This won’t be the first time a doctored video finds its champions and supporters in the national media. Nor the first time “sources” are quoted to prove a hapless Indian’s criminal involvement in a case.
But what Swapan Dasgupta helped circulate and Arnab Goswami held up in his show to be “proof” on the basis of which an issue like nationalism is debated brings to the fore the poverty of a certain kind of imagination, which for want of better words one could describe as “nationalist.”
If the anti-nationalist slogans which JNU student Kanahaiya Kumar is supposed to have shouted are a matter of manipulation, and if Goswami and Dasgupta are a vital part of that manipulation by lending it credibility and its abuse as evidence to further a spurious debate on nationalism, they need to ask themselves if the cost of a certain ideological allegiance is truth itself.
And that seems to be the case.
The debate on nationalism in these times of Hindu Right-wing resurgence centres around a few simplistic notions. If you are a nationalist, chances are you are a Hindu, rather than a Muslim or a Christian. You would believe in Lord Ram and the overt and covert efforts at building the temple in Ayodhya.
In other words, it will be difficult for you to be rationalist – ask the wounded ghosts of Dabholkar, Pansare or Kalburgi — and a nationalist at the same time. That would be just too complex. You can’t say: “I hate India because of its weather, brutality or corruption, but I might be fond of a few Indians because I can trust myself to drink with them.” Just not done.
Your nation is a geographical accident. So is your birth, but you are likely to literally owe your parents a lot — unless you take Philip Larkin seriously: “They f*ck you up, your your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do."
To hide behind such accidental concepts and to resort to emotional blackmail at the expense of intellectual honesty is not just a mean, petty thing to do; it is also a profitable thing to do as in the case of Arnab Goswami. The relentless quest for TRP ratings needs a take off point every evening. As is widely known now, Arnab’s strategy has been to both polarise and energise his audience into a battle between fidels and infidels. This is much the terminology and strategy of the ISIS as well. Who knew the abuse of a TV channel would be jihadistic in its effect?
In Swapan Dasgupta’s case, despite his half hearted apology about helping to circulate the now clearly doctored video, his need to have an intellectual position, a frame of reference, in the really empty nationalism debate is a matter of mechanical stancing.
The Right wing, whose champion Dasgupta is, believes all the best that can ever happen to India has already happened some 3,000 years ago. Once you believe that, there is not much room for intellectual innovation, nor are you troubled by the need to accommodate facts into your theories.
The Right wing idea of nationalism doesn’t speak of a confined territory and a unified market. It looks at inflationary, fluid boundaries, and a monolithism of beliefs and culture; and Hindu supremacisim. It is no use saying the Middle East kingdoms are meant for Muslims. Why not India for Hindus? The Middle East kingdoms for the most part are also led by kings. We can’t obviously go back to the regalia, or can we?
India’s uniqueness is its liberal, argumentative, diverse nature, which Amartya Sen has spoken about in detail. This does not mean that the Right of centre has no relevance in India. But it is best in the interest of the “Indian” to have a political Right wing that does not resort to a mythology for its right of way.
The fundamental reason for the debilitating nature of the current debate on nationalism is that there really is no Opposition, either from the Left or the weakened, "proverbially" secular Congress.
The Opposition to the Right wing onslaught has actually fallen into the hands of a few individuals, who are doing their best on social media – more than traditional print media, and understandably so: no big capital is involved and therefore there are no interests to be protected — to put up a resistance to the onslaught of the metaphorical juggernaut.
Ironically, at no time in India’s recent history has the responsibility to fight for the right to free speech — a right more sacred than nationalism to my mind rested on the stooping shoulders of the intellectual than now.
If a poll is done on the trust quotient of media now, or the government or the judiciary, you are likely to find it at its lowest ebb. And Arnab Goswami and Swapan Dasgupta would have a whole lot to answer for when they finally retire from their careers, nothing if not filled with empty sounds like nationalism and patriotism. But by that time it might be just too late. And Arnab's much beloved "nation" would have dearly paid.