"Ideology" is a strange thing—in the name of achieving a median of perceived normalcy, it creates a belief system that only posits the opposite, a sense of enduring "abnormal". History provides testimony to the fact that dominant ideologies, ones that promise to bring kinetic change, can hardly function in a space of stability. In other words, there cannot be popular ideological mobilization without a measured creation of the "abnormal", which eventually becomes an absolute precondition and more often than not, an obstruction to reconciliation.
[Does] maintaining a state of constant antagonism actually benefit the "custodians" of the nation? Are Indian nationalists confederates of a frictional India-Pakistan relationship because it keeps them relevant?
The above assumption, however, is better comprehended in a categorically defined political context. For a versatile country like India that is marked by the shared existence of so many psychosocial strands of being, "normalcy" has been no more than a running trophy for the opportunistic ruling class that is routinely used like a fishing bait to induce the passive masses. In the current environment of rankled politics, this conundrum of collective ideology has come out to be far more compounded than usual, prancing about like Brownian particles within tiny moulds of hyper-nationalism and hyper-radicalism.
What better space to look for the threadbare theatrics of abnormality than India's burgeoning anti-Pakistan psyche?
Across her postcolonial history, the Indian polity and popular culture have both experimented with many different shades of nationalism, manifested in a motley set of archetypes. But, one particular variant has had a fairly linear historical trajectory—anti-Pakistanism. Not many have dared to tweak the disharmonious chords of India's obsessive disdain for its malevolent neighbour, not even seemingly avant-garde Prime Ministers or fine-talking cricket commentators.
Yet, the reason why the two countries have been able to muddle through high-pitched diatribes of hatred and reach impressive bilateral agreements that stand till date is because there has always existed a visceral desire for normalcy at the diplomatic-political level, notwithstanding the occasional waves of acrimony. This was a bona fide desire to find loose-hanging threads of common needs, and tie them together to maintain a semblance of sanity. Intriguingly enough, even with the coming of the right-wing government in 2014—which was expected to take a far more "macho" posture against Pakistan than its predecessor— this quest for normalcy remained in its rightful place. But what we are witnessing today is dramatically different.
The high-voltage anti-Pakistanism that has erupted in the past few months is premised upon the idea of maintaining a perennial sense of warlike friction. With the recent uptick in violence across the volatile northern border, the deep-seated yearning for normalcy has suddenly dispersed into the not-so-thin air—the same air that now smells of gunpowder and suspicion.
Clearly, India's traditionally temperate anti-Pakistan constituencies are shrinking, to be replaced by a septic discourse of paranoia and political egoism.
Is the daily bloodletting of our soldiers at the borders now a ritualistic and 'necessary' display of India's might and glory, to be vicariously relished by an emotionally broken nation?
To take the tedious path of self-reflexivity, we must ask ourselves if we even want our relations to return to normal. Or is the daily bloodletting of our soldiers at the borders now a ritualistic and necessary display of India's might and glory, to be vicariously relished by an emotionally broken nation? We see the "most watched" television news channels brazenly drop in the word "war" in their primetime headlines when there actually is none. We see the Home Minister travel to the border, wearing a combat cap, and holler on the microphone about how only cowards fight from the back and heroes from the front. We hear preachy pop-culture patriots and their lumpen followers tell us to stop beating the drums for Pakistani cultural doyens and pretending things are normal, because apparently they are not.
Are we all, in dangerous unison, scripting a catastrophic story of blood and gore that none of us actually seek? Just like every war-weary society (or polity) does before it goes on to become war-weary?
It is not hard to realize that "normalcy" is less of a wild horse running amok in the wilderness, and more of a jointly owned public good that can be tamed at will through our collective conscience. Denying normalcy, in itself, induces abnormality. Alternatively, rejecting abnormality can make space for normalcy. The situation, however, begins to look bleak and impervious when we burrow deeper into the ground to interrogatively look for signs of a slow moral genocide.
Has Indian nationalism, over the past few decades, unwittingly invested in a strong dialectic of tension when it comes to Pakistan, so much so that maintaining a state of constant antagonism actually benefits the "custodians" of the nation? Are Indian nationalists confederates of a frictional India-Pakistan relationship because it keeps them relevant?
