June 20, 2021
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Nature Is Not Nation

We need to thank the army for the simple fact of their saving lives in Kashmir, without getting into dubious complications.

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Nature Is Not Nation
Nature Is Not Nation

A spate of people including those in the media, have pressed an untimely sentiment that the army's life-saving role during the ongoing floods in Kashmir should now endear the men in uniform to the people in every aspect, beyond their humanitarian gratitude for the army’s remarkable efforts to save lives in the Valley. The subtle hint hanging in the air is: Endearment is a good way to avoid endangerment. 

The assumption seems to be, a ‘natural’ calamity is the mirror-image of a ‘national’ calamity. The two terms are often juxtaposed in nationalist vocabulary. But is nature, national? Is the logic of nature, its timely vicissitudes and its unpredictable behaviour, bound to national definitions and aspirations? 

No scientific theory will attest to this mad relation being assumed in public (and journalistic) discourse between two disparate categories and realities, ‘nature’ and ‘nation’. There is however, certainly a nationalist vocabulary, purely political (and not natural), which often tends to merge the two words, concepts and realities to create an invented relationship between nature and nation. These discourses not only link up nature and nation in superfluously intimate terms, but also try and push a deeper significance into people’s minds. The political—and logically spurious—assumption that is drawn is that nation is as natural as nature, and that it is in our nature to be nationalists. In other words, that nationalism is “second nature”, or nature itself. 

Since it has already been established in such people’s minds that the 'natural' is a mirror image of the 'national', the army’s presence is seen as conducive to both spheres, with Kashmir being just a middle name between the two. So the tacit recommendation is, if you need the army’s help during a ‘natural’ disaster, you should also accept its actions in its ‘national’ avatar. In other words, the argument slyly seeks to suggest, Kashmiris facing a natural disaster right now and in need of the army for carrying out rescue measures should reciprocally help out the national cause by accepting the legitimacy of the army’s presence in the state. This is an arm-twisting logic of the most regressive kind. That people in this country can so easily give into such highhanded conclusions shows how nationalist sentiments can overpower even any sense of public decency. As if the fact that Kashmiris have been suffering all these years isn’t enough, there has to be a further humiliation being suggested to them by the nationalist elite that in the midst of this ‘natural’ disaster, the army also needs to be acknowledged in political terms. As if the humanitarian efforts of the army are intrinsically (and politically) connected to everything else they do in Kashmir. This rhetorical effort, viewing all actions through the same prism, is unethical and opportunistic. It goes to prove, people who are out to serve the most quick and narrow ends of national interest, are more anxious to trap people’s sentiments rather than genuinely earn them. Futility never occurs to the desperate. 

This ideological merging of two roles of the army by people serving their idea of national interest is however also backed by an apparently invincible logic: If a place is considered part of the nation, it will be argued, the responsibility of life there will automatically fall on the nation’s shoulders. So the army’s humanitarian work in Kashmir right now will also be viewed as ‘national’ work for a ‘national’ populace. The logic presupposes a deep, emotional bond between the army and the people they serve. This is, mind you, not a natural argument but a political (national) one. The army is bound by the idea of duty, and their sense of allegiance to the nation. But in a democracy, people are free to hold different ideas of the nation, including their not believing in any form of nationalism that erects borders and forces people into servility. Everyone in a democratic nation is not bound by the same principle or sentiment of allegiance. To offer a simple counter-logic to the apparently invincible logic of nationalist sentiment: Just because someone saves my life and makes me feel eternally grateful to him, doesn’t mean I need to share his views on love, religion, or AFSPA.

The political questions around Kashmir are still under fierce contestation. Trying to manipulate it in a moment of humanitarian crisis is a gross sign of inhumanity. Let the army’s great efforts at rescuing the people be acknowledged for its brave generosity, and not be wrongly coloured by other aspects that can only serve to take away focus from what people owe to the army in this moment of natural disaster. We need to thank the army for the simple fact of their saving lives in Kashmir, without getting into dubious complications. 

Manash Bhattacharjee is a political science scholar from JNU, New Delhi and a poet, whose first collection, Ghalib’s Tomb & Other Poems, was published by The London Magazine

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