The Crisis of the Imagined Community: A Study of the Current State in India
By Anmolpreet Kaur
Benedict Anderson defined nation as an ‘imagined community’ because its people perceive themselves as a part of the larger group. But can a nation truly survive on its imagined past, or can this past be distorted and systematically erased to form new communities? The current state of India shows what happens when an imagined collective consciousness takes the shape of an ideologically motivated upside-down reality.
The Savarkar model of Hindutva is increasingly tightening its grip in the country like never before. The term Hindutva in its literal sense stands for ‘Hinduness’. Hindutva is an extremist ideology that promotes Hindu nationalism and therefore aims to distort the edifice of India as a secular nation by transforming it into a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. As Arif Rafiq writes, “With the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in power for a second consecutive term, the threat of Hindutva forces achieving their goal is very real. Some respected voices, including former Amnesty International India executive director, Aakar Patel, argue that India has already become a majoritarian Hindu Rashtra.”
Although the constitution declares the nation-state as a ‘secular’ dominion, the current socio-political scenario in the country is in complete contrast with the core fundamental value of the nation-state. The ‘idea of India’ as a unified entity has ruptured, as it is replaced by ‘Hindutva’, and patriotism has become synonymous with Hindu nationalism.
It should be noted that in independent India, the secular lines of the country were first transgressed from 1975 to 1977 in the emergency period under the rule of Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of the country. But apart from such selective instances, the Congress party kept Hindu nationalism in check by moderating the process of polarization. However, the toxic amplification of the Indian polarization took shape after the Congress party first lost its power in 1977: “Between 1977 and 2014, divisions over Indian national identity became increasingly prominent with the formation of the right-wing, Hindu nationalist BJP in 1980 and the success of conservative civil society in mobilizing Hindu nationalist sentiment” (Sahoo 11).
However, by refusing to learn from the past, the country has hampered its democratic and secular structure, thereby providing breeding grounds for a demagogue like the current Prime Minister, in whose hands not only the democratic outlook of the country is in jeopardy, but all the institutions are being compromised.
A demagogue, as defined by Reinhard Luthin (1959), is “a politician skilled in oratory, flattery, and invective; evasive in discussing vital issues; promising everything to everybody; appealing to the passions rather than the reason of the public; and arousing racial, religious, and class prejudice” (3). These demagogues manipulate and fabricate the content in their interest to propagate ‘misinformation’ (intentional dissemination of false information) and in some cases ‘mal- information’, which is intended to harm and create conflict in the society. Through such acts, the status-quo manages to divert the people’s attention from the ‘real issues.’ And also, by manipulating the content in their favor, such people white-wash their ‘public image’ among the masses.
From its creation to the contemporary period, the BJP has actively endorsed the saffronized campaigns to catapult the Hindu supporters, who are time and again called upon to unite against the ‘other’ faiths of the country, to establish a ‘utopian’ Hindu Rashtra. These ‘imaginary ideas’ systematically condition and manipulate the minds of the masses of the country through religious apparatuses and by erasing the ‘common link’ of one to one’s historical reality. As a result, new realities are fabricated under the rule of the current regime.
History has become a process of careful selection, where what should be revealed, what should be concealed, and what should be revised has become a new trend in India. Our past is being ‘selected’ in India and we get frustrated when our ancestors don’t come from the same religious path as us. And it has become a norm to repeatedly remind the countrymen either by a ‘ruler’ or through a ‘self-styled god-men,’ of what is the essence of a Hindu and a ‘Hindustani’.
The country is rapidly moving towards silencing the voices of secularism, voices of dissent and yet it cries over the ‘international propagandas’ to ‘tarnish the image of India’, when the same country was declared as ‘partly democratic’, and a country of ‘particular concern’.
The hostile atmosphere in the country is the result of the promised ‘imaginary land’ backed by religious identity. Because Indians are heavily governed by what can be termed as ‘nostalgic apparatus’, they support absurd ideological movements like the ‘ghar-wapsi’. The minds of the people are blocked by the regime through their fake and communal propaganda.
The country is witnessing a huge perceptive decadence, as the people in their chauvinism have failed to recognize how they have been turned against each other without realizing, and it becomes evident from the following fact:
In a country where 84% of the population is Hindu, and just 14% Muslim, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has achieved the astonishing feat of creating a deep sense of Hindu victimhood, stoking the othering of Muslims via disinformation, hate speech, opening old religious wounds, manipulating a servile media, silencing progressive voices, and empowering Hindu supremacist vigilante groups. “Hindu khatre mein hai” (Hindus are in danger) is a right-wing refrain that resonates deeply today. As a result, many Hindus have now been persuaded to believe that India’s biggest problem is its Muslims. Before Modi took over in 2014, most citizens thought their chief concerns were poverty, insufficient economic growth and corruption. (Chowdhury)
The regime majorly operates by promoting communal disharmony and associates it with the religious divide in the country. Oppression and suppression are the sole criteria of the government, which even extends to the intra-religious dimensions, if and when required. This selective approach of the regime can be testified by the statement of a spokesperson of BJP, Sudhanshu Trivedi in his debate on “the state of war in UP” with AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi on India Today. While answering the question of an anchor, “Whether you discriminate between Hindu and Muslim even in atrocities?”, he claimed, “As far as atrocities are concerned, we do not discriminate on any basis” (Sudhanshu Trivedi 5:22- 5:28). Thus, their spokesperson openly admits to oppressing people irrespective of any religious bias. Because ultimately the aim is to subjugate, suppress, and divide common people so those in power can retain their dominant position.
What is in crisis today is not faith, ideology, or economy but humanity and its rationality!
Hate is becoming a new religion and it is spreading its claws at an extremely dangerous pace. It is the time for the people of the country to acknowledge the threat that poses danger to the world’s largest democracy and unite to make the country progress, instead of fighting over ideologically-motivated imagined lands that are far removed from reality.
“India is now only ‘partly free’ under Modi, says report.” BBC News, 3 Mar. 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-56249596
Ireton, Cherilyn, Posetti, Julie. Journalism, ‘Fake News’, and Disinformation: handbook for journalism education and training. UNESCO Publishing, 2018.
Luthin, Reinhard H. American Demagogues: Twentieth Century. Peter Smith, 1959.
Sahoo, Niranjan. “Mounting Majoritarianism and Political Polarization in India.” Political Polarization in South and Southeast Asia: Old Divisions, New Dangers, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2020, pp. 9-23.
Anmolpreet Kaur is a student of Masters in English Literature at Akal University, Bathinda, Punjab.
For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.