that the woman’s proper place is in the home, in the kitchen, more precisely.