Parvenu Nationalism

I recall that some two decades ago Frederic Jameson noted how literary/creative productions from the “third world” tend to become “national allegories.” And I also recall   some noted Indian intellectuals taking umbrage at the suggestion that third worlders should have been thought, after all, to be parvenu nationalists, when in fact we, in India for example, existed and produced within an unassimilable multiplicity and plurality of identities and allegiances in true  federal fashion.  The irony being that the umbrage in itself constituted an instance of hurt nationalist pride.

I thought then and I think now how right Jameson was.  Not so paradoxically, as the Indian ruling classes float the myth of our imminent approach towards super-powerdom, this pretence to a global destiny remains equally embedded in a parvenu nationalism.  Lacking any accreted self-confidence, we, even in this day and age, continue rather to think as did the American nationalist icons of the middle of the 19c.  Walt Whitman then instructed his people that a democratic America should acquire the self-confidence to transcend that feudal Shakespeare, (claiming that,  even as he wrote, some “two dozen Shakespeares  walked on either side of the Mississipi”); we want the world to know that a Kalpana Chawla or a Sunita something may well have been born and bred as American citizens but must be understood to reflect the glories of India.  Some right wing nationalists of course go far further to claim that even as early in history as the Ramayana (if that be historical), India knew all about nuclear secrets and flying machines.  How else would one explain the occurrence of Ram flying back from Lanka in a Pushpak Viman (literally a flying object).

If, then, today India is in mourning at the failure of our cricketing gods, the phenomenon needs to be contextualized within the sort of parvenu sensibility suggested above.

Three clearly differentiated orders of involvement seem apparent:  at the level of the state, the corporates, and the common masses.

In city and town, effigies of “team India” are being burnt, as the widespread breast-beating suggests the observance of a national Moharram—not celebratory of the event in Karbala, but as castigation of a loss of national self-esteem and expression of national shame.  The gods having failed, a national wake is underway.  A happening that after all  testifies to the successful  penetration of parvenu nationalism among both India’s newly educated but illiterate middle classes and emulating, what if impoverished, masses.

The houses and other luxury waterholes of “team India” are under police protection.  The mobs that were the other day berserk with glee at “team India’s”  record-making victory against that unheard-of Bermuda  are today manaical in frenzy at our losses, first  to Bangladesh (a country the size of a medium Indian province—indeed a country that we, in the first place, had brought into being; imagine child being the father of man!) and then against Sri Lanka (several sizes even less).

The galling ignominy of it all; it is as though the Pentagon had prostrated to Peru and to Surinam, not to speak of Iraq or Vietnam, and at a point in our national destiny when India’s super-power credentials are just about to be ratified by a so-exclusive  one-off nuke deal with  that political Yehova of our times, America. What may the latter now think of us, when “team India” cannot vanquish even a Bangladesh or a Sri Lanka.  It is as though the Indian emperor has been discovered to have infact no clothes whatsoever.


For a while now India’s virtual sense of its super-power eligibility has rested on four pegs:  its rate of economic growth; the burgeoning number of billionaires; the power and potential of Hindu heritage as daily projected by sundry sadhus, management gurus, spiritual counsellers and other godmen; and, not the least, by the ubiquitous images of “team India” (which, if you still do not make out, refers to the Indian cricket team, and cricket, which if you still do not make out, being a game played with bat and ball between two teams of eleven members each).

It is on basis of this four-fold credit-worthiness that Indians have been schooled to look away from farmer’s suicides, abysmal child labour, horrendous atrocities on women and dalits, incrementing joblessness, absence of potable drinking water or electricity for some 60% of the population, a stinking lack of sanitation, millions of  easily avoidable deaths by waterborne diseases and a concomitant absence of health services for more than two-thirds of citizens, fleecing corporates and corrupt politicians, fourishing criminal mafias, thick-skinned bureaucracies, brutal superstitions, inter-community massacres, a collapsing parliament, and much else.

Now, that famous growth rate of 9% that never seems to touch the lives of some 70% of Indians seems castrated by inflation and price rise, rendering even the middle-income sections chary and wary;  the billionaires recede further and further into planetary isolation from the beleageuered commoners, even as the forex reserves sit like that proverbial pile of inert gold over which the state watches over like a King Cobra, letting not a brick be put to any general use; and, the ultimate rebuff that “team India”, the icons of many a commercial enterprise as well as quotidian homestead dream, cannot hold a bat straight when it matters, or move a nimble foot, or run with nationalist alacrity between  wicket and wicket.  Thus the shame, the drowning shame of it all!

As to the godmen etc., whatever happened to all the pujas and yagnas that were everyday performed in all corners of north India to seal the victory of the eleven good men and true?  Not all the jagrans seem after all  to  have awakened the somnambulant deity to the  frustrations  and aspirations of  doting millions.  And what may be said of all the astrologers who have been appearing in flowing robes on TV channels to pronounce the imminent glories of “team India”?  A great big question mark thus hangs over the prowess of Hindutva which, to obviate the failure, will surely now be pressed into service in the forthcoming elections where it may have more success, as life and limb come to be at stake. To wit, now that the World Cup of Cricket is lost, atleast the assemblies at home might be subdued.

Then there is the other thing—oh, the money behind and before it all!  Not only have “team India” failed the masses and the middle classes, more to the point they have brought unforgiveable losses to the corporate state and the media channels that make it visible and potent.  Indeed, the damage to advertising revenues, and to the plethora of ancillary employments generated thereof, must be unendurable—certainly more unendurable, it seems, than rapes, caste atrocities, or farmer’s suicides.  No “terrorist” or organized or unorganized labouring class, it must be concluded, has done more harm to corporate earnings than our eleven knights in shining blue, whereupon the national logo (or is it some sponsor strip?) now hangs limp in hang-dog perfidy.

As to the BCCI (namely, the Board of Control for Cricket in India)—a set-up (the pun intended) whose revenues must exceed those of some Indian states—what does it now do, with no victors  to burgeon its kitty?  Indeed, wait till India’s rumbustuous parliament, routinely stymied with street-level in-house mobocracy, meets again:  “team India” will be its main agenda.  Its weak-kneed surrender to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka cannot but be read as another aspect of the state’s indifference to national security.  And the poor minister of Agriculture, co-terminously head also of the BCCI,  will need all the protection he can get.  There is no telling what forms of chastisement will be recommended for the errant minister-head; that he will be asked to resign may safely be assumed.  Will the CBI be directed to enquire into the weakening allegiance of “team India”  to the national interest?  Entirely conceivable.  And, as to the foreign coach of “team India,” will he only be sent packing, or will a diplomatic row with his home country, Australia, be also warranted?  After all, should Australia win the Cup, as is more than likely, could “team India’s” Australian coach be up for charges of internal sabotage?  Who knows, this is India.

Meanwhile, you may be thinking what is this all about?  You may think cricket a mere sport; you may raise eyebrows at the quality and status of India’s self-perception, counseling  that we rather forget about a lost game or two and begin to attend to matters of more substance.  Indeed, you may do all that and prove yourself, thereby, if not an enemy of the people, then of the corporate state.  In which case you will become a suspect at home, or a candidate for extradition. 

The point is that with so little else to fall back upon, “team India’s” anti-national surrender leaves a whole nation in limbo.  And what if even the 123 nuke deal with uncle Sam should fall through?   How then do we persuade the world that we are a super-power?  And, remember, there are no free lunches.

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