Words can leave the deepest wounds — Y Deshmukh to Rajdeep S

Yashwant Deshmukh Headshot

Dear Rajdeep, I Am Not Communal And You Are Not Anti-National

Posted: 22/02/2016 21:59 IST Updated: 22/02/2016 22:33 IST

Dear Rajdeep:

I read your powerful blog “Yes; I am an Anti-National“. It was an extremely intense and powerful assertion. I found myself in agreement with almost everything you have written. And I consider myself a nationalist. So I couldn’t figure how you said everything that a nationalist would find it hard to disagree with, and then managed to call yourself an anti-national! That feat truly stumped me.

I agree with nearly everything you wrote (the differences are on account of me being born a Banarasi rather than a Mumbaikar). Yes; the country’s polity was divided by secular versus pseudo secular fault lines. But not just in the 1990s, as you argue. The divide was always there, right from the start in 1947. It’s just that it surfaced because of electoral manifestation later on. You also argue that 2014 was the year that changed a lot, citing your book. I feel India has remained the same. All that changed in 2014 is that it forced a certain sect of intelligentsia to change the way they stereotyped India.

Yes, I agree that the current issue is another divide, and frankly a far more insidious one, created between ‘national’ and ‘anti-national’ forces. I share your agony of feeling like “anti-national”. I have also been similarly labeled. It was way back in the 1970s, during a time that some communal-minded people refer to as the “Emergency”. I was not angry. Afterall, I was just 3 years old then.

Those media-wallahs that disagreed with the establishment became “Enemy of the state” overnight. My father was one of them.

You have been called anti-national by social media. We were branded anti-national by the socialist media. The word ‘Socialist’ had just been forcefully and unconstitutionally added to the preamble of our Constitution. And Media was what the cabal of Left-oriented Congress establishment thought that Media should be. Those media-wallahs that disagreed with the establishment became “Enemy of the state” overnight. My father was one of them. And therefore, his family members, including his 3-year-old son, became enemy of the state. There were hundreds and thousands of individuals and families like us who were declared “Enemy of the state”. I was not angry then.

But the coarse political discourse right after those years angered me, just as it does today, when secularism certificates are being liberally distributed. It makes me want to scream: Garv se kaho hum desh-bhakt hai (Say proudly that you are a nationalist).

Yes, I am a proud nationalist because I believe in an expanded definition of the right to free speech as spelt out in Article 19 of the Constitution. The only two ‘reasonable restrictions’ are incitement to violence and hate speech. What constitutes hate speech is open to debate. Is, for example, the slogan of “Bharat Tere Tukde Honge; Insha Allah; Insha Allah”, which openly calls for a Jihadi cause, to be seen as violating the law or not? And does it spread enmity among communities? And by the way, ‘Raaj karega khalsa’, was NOT the slogan of the Khalistanis, is was a historical slogan that Khalistanis tried to misuse. And that is why it was not deemed seditious by the Supreme Court in the Balwant Singh versus State of Punjab case. The term “Khalsa” is used for the good teachings of all the Gurus and it also denoted the good governance of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh. And yes, as a proud Nationalist, I will scream aloud for “Raaj Karega Khalsa” to wish for the real spirit of Khalsa, which saw the Gurus give their lives to protect India and its inclusive culture from the culture of onslaught.

india soldier

Yes, I am a proud nationalist because I am discomfited by the sloganeering and violence at Patiala Court. I do not see it as an act of Patriotism. A majority of proud nationalists Indians (shall we call them PNIs?), including me, said on social media that lunatic lawyers or a certain violent idiot BJP MLA should be taken to the cleaners by the court because they are not above the law and criminals should be allowed to hide behind the guise of patriotism. And no, I am not supporting anyone in power who tries to protect these violent lunatics. Glad that we have a common ground between us on this issue.

Now in similar fashion, anyone in support of Parliament terror convict Afzal Guru can be taken to the court and let the court decide. The courts are indeed the only one to decide on “Afzal Hum Sharminda Hain; Tere Katil Zinda Hain”; simply because the “Katil” in this “Tere Katil Zinda Hain” case is the Supreme Court of India. It’s the SC that decided to hang the terrorist Afzal Guru.

I once again agree with you that these speeches are primarily an anti-government tirade. But it is the government of India, not a government of the BJP. Should we see the students as potential terrorists or as political sympathizers of the azadi sentiment? Well, it depends. If you visualize a young Afzal Guru raising similar slogans twenty years back, you might not have an easy answer to it. And is that ideological support enough to brand them as jihadis who must be charged with sedition? Again, it depends. If you deem the slogan “Jo Hindu Hit Ki Baat Karega, Wahi Desh Par Raaj Karega” as communal and spreading enmity between communities, as you do, I guess “Bharat Tere Tukde Honge; Insha Allah; Insha Allah” could also be regarded as such?

