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Surjeet M | Odishabytes | New Delhi | Considering that the election this time is as much about reaffirming trust in Prime Minister Narendra Modi as about redefining the idea of India, the results of two contests would be interesting to watch out for. One is in Begusarai, Bihar, where student leader Kanhaiya Kumar is pitted against hyper nationalist Giriraj Singh and the other is in Bhopal, where BJP’s Sadhvi Pragyan, the Hindutva firebrand, is up against Congress’s Digvijaya Singh, the controversial champion of Nehruvian secularism.The contests in these seats are virtually a mini referendum on the old and revisionist concepts of nationalism and secularism. Giriraj has courted controversy several times over his crude comments on Muslims, people who are anti-Modi and even the skin colour of Congress leader Sonia Gandhi. He is also notorious for claiming those not supporting Modi are anti-national and they should be in Pakistan, not India and the colour green should not be used in party flags.
His language may be offensive and he could do with better articulation, but his utterances essentially encapsulate the idea of nationalism core to the belief of the country’s Right eco-system. This version of nationalism is built around the Hindu identity, and is thus inherently exclusive and reductive in character. It contests the assumption that India is a diverse country and treats its nationalism as a homogenising project.
Kanhaiya Kumar, the former president of Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union who has been at the centre of the raging nationalism debate following a 2016 event at the varsity where some students allegedly chanted anti-India slogans, represents the idea of an assimilative, syncretic India.
Charged with sedition and derisively referred to as part of the tukde-tukde gang (those who want to break India into pieces) on television channels, the youngster has stood his ground rather admirably against the fierce onslaught of powerful detractors, which include the media and the government. In fact, he has emerged as the most articulate champion of the core values of the Indian Constitution.
The electoral battle at Begusarai takes both ideas of India from television studios and elitist platforms to the masses. The campaigns of both, before the polling on April 29 have not shied away from putting forward their respective points emphatically. The result here will tell what the ordinary man thinks about nationalism. A victory for Kanhaiya would be reaffirmation of the nationalism of the Constitution-makers while a win for Giriraj would mean validation of the stand of the Right.
Sadhvi Pragya, an accused in several cases, including terror cases, represents Hindutva devoid of all intellectual pretension and finesse. Her antipathy for Muslims is no secret as is her religion-centric worldview. The Sadhvi’s candidature is firm assertion from the BJP that it is not apologetic about Hindutva at all and it is prepared to open it up for a popularity test. There could not be a better test than pitting her against Digvijaya Singh, a man known for batting for Muslims with no inhibition. He has done it to the point of antagonising a section of Hindus.
Digvijaya is disliked by the BJP and its Hindutva co-travellers. It goes without saying. According to them, he represents all that is wrong with the Nehruvian idea of secularism beginning with unabashed appeasement and ending with demonising Hindus. Both contestants take their images to the voters. A victory for the Sadhvi here would mean a stamp of approval for the Indian Right’s Hindutva project, a loss would mean Indians still feel religion and politics should not mix.
On those two seats the core issues are clear as they can get. The result will tell the ideological direction the country will take.
Courtesy: Odisha Bytes.
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