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When questioned about his soft stance or lack of clampdown on Muslim communalism juxtaposed to Hindu nationalism, a euphemism for Hindu communalism, Nehru succinctly expressed that the communalism of the majority can easily be masqueraded as nationalism. This prescient observation that was made nearly seven decades ago rings true today. 

It is nothing but absurdity to purport a ‘Hindu nationalist’ as an ‘Indian nationalist’ in a multi-religious country like ours. As per the 2011 census, 79.8% of our population practices Hinduism and 14.2% adheres to Islam, while the remaining 6% follow other religions (Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism and various indigenous ethnically-bound faiths). To consider Hinduism as the supreme religion in the so-called race of nationalism is to subvert Indians of other faiths and beliefs. However, one supremacist leader would not have been enough to create such grossly bigoted undercurrents if people already did not incline towards such beliefs. Such visceral feelings barge out in full swing when the ruling establishment of one's country echoes their beliefs. 

Populism, though different from communalism, emanates similar tumultuous reaction in the country and is equally at odds with the tenets of democracy. The far right of India is often seen whipping up populist sentiments for political expediency. Populist leaders portray themselves as anti-elitist, anti-dynasty, and anti-immigrant. Populism is wielded as a sword to erode the dignity of opposition in politics and the minority groups are made to feel like secondary citizens in their own beloved country. 

Come to think of it, Donald Trump of U.S., Victor Or Ban of Hungary, Theresa May of England, Rodrigo Duterte of Philippines, and Narendra Modi of India - all these leaders have something in common. They have somewhat a similar stance on the minorities, though a few are more articulate than the others. These leaders, with their extreme right-wing ideologies and exaggerated rhetorics laden with fancy promises, though quick to criticise the transgressors, have seemingly failed to take any vigilant and required measures to curb the undermining of minorities of their respective countries. In India, we are reeling from an unprecedented turmoil, with the tragic onslaught of mob violence who have, seemingly, taken the law in their hands and abhorrent and repulsive cases of lynching which are yet to face strict punitive action. 

When populism is conflated with communalism, it leads to a vehement denial of pragmatic and equitable beliefs and everything uttered by one single person seem to be or is promoted as the only truth. The majority is swept off their feet and sanity takes a backseat when this form of jingoism and bigotry grips the nation. Both populism and communalism are not only antithetical to democratic values but also fraught with danger. The populists often demand and wish for totalitarianism and openly repudiate pluralism, which is the very soul of democracy. 

Communalism often denudes people of any empathy towards the society and people with different faith and beliefs, as was clearly discernible during the Kathua rape case. The rape and murder of an eight-year-old left the country in a state of shock. On the other hand, the right-wing organization Hindu Ekta Manch carried out a ‘protest’ in support of the accused, Deepak Khajuria. Spearheaded by the state secretary of the Bhartiya Janta Party (ruling party), the protestors marched with the tricolor in an attempt towards shielding the accused! Celebrities and media-houses reprobating the incident were castigated and trolled on social media by people indulging in whataboutery, who questioned, “Why the similar outrage was not shown after the rape of a Hindu girl?” It is strange how the same political leaders who say that rape must not be politicized extend political support to assaulters, thereby sanctioning such horrendous crimes.

Overt repugnance and bias for the minorities is glaring from such instances that have become a norm these days. Populists and communalists often project an enemy and using this figment of imagination, continue to divide the country for mere political expediency and to propagate their own agenda. The notions of bigotry, racism, hatred, fascism, parochialism, communalism and populism are antithetical to equity and the roots of such evils are powerful enough tarnish a well-functioning democracy. The ruling establishments of democratic countries are behaving in a not-so-democratic and Fascist fashion. Erosion of democratic institutions and the rise in the dictatorial tendencies is alarmingly conspicuous. Where do we go from here? It is up to us not to be led away by political rabble-rousing and hold politicians accountable for their actions. 

Header Image Courtesy: SIMC WIRE

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Written By Deepti Jain

An engineering student and an admirer of Nehru.

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