Yes, I am a proud nationalist because in a plural democracy I also believe we must have a dialogue with Kashmiri separatists.

You see, it’s all struck in branding somewhere. And freedom of expression is not really a one-way traffic. It works both ways. I opposed the arrest of Kanhaiya because I am convinced that his speech was politically brilliant and absolutely harmless. The real “anti-national” culprits are on the run. They should have been charged with sedition, not Kanhaiyya.

Yes, I am a proud nationalist because in a plural democracy I also believe we must have a dialogue with Kashmiri separatists as we must with those in the North-East who seek autonomy. I remain the only pollster to have travelled to all the corners of the ‘troubled’ Kashmir to poll the locals. We had no hesitation in putting it on the cover of The Week magazine that majority of Kashimiris believe that polls will be “rigged” and that they don’t think a solution is possible within the Indian Constitution. Yes, I am a proud nationalist and I’m also the only journalist who generated empirical data to give statistical voice to people in Kashmir Valley that don’t wish to be part of India. We tried to give a concrete number to their sentiments on what would happen if a plebiscite were carried out.


Yes, I understood that it’s a society in conflict and transition, and venting “anti-India” slogans was a good way of protesting what they saw as “Indian Occupation”. But I also understood that the issue of “Kashmiriyat” has been very interestingly wrapped over by the Jihadi ideal of world peace, if you know what I mean. Even the Hurriyat leaders now regretfully concede this in private conversations.

Yes, I am a proud nationalist who worked for 20 years on a peace-poll to give statistical voice to the “Idea of Kashmiriyat”. Be it in Sri Nagar or in New Delhi or for that matter even in Washington DC. But I refuse to be that anti-national who would give legitimacy of dialogue to Jihadi ideas under the garb of freedom of expression. Every human being must have a right to freedom of expression. But not Jihadi terrorists. Why? Simply because it’s a right given to humans.

Shouting down “alternative views”, be they on prime time TV or on the street, is not my idea of India either.

Yes I agree on all your assertions that prosecute all those who break the law, incite violence and resort to terror but don’t lose the capacity to engage with those who dissent. As long as those who dissent don’t also support the terror attack on our Parliament. Yes, the right to dissent is as fundamental as the right to free speech. Shouting down “alternative views”, be they on prime time TV or on the street, is not my idea of India either. But which alternative views, to be precise? Are we really going to offer the “alternative” of “Bharat Ki Barbadi Tak, Jang Rahegi Jang Rahegi”? Well, I don’t think that alternative should be on the negotiation table. Yes, I agree with you that if support for Afzal Guru is to be seen as ‘sedition’, then at least half the erstwhile cabinet in Jammu and Kashmir, where the BJP is in Coalition with the PDP, would be held guilty. But the prudent journalist in me knows that the PDP’s stated position has been to protest Afzal’s hanging as a miscarriage of justice. But are they shouting for “Bharat Ki Barbadi Tak”? Arguing “travesty of justice” is different from shouting “Bharat Tere Tukde Honge, Insha Allah Insha Allah”. Yes, as a proud nationalist, I do feel that the Hindu Mahasabha turns criminal in glorifying Nathuram Godse. And yes, when they observe 26 January as black day, I do consider them an anti-national organization in that context. You might be surprised to know Rajdeep, that most proud nationalists also feel the Sadhvi Pragyas, Sakshi Maharajs or for that matter even the Pravin Togadias end up being anti-nationals by spreading their utterly stupid and divisive message.

I agree with you that definitions of nationalism should not be shaped by the convenience of power politics.

Yes, I agree with you that definitions of nationalism should not be shaped by the convenience of power politics. This is why I openly wished that the confrontation with the pro-Afzal gang in JNU and in all other campuses in the country should have been picked up by the student wings of other political outfits–the NSUI, AISA or CYSS; not by the self-appointed champions of nationalism. The day NSUI and CYSS picks up the confrontation with Afzal gang in all the campuses, we will not be defining nationalism by the convenience of power politics.

Yes, I am a proud nationalist and Hindu and although I don’t wake up to the Gayatri mantra, I do observe certain other personal practices. For instance, even though I travel around the world, I don’t eat beef and pork. Because beef was never served on my family’s dinner table and pork has never been served at the homes of innumerable friends and colleagues. What’s the point of eating something that I can’t share with my family, friends and colleagues? But this is my own personal decision and I don’t at all subscribe to anyone, including BJP minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who wants to link diet and treason.

india food diversityYes, I do celebrate the rich diversity of my country through food, knowing and respecting fully well that the largest religion of India finds beef offensive and the second largest finds pork offensive. Resist the temptation for a moment to typecast me as a typical vegetarian Banarasi Brahmin. Having been virtually raised at the home of our Bengali neighbors, the De family, I am pretty emotional about my Doi-Maach. And having been blissfully adored by my nani jaan at our neighbours’, the Atahar Nabi family in Lucknow, I know how the real shami kebabs melt in the mouth.

