Are there signs nationalism is becoming religious and transcending citizenship?
Right-wing movements often see nationalism as deriving its strength from the "authentic" citizen, one who by accident of birth can claim a greater right to being nationalist than others. The grounds could be ethnic or religious.
All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen leader Asaduddin Owaisi took oath as member of the Lok Sabha on Tuesday amid 'Jai Shri Ram' chants from BJP MPs. He reacted with 'Jai Bhim, Jai Meem, Allahu Akbar and Jai Hind'.
These sights are a new development in a largely secular democracy. MPs in the past did swear in the name of God, or 'Ishwar', but competitive cultural sloganeering was never to be seen as something 'normal' in Parliament.
This happens at a time of a visible rise in nationalist rhetoric in India. However, the nationalism that we celebrate has a clear religio-cultural, polarising, dimension to it, as the oath-taking shows.
This 'cultural nationalist' surge has another dimension.
Nationalism has been delinked from citizenship in ways never imaginable earlier.
Recently, army veteran Mohammad Sanaullah, with a Muslim name, found himself out of the list of Indian citizens in Assam. He was jailed as an "illegal foreigner" and sarcastically said that this was what he was getting as a "reward" for having "served the motherland".
His questionable citizenship status and his having been a subedar in the Indian army do not seem to add up.
This news came close on the heels of film star Akshay Kumar being trolled for being an Australian citizen after his "non-political interview" of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, where Kumar asked, among other things, whether Modi "eats mangoes".
Kumar has over the last few years branded himself as a "nationalist star", with his films being either on emotive, nationalist, themes or on government schemes.
'Toilet: Ek Prem Katha' was directly in sync with the government's scheme of construction of toilets. Kumar also featured in an advertisement of a tile company as an armyman, though the connection between the product and the army wasn't clear.
After the interview, which went viral, Kumar was trolled for having taken Canadian citizenship.
Signs of the popular delinking of nationalism and citizenship were visible years back when non-resident Indians began projecting themselves as the vanguard of Indian nationalism, sometimes almost admonishing residents for not being nationalist enough.
From the NRI to the non-citizen, the burden of projecting national greatness has largely been outsourced to foreign shores. The process has been accompanied with Modi's addresses to NRIs and persons of Indian origin during foreign visits, and these speeches have been beamed live on TV screens back home.
Not that the NRI always enjoyed centrality within the nationalist imagination. 'Chitthi aayi hai' -- the famous Pankaj Udhas song of the 1980s -- was picturised around a teary-eyed NRI Sanjay Dutt missing his country and feeling guilty for having left it to have a "good life" abroad.
The guilt now is to be felt by those in India. And particularly those who as citizens question the government, something both democratic and citizen-like. The citizen, after all, seeks accountability. She isn't a subject: someone who passively nods at every executive action and has no independent voice.
The delinking of nationalism and citizenship were part of the agenda of the ruling party for years, but the idea has acquired popular currency only in the last few years.
Right-wing movements often see nationalism as deriving its strength from the "authentic" citizen, one who by accident of birth can claim a greater right to being nationalist than others. The grounds could be ethnic or religious. Such nationalism is not inclusive at its core. It has a presumed core constituency and a periphery constituted of minorities, religious or ethnic. Such nationalism is majoritarian as also hierarchical.
The BJP had whipped up a political storm in 2004, calling Sonia Gandhi, an Italian-born naturalised citizen of India, a foreigner. Sushma Swaraj even threatened to shave her head if Sonia became Prime Minister after the Congress' surprise victory in 2004.
Sonia Gandhi herself opted out and Manmohan Singh was made Prime Minister.
However, this discourse seeking out nationalism in ties of blood rather than in citizenship of a modern nation-state had not percolated deep into popular consciousness at that time.
Now, it seems, it has.
This nationalist surge is very different from the nationalist surge centred around Mahatma Gandhi during the freedom struggle. The freedom movement had allies among foreigners too, be it Annie Besant, who founded the Theosophical Society; AO Hume, the founder of the Indian National Congress, India's prime anti-colonial platform; or CF Andrews, Gandhi's close friend who also got Hindu nationalist leader Bhai Parmanand's sentence in the Ghadr conspiracy commuted.
A key evidence of the non-ethnic ethos of the freedom struggle is found in Gandhi's ideological text Hind Swaraj.
In Hind Swaraj, published in 1908, Gandhi said, "The introduction of foreigners does not necessarily destroy the nation; they merge in it. A country is one nation only when such a condition obtains in it. That country must have a faculty for assimilation. India has ever been such a country." He also said, in another passage of the same work, that India could accommodate the English if they become Indianised, but not without it.
On the interface between religion and nationality, Gandhi said, "In reality there are as many religions as individuals, but those who are conscious of the spirit of nationality do not interfere with one another's religion. If they do, they are not fit to be considered a nation."
In the present avatara of nationalism -- where exclusivist religious rhetoric and the association of ties of blood rather than citizenship are taken as central to nationalism -- the words of Gandhi are likely to fall on deaf years.
It isn't that India is witness to an unprecedented nationalist surge. Indeed, there was a much stronger nationalist surge in the times of the freedom struggle, when many sacrificed life, career and personal liberties for independence.
However, that nationalism was not anchored merely in religion or ties of blood. The bond was deeper but more inclusive.
It isn't that we are becoming more nationalistic as a society. It's just that the content of our nationalism has changed.
Sign up for our Whatsapp broadcasts by sending a message to +91 9003074755.