No great leader emerges unless there is a crisis. Mohandas Gandhi would have remained a mediocre lawyer had not the freedom struggle discovered the leadership qualities in him. Abraham Lincoln would not have secured his present place in history without the crisis that challenged his potential in the form of the Civil War.
Mr Narendra Modi has his historical opportunity now to prove his station in history. India is faced with a crisis called nationalism.
Nationalism, by definition, is excessive devotion to the interests of a particular nation-state. It is valid when there is a threat to the autonomy of the nation-state. India is not facing any such threat now. Yet nationalism has become a craze among a sizeable section of the population.
When there is no threat to the nation, the only other reason for nationalist sentiments to breed and spread is a desire to dominate. It is an urge to impose a certain culture or religion or some such thing over the others. What India is facing now is a monster called cultural nationalism.
Mr Modi succeeded in politics largely because of the communal cards he has played on various occasions. Development is the professed agenda and he has done much to bring development to the country too. Whether the kind of development that he espouses is actually good for a country like India which has a very large number of underprivileged and marginalised people is a question that deserves attention. But that is not the topic of this article which is concerned with the crisis of cultural nationalism and the historical opportunity it offers to Mr Modi.
A lot of people within the country have become the country’s enemies (“antinational”) according to Mr Modi’s supporters. The Dalits are enemies because they reject the particular version of Hinduism that is being imposed on them by the cultural nationalists. The Left thinkers and their supporters are antinational because they reject Hindutva. Those who advocate secularism are labelled as sickularists. The liberal press has become presstitute. Certain food items have been denied to people belonging to a particular religion that has become the favourite enemy of the nationalists. Dissidence is projected as sedition. Lawyers who are supposed to uphold the law go berserk in the abode of justice which they convert into a kangaroo court. Rationalists, atheists and liberal thinkers are all antinational in that kangaroo court. Kangaroo courts decide who can marry whom, who can fall in love with whom, who can eat what, wear what dress, think what thoughts, write what comments in online sites...
In a recent article in The Hindu, Srinivasan Ramani defined cultural nationalism as an urge which “basically seeks to subsume the ‘other’ within a limiting construct of the self and the nation.” Cultural nationalism is an extremely narrow worldview which is totally intolerant of diversity. It is very detrimental to the very existence of India as a nation simply because there is infinite diversity in this country.
And that is the challenge for Mr Modi. How is he going to resolve this crisis? History will judge him as a leader based on how he will deal with this crisis.
A century ago, Max Weber spoke about two kinds of ambitions that a leader usually has: personal and bureaucratic. Mr Modi has achieved the highest post in the bureaucratic ladder. What is left is his personal ambition (unless he wants to be the contemporary Hitler with territorial ambitions in addition to cultural ones). It is no secret that he is an RSS man fundamentally. Cultural nationalism is the lifeblood of RSS. It is that cultural nationalism that is spreading across the country like a deadly virus. How will he deal with the virus that spread from himself? That is Mr Modi’s challenge.
If Mr Modi does not want to accept the diversity in the country, if he wants to impose one particular culture and religion on the country, he has to either get all the divergent cultures and other entities to merge into his culture or vanquish the divergent entities altogether. Is there any other way? That is Mr Modi’s challenge.