Those are musings straight from nightmares, indeed. But, they are hardly shocking. The process of nation-making is often like charting stormy seas—it needs lighthouses to not break and collapse. Pakistan, and its militaristic deep-state, serves as a great lighthouse for a sizable chunk of India's nation-builders to find direction, wade around, and gather a larger armada of hatemongers. After all, what better enterprise can there be for hyper-nationalist entities, especially fringe parties like the MNS, than an interminable festival of anti-Pakistanism?
Our guns are fast, our snipers precise, our artillery powerful, our frigates merciless, our jets indomitable, and our nukes hot—but so are theirs.
A toxic, cyclic discourse that ought to remain fiction may be coming true—in the failure of Pakistan lies a distinguished victory for India's otherwise peripheral nationalist galvanizers; in the celebration of the martyrdom of our jawans lies the quotidian pleasures of India's majoritarian aggressors, including but not limited to men in black-and-blue suits running disdainful propaganda programmes in the name of TV news. Why would this blood-baying ever stop then, if it results in positive sentimental dividends for a nation that has been repeatedly poked at the wrong places by a bunch of uniformed, war-hungry men from across the border?
"Border pe Diwali (Diwali on the border)!" is what our primetime slots have come down to, only affirming the belief that as a country that is self-aware of its greater military prowess over her western neighbour, India is actively breeding an entire generation of fierce nationalists who are stakeholders of a permanently hysterical and wounded India-Pakistan dialectic. These guys cannot afford a peaceful international border in Jammu, or an uneventful LoC in Kashmir, for that would immediately terminate the great circus of celebratory valour and pride.
The compelling image of meticulously made-up news anchors, in perfect hairdos and dazzling blazers, breaking to us, between sinister smiles, the news of how our jawans shot to death 15 Pakistanis at the border looks more like dark wartime satire than peacetime evening news.
As a loose set of peoples adhering to a broad-spectrum "Indic culture" marked by cross-civilizational assimilation and inter-faith syncretism, we were supposed to live as a harmonious tribe that eschews violent confrontations and interventions, very unlike the forward-marching "empires" of the world. Instead, we are on the threshold of metamorphosing into a bizarre, religio-cultural war-tribe, albeit not irreversibly.
Who do we blame really—our distressed selves or an exogenous political force that was never in our control?
The obvious way ahead for us is to mend the broken fences, and curl the barbed wires upward. Our guns are fast, our snipers precise, our artillery powerful, our frigates merciless, our jets indomitable, and our nukes hot—but so are theirs. We would perhaps use up only half of our ordnance supplies before they are burnt to ashes, but as a race that prides itself in not dropping a leg into the countless unnecessary wars of the postcolonial world, do we really want to initiate the most apocalyptic battle of this epoch, or still stick to what we do marvellously—de-escalate? Do we really want to replace our real "mediation rooms" with holographic "war rooms"', like those resourceful TV-people did some days back?
Do we really want to initiate the most apocalyptic battle of this epoch, or still stick to what we do marvellously—de-escalate?
I am not sure anymore what we want. By placing the stinging sound of artillery gunfire at the centre of daily news, and digging the democratic plains of our country to create crevasses of overt militarism, we are perhaps really unbecoming to become something that we would not be able to leash in ourselves. We could become something else, just like Sartre's waiter could, for we do have the free will to—at least when it comes to giving a direction to our Pakistan policy. Prime Minister Modi's astounding December 2015 stopover in Lahore to meet his Pakistani counterpart on his way back from Kabul is a case-in-point: we could really become something unprecedented.
Yet, we seem to be on a devious course, dotted by hollering men and women who want us to think and behave in a certain way, to (mis-) deploy Sartre's free will to become automatons to their idea of nationalism. This induced tectonic shift in our national "thinking" reflects well in the uncomplicated motto of one popular news channel that proudly serves as the vanguard of India's new anti-Pakistan discourse—"Soch badlo, desh badlo (Change your thinking, change your country)."