Democracy is all encompassing; nationalism is restricting! True democracy can only exist when there are some curbs placed on nationalistic inclinations. Unbridled nationalism cannot co-exist with democracy!-Ernest Gellner
Ernest Gellner was a renowned political philosopher who died in 1995. His erudition was universally recognized and his Cambridge tutorials were immensely popular which attracted an audience many of whom had no association with humanities. His last book viz 'Conditions of Liberty' has been universally acknowledged as a classic-even by his critics.
I was reminded of his pearls of wisdom when I witnessed the debate on the young students suicide in Hyderabed on different channels. The panelists were polarized on political lines as could be expected . But what intrigued me was the letter written by Bandaru Dattatreya the Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament from Secunderabad who also happens to be a Union Minister.He had implored the Human Resource Development Minister to intervene to stop 'anti-national' activities!
The RSS Spokesperson Rakesh Sinha repeatedly stressed on the need to stop 'anti-national activities' on different channels. He repeatedly cited the protests conducted by the Hyderabad students when Yaqub Memon as an instance of anti-nationalism.
What Rakesh Sinha conveniently forgot was there is no universally accepted definition of 'anti-nationalism'. Acting against national interest is notoriously difficult to define as 'national interest' may have different connotations to different people.
On a personal note, I did find the demonstrations around the time of Memon's execution upsetting as he had had a very fair trial.I am personally opposed to capital punishment but as long as it is there on the statute , we all have to accept it as long as the judicial provides reasonable remedies. In effect I am stating that I did find the demonstrations anti-national.
By the same token I always seem to find the Owaisi brothers deeply offensive and anti-national for their utterances. I find Sakshi Maharaj's cheap attempts to eulogize a cold blooded convicted killer as a 'patriot' an affront to all my human sensibilities and profoundly anti-national.I am also aware that these causes do attract a large number of followers many of whom I regard as misguided.I even consider willfully defreezing the London bank account of a fugitive from Indian criminal justice system 'anti-national'.
But would I advocate draconian measures by state against these individuals? The answer is a resounding negative. It is here that Gellner's logic enters the equation.
For any philosophy to develop positively, it has to have its critics to keep its proponents on their toes. We would do well to recall the landmark Texas vs Johnson judgement by the US Supreme Court on the flag burning issue which recognized flag burning as a form of expression covered by the US constitutional provision of freedom of expression although clearly loathsome and repulsive. I would also construe it as anti-national. Justice Anthony Kennedy who wrote the judgement pointed out that it was 'poignant that the symbol should provide protection to those who hold it in contempt.'
The judgement has invited a fair bit of debate but by and large it has been accepted as a new interpretation which sets new parameters for freedom of expression within a democratic polity. Owaisi,Sakshi and their followers as well as the protesting students were simply exercising their constitutional right guaranteed by the Constitution .My principal worry over this unhappy saga is that the state seems to have failed to provide the students constitutional protection they were entitled to notwithstanding the fact that they held the instruments of the state in contempt.