Dear Mr A K Balan
I am writing to you because I feel that it is my duty to disabuse you of the ideas you seem to harbour of, and in the name of, Indian nationalism (and not just bark at the portentous approach of the peddlers of ‘nationalism’, the Hindutvavaadis). You are a Minister in the CPM-led government of Kerala, which was elected by Malayali citizens to ward off the monstrous Hindtuva-Nazi-Predatory Capitalist combine that has taken over India nearly, and so my barking should have been enough. But you seem to be totally wrapped up in your ignorance.
Of course, it is quite possible that your statements are merely cynically strategic, aimed at keeping sections of the Hindutva-oriented Malayali elites on your side. However, your intentions do not matter when the statements appear in the media; they feed into the menacing discourse of majoritarian nationalism that now tramples us all. And I am not sure if this is the best way to win over even elites.
According to a news report, you said, in response to the refusal of some delegates to obey the Supreme Court’s order about the compulsory playing of the National Anthem at cinema theatres, and before every single screening at the International Film Festival of Kerala:
If we fail to absorb the nationalistic spirit, who else will understand its value? It would be an unpardonable crime if we refuse to respect the national anthems of other countries during foreign trips. That alone is sufficient ground to force us to stand up while playing of the national anthem.
I was truly intrigued by your statements. What did you mean by ‘nationalist spirit’? The emotion stirred up by the forcible imposition of a national symbol, and that too, at a time in which we are forced to admit, in the face of a mountain of research from all of social and cultural research, that all the promises made by the Indian Nation to its citizens at its birth remain largely undelivered? In that case, this emotion would be a negative one – anger, resentment, deep irritation, fear, and so on. If so, how can you, who claims to be on the left of the political spectrum, demand that citizens should ‘absorb’ it and ‘understand its value? As a political leader, one assumes that you are alive to the present – and in that case, how can you not see that what is being pushed as ‘nationalist spirit’ embodied in the national anthem has nothing to do with love for the people of India which is all what a politically-left person ought to care about?
Indeed, do tell me, is there anything even vaguely ‘patriotic’ in the workings of the Indian state recently? In its steady transition into a security state, it has worked consistently to destroy any conviviality between communities that has survived the assaults of the early 1990s and after. It has tried to push the country to the brink of war and drummed up support for suicidal acts. The general disruption of social peace in the country, led by the Hindutva stormtroopers everywhere, one would think, is the very enemy of what the Modi government rode on during its electoral triumph: growth. Pity the naïve who took that bait, because now it is abundantly clear that this government had no intention whatsoever to pursue national economic growth; rather, it fattens its capitalist cronies, indulges their predatory appetite for profit.
Indeed, Mr Balan, I can’t see how you are so blind to the glaring reality that nationalist discourse is now hegemonized by a new breed of colonialists. The recent ‘demonetization’ leaves no doubt standing on this. What force except a colonizing power, completely uncommitted to the people, can inflict such a terrible deflationary shock upon an economy which, according to these very elites, is growing at an unprecedented rate? The antecedents of such monetary and fiscal policies are not to be sought in post-independence Indian economic policy, but in colonial economic policy of the British. British fiscal and monetary policy was firmly tethered to the interests of Great Britain’s imperialist ambitions; later, India’s huge export surpluses were put at the service of financial houses in the City of London, and invested in British government securities. The recent economic policy moves of the Modi government have brought the entire informal economy of India to its knees in the interest of crony capitalism and state surveillance with a ruthlessness not known after the colonizers were made to leave.
Now of course, it is more difficult to spot the colonizers since they are no longer exclusively ‘foreign’ – but the nexus between the Indian ruling elite located in India and abroad, and globalizing capital reaching across national boundaries has never been so clear as it is now, isn’t it so, Mr Balan? So why are you panicking that at least some people are able to see through the absurdity of the situation in which a new kind of colonizer has taken hold of an Indian national symbol and uses it, through the Supreme Court, to terrorize citizens into submission to a certain ‘nationalism’ that paradoxically serves the colonizer?
I also don’t see the logic of your statement that because we are obliged to respect the national anthems of other countries (when we visit them of course), we must respect our anthem as well. After the nation-state system crystallized after World War II, people who had formerly migrated throughout the colonial world and often learned to belong to different societies equally without having to choose one over the other were now interpellated into a singular national identity. Since then, any one leaving one’s country for work or other temporary purposes rarely enjoys the privileges of those born in the host nation, either explicitly or implicitly. So what are you really saying, Mr Balan? That citizenship in India should mirror the intensified subservience which those deemed non-citizens in a hostland are, regrettably, expected to display? If that is what you meant, shame on you, and yes, you are ready for a smooth promotion to Modi’s team.
But let me try to make you see, Mr Balan, why some of us persist in irritating you. I wonder if you saw the wonderful film on people trapped between terrorists and the Indian Army in the Punjab of the 1980s, Chauthi Koot? The film revolves around a dog – who guards his family against every kind of danger – the terrorists who demand unquestioning loyalty and obedience at gunpoint, the Indian Army drunk with its own sense of authority the people they supposedly guard, and petty thieves who steal their valuables and cattle. The trouble with him is that he barks when he senses that his family is in danger and neither threats nor violence will stop him. The terrorists and the Indian Army both want him dead, and the family, with great pain in their hearts, try to obey. But the dog does not change. Neither does he die.
I do believe, Mr Balan, some of us are dogs that lie watching the doorstep of Indian democracy. Ours is of course is a chosen loyalty unlike the dog’s in the movie, but believe me, we are equally tenacious. We will bark at terrorists and the Indian Army and the Supreme Court, even, when they threaten what we guard. Because we are, in some sense, outside the game, we will continue to bark.
And don’t I know, Mr Balan, neither you nor your inadvertent allies in the cause of nationalism remember the story of the dog which followed Yudhishtira in his quest to enter heaven? That dog was none other than Dharma, and while we may disagree completely with Yudhishtira’s conception of Dharma, both its content and its form, the story underlines how it followed him – dogged him. We are the canines who dog Indian democracy. You cannot transport yourself into a democratic paradise without taking us along.
It is of course up to you to heed our warnings or not, but that really will not stop us. And yes, you foolish human being, you will perhaps not heed it, get impatient, and harm us. It hurts already and maybe it will maim us into silence. But Mr Balan, do you have a clue about what it is really to love? It is love of Indian democracy that makes us bark, and that love cannot be decimated only because we are not in your cynical-strategic power-games.
We know that your ignorant, suicidal, blind arrogance which seeks to smother us will hurt and maybe we will die, but the little ones in the family of Indian democracy reciprocate our love. The young ones and the little children will heed us, dear Minister, and remember us with love for long – and that is perhaps all we long for.
A Dog Who Tries to Watch the Gates of Democracy — in Kerala, especially.