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India: A Note on "Anti-National"

by Mukul Dube, 6 March 2016

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(Likely to appear in Mainstream Weekly)

I am past the half-way mark between sixty years and seventy, but I did not until recently hear the expression "anti-national", which is now flying around like a swarm of maddened bees. Just what might it mean?

In accepted usage a “national” is a person who belongs to a nation, a citizen; but “anti-national” has nothing to do with this. Would it not make a damn sight more sense to use “anti-nation” as an adjective and apply it to nouns like “person” and “action”? We could leave “an anti-national” as a noun to those who must mess with grammar.

The Hindu Right and its flunkeys in the media have been using the expression. Any person who goes against the Hindu Right in any way is labelled “anti-national”. In its meaninglessness the expression is like “pseudo secular”, which until today has not been defined by those who fling it about with such abandon. It is no more than a term of abuse which has nothing to do with reality.

Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey write, “It is becoming increasingly clear that anyone who dares to raise issues of freedom, justice and equality is seen as a threat.... Through contrived and planned campaigns, the BJP is doing its best to establish that being critical of its government is tantamount to being anti-national” (

In the sentence quoted I would replace “critical of its government” with “critical of Modi”. The prime minister is given to bellowing about conspiracies against him whenever anyone says anything remotely critical. He makes not the slightest effort to argue out the matter rationally. Those who oppose Modi are, in his mind, criminals by definition. This is exactly the approach of Modi’s followers. Leaders, it is said, lead by example. This leader shows the path and sits back in smug silence while his followers create mayhem of many kinds.

I would like to believe that “anti-national” is no more than a meaningless term of abuse cooked up and flung by the Hindu Right; but I am unnerved by the fact that the expression has entered the mind of no less than a judge of a High Court.

Indira Jaising, in her “Open Letter to India’s Judges On What Counts as ‘Anti-National’”, makes it perfectly clear: “Surely, as judges, you all know that there is no such offence as an ‘anti-national’ act in any of the statute books in India” (

It worries me that if one judge could hang a man by bowing to a “collective conscience”, a meaningless expression if ever there was one, another may well punish “anti-national” acts by the “amputation” of students identified as “gangrenous”, no doubt with patriotic film songs playing in the background.