THE mad major portrayed in Stanley Kubrick's Dr Strangelove - a
psychopathic American nationalist driven by an urge to bring the world to a
sudden end with a nuclear war - has many cousins.
Khomeini was reviled as a warmonger, but he jailed the Hojjatiah Shia
extremists who supported him. He found that they were plotting to chuck an
incendiary bomb into the Soviet Union to start a global war. The pious clerics
would go to heaven and the rest of the world would rot in hell, the Hojjatiah
elderly Christian lady in Delhi came cheerfully to her daughter's home one day.
She wanted a last family breakfast because Korea's Reverend Moon had prophesied
that the world in accordance with a biblical projection was coming to an end by
noon - Indian standard time. Her joy at the imminent end of the world was subsequently
shared by ardent Christian advisers of George W. Bush when they placed all
their bets on the Iraq invasion.
an interview a few years ago, K. Sudarshan, the erstwhile head of the Rashtriya
Swayamsevak Sangh, spoke of a nuclear war with Pakistan as a possible way to "end the sway of evil in the world". The latest issue of the RSS magazine has
called for an all-out war with Pakistan.
lynch mobs and TV channels turned into clearinghouses of Indian nationalism,
India was a more self-assured nation. In easier democratic days, nationalism
never had a single definition.
was celebrated as a first among nationalists. So was his killer on the other
side. Indian nationalism was as mixed as that. Men owing allegiance to Nathuram
Godse's brand of nationalism killed Gauri Lankesh and her fellow 'Hindu
apostates'. Hardly surprising, since Godse's comrades had distributed sweets
and celebrated the assassination of Gandhi with revelry. An overwhelming
majority of today's warmongers belong to this stable of Indian nationalists,
and Prime Minister Narendra Modi commands support from the group.
episodes from history make the Congress look significantly more agreeable than
the Hindu right. For all the propaganda about the Indian military's aloofness
from politics today, it was Jayprakash Narayan (or JP), his movement shored up
by the Hindu right, who had exhorted the Indian armed forces to disobey the
orders of then prime minister Indira Gandhi.
may not remember the episode, but it was a factor in the imposition of the
emergency. One doubts whether the Congress would ever have the gall to make
such a call. Earlier, according to declassified CIA files, it was the
right-wing Hindu nationalists that tried to assassinate India's first army
chief in an ethnically divisive plot. Fortunately, it failed.
the other shore of politics, there was a tradition of an open-minded
nationalism that luckily remains assertive in vast spheres of politics. Mamata
Banerjee (Brahmin), Mayawati (Dalit), and Lalu Yadav (who belongs to the lowest
rung in the caste order), are all leaders with cross-cultural followings. What
unites them is their staunch faith in India's agreeable constitution, which
currently translates into a sharp critique, even wariness, of Modi's brand of
is hardly a surprise that all three have questioned the expediency of taking
India to the brink of a full-blown war with a nuclear-armed neighbour. They are
expected to lead the fight to defeat right-wing nationalism in the coming elections.
were no lynch mobs when justice Anand Narain Mulla of the Allahabad High Court
wrote Urdu poetry. He got into trouble with Lohia's socialists when they
objected to a verse that described a drop of ink from the artist's quill as a
shade worthier than a martyr's blood: Khoon-i-shaheed se bhi hai qeemat mein
kuchh siwa/ Fankaar ke qalam ki siyahi ki ek boond.
an old story from the 1960s, and as far as one can remember, Mulla rebuffed all
demands for an apology. On the contrary, he was applauded by a large section of
Indians when he noted in a judgement that the country's police force was the
most organised gang of criminals.
intellectual clone and a fellow Kashmiri Pandit, who is among India's more
combative public intellectuals, is justice Markandey Katju. He retired from the
Supreme Court some years ago, and, like Mulla, loves Urdu poetry - particularly
Ghalib and Faiz and Josh. Katju is an outspoken critic of India's hard-line
policies in Kashmir and slams militarist politics over the past decades that he
says have alienated 99 per cent of Kashmiris from India.
an interview available on YouTube, he has described what he calls a guerilla
war in Kashmir with resemblance to the Vietcong whose cadre derived sustenance
from a sea of alienated people. Unlike Katju or Mulla, Rahul Gandhi underscores
his Brahminical lineage, something he didn't need to do at all. A Hindu priest
was recently requisitioned to announce him as a thread-wearing Kashmiri Pandit
of the Kaul family.
difference here is that Mulla and Katju relate to Nehruvian rationalism,
whereas the young Congress leader, a great grandson of Nehru, has painted
himself - or been pushed - into a corner packed with bovine politics and
competitive nationalism, in contrast to the party's more progressive past. His
confusion revealed itself on two key occasions. He told US ambassador Timothy
Roemer, according to WikiLeaks files published in 2010, that India faced a
bigger threat from Hindu extremists than from Indian Muslims. But he spoiled
the wisdom of the moment by boasting at a whistle-stop meeting during a state
election in Uttar Pradesh - which he lost - that his grandmother broke Pakistan
evidently doesn't see how Pakistan-bashing quickly becomes a communal
expedition. A slogan out of Ayodhya, after the Babri mosque was razed in
December 1992, yelled that the next halt would be Lahore. That was decades
before a suicide bomber killed 42 paramilitary men in Pulwama, and India
responded by crossing Pakistan's airspace to poke the nuclear-armed neighbour
in the eye.