Shiv Visvanathan There is something eerie about the events of the past week or so. Replaying the developments, one senses that one is watching a composite of two plays, radically different, but blending into each other. The action seems scripted, the plots worked out. The first script seemed like a conspiracy of nationalisms, combining paranoia and hypocrisy. At one level, the nationalism on each side allows for the free play of the unconscious. The aerial tussle was like a video game that Pakistan and India were playing, each striking down the other jubilantly. Each nation claimed victory. India violated Pakistan’s airspace and came back intact, convincing the world that it would attack Pakistan, if necessary. Pakistan highlighted its ability to play the surrogate game of terror and get the Islamic States to highlight ‘Indian barbarism’ in Kashmir. Two paranoid displays of nationalism ended quickly, each side content with its imaginary and imagined gains. India exerted its masculine self, creating seamless politics between the elections and militarism. In view of the terror strike, PM Narendra Modi could attack the Opposition as a ‘fifth column’. It almost felt as if these encounters enabled two nationalisms to consolidate themselves, create a sense of achievement around the anxieties each nation projected onto the other. The Indian ritual was clear. It was as if mobilising India for war with a sleight of hand became a drama of the nation being mobilised for the elections. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, too, seems content with his performance, acting as if he is not a creation of the army, playing the statesman and the peacenik. Suddenly, everything looks normal, eerily, uncannily normal. A beleaguered regime suddenly appears immaculate. Pakistan, which had seemed servile, acquires moderation and diplomatic initiative. There is no sense of escalation. The two nationalists fight like the choruses’, content with the noise they make. The Opposition shakes its head in disbelief, wondering about the credulity of the story. One feels that something was rewritten in the process. The Opposition sensed almost intuitively what was wrong. The idea of security and secrecy was being applied to the democratic processes that demanded openness. It was a displacement of frameworks where fetishising the nation state was threatening democracy. The attack on the Opposition and dissenting journalists was the first key step. What accompanied it in a symptomatic way was the breakdown of language. While there were jingoistic celebrations in India, there was a sense of skepticism about India’s claims. As informed experts pointed out, what was threatening India was not critique but wrong information. It was as if the BJP wanted the film on Uri to do the talking, instead of tabling the relevant facts. The open defence of vigilante groups adds to the tension, with the RSS unable to differentiate between an appeal to Imran Khan and an appeal for peace. It is almost as if truth and peace have become anti-national activities. But these are symptoms which can no longer be read discretely. Worldwide nationalism has become a form of paranoia. As Yugoslav writer Danilo Kis writes in his book, Homo Poeticus, “a set of individual paranoia raised to the degree of paroxysm”. Lost in the wilderness of middle-class anxiety, the individual takes on the collective portfolio of “keeping the nation (state) alive, protecting is prestige.” This self-appointed task where the regime and the vigilante groups announce that the nation or its security is safe in their hands, hides a deeper dimension of the problem. The frenzy, the hysteria, the sense of urgency and duty conveys an effluvium of concern without quite conveying the language of responsibility. The intimation of war allows you to distort the logic of everyday civics. The new grammar is what Kis calls relativism. The only index is that we should outdo, out-talk, outperform Pakistan. Whatever the means employed, one forgets it is a negation of our sense of civilisation. Nationalism creates a parallel world of certainties and loyalties which is oblivious of everyday politics. In fact, it is a denial of everyday politics. Security becomes a word for internal and external coping. The ‘enemy’ is Pakistani, Kashmiri and Muslim. The extension of the security net covers the tribal as Naxal and the dissenter. Search, label and destroy seem to mark every level of battle. The State elevates populism to the level of policy. Rational critiques and reasoned doubts have little claim to public space. When Rahul Gandhi chides Modi, all he does is to tell him that the moment for the inauguration of the National War Memorial is a time for unity, hardly a time to crib about the Congress. It gets worse when The Hindu investigates the Rafale deal persistently, opening up issues of corruption, and one of the heroes of the Bofors investigation is now dubbed as anti-national. Bofors and Rafale are narratives read in separate ledgers. Modi has even said that the pre-emptive strike would have been even more effective with the Rafale jets. One realises that India has split into two parallel worlds, one of hysterical nationalism, outdoing any RSS dream, and the other of everyday politics which the Opposition is desperately asking the nation to return to. Yet, everyday politics is dismal, while nationalism especially fought like a video game is entrancing. There is an enthusiasm for bloodthirstiness which no digital mob brutalising a stranger can produce.
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