I will also fight lawless lawyers who attack women journalists in the name of ‘Bharat Mata’.

The right to food of choice of my friends, colleagues and family is absolute and I choose to respect them by not eating certain things. It is again a freedom to respect their sentiments. I cherish this freedom to respect them and I celebrate it by not consuming anything that might offend them, be it beef or pork. Giving that respect makes me a proud nationalist. Yes, I am a proud nationalist because I will also fight lawless lawyers who attack women journalists in the name of ‘Bharat Mata’. And I also don’t forget Kashmiri Pundit women who were targeted by “sympathizers” of the cause of Azadi. I am a proud nationalist who, just like you, admires the sacrifice of our jawans, which is why I love the idea of the Indian flag flying high in university campuses. What is the point in admiring the jawans if you can’t admire the cause they give their lives for–to protect the ‘Aan-Baan aur Shaan’ of the tri-colour? I am a proud nationalist and that is why I support gay rights. I might also be against the death penalty on principle, but I don’t protest against the penalty “selectively” when the criminal happens to be a terrorist working for the cause of “Azadi”. If one is against the death penalty in principle, then one should have the guts to oppose it when a serial rapist or murderer is taken to the gallows. Unfortunately, I didn’t find anyone in JNU taking out a procession to protest against the hanging of Dhananjay Chaterjee or Auto Shankar. Why that is all such voices “against the death penalty on principle” get amplified only when the person taken to gallows happens to be an Afzal or a Kasab or a Yakub Memon? As a proud nationalist, I also find any violence in the name of caste, religion or gender unacceptable. This is why I find it ridiculous when Brahmin votes are caste politics but Yadav votes are merely community consolidation. I do find it weird when Hindu polarization is termed communal and Muslim polarization is termed by the same intellectual brigade as the great secular strategy. I hate to be “Selective” in such criteria and find both of these phenomenon as communal and casteist. And yes, just like you, I like raising these inconvenient truths in the public domain.

The wound of atrocities that have been inflicted on the oppressed classes in our country for centuries need affirmative action to heal.

But above all else, I am a proud nationalist because I believe in Ambedkar’s concept of a republican constitution that places the citizen and rule of law at its core with Uniform Civil Code. I also agree that no one has the right to impose their vision of ‘cultural nationalism’ on a diverse society in the guise of ‘one religion, one culture’. But yes, this is certainly ‘one nation’ for sure and I am not apologetic to state that. The law of this nation should be equal to everyone, regardless of gender, religion or culture. We love to highlight this, barring the occasions when a case like Shah Bano flies in our face and we are left with our “constitutional duty” to make minority women suffer secular injustice, just because it makes it politically incorrect to take a morally correct stand on this issue.

temple women india

The wound of atrocities that have been inflicted on the oppressed classes in our country for centuries need affirmative action to heal. That’s why I am a proud supporter of reservation policies. I hate when ‘menstruating” women are considered “impure” and not allowed to enter any place of worship. The pinned tweet on my profile says “If Women can fly planes, conduct open-heart surgeries & shoot at the border wearing sanitary napkins, they can go & pray in any temple as well”. Yes, I say all of this due to my conviction that being a proud nationalist makes it necessary to do so.

I would love to seek solace in the legend of your original icon, Muhammad Ali. I am glad you mentioned that piece of history. But you forgot to emphasize that Muhammad Ali did not threw his gold medal into the river screaming “Amreeka tere Tukde Honge; Insha Allah Insha Allah”. He did it for the much larger cause of equality for all fellow citizens under the same national flag of the USA. As he lit the torch at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, it was America’s way of apologizing for all the inequalities that its “laws as per the constitution” allowed to happen. But I don’t see any such case of “institutional” or “constitutional” inequality in India. And if you are asking me to give equal and similar space to “Bharat Ki Barbadi Tak” due to freedom of expression, I am sorry, I just can’t.

I am sorry that I am unable to find anything worth being apologetic about for being a proud nationalist, which you have portrayed as a source of everything that is wrong with this country. You are asserting that you are an anti-national by claiming all the right virtues for yourself, while demeaning and belittling my feeling of being a proud nationalist, even though I subscribe to all the right virtues that you listed. I hope you realize your folly and say sorry one day.

No, I am not communal and you are not anti-national.

With affection and regards

Post-script: I kind of disagree with you that the right to free speech must include the right to offend so long as it doesn’t incite violence. Not all forms of violence are physical. Words can leave the deepest wounds.


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