That ours, at times, is a quirky and eccentric country — or even odd and inexplicable — is something many accept in their hearts. The satirically jocular expression ‘This is India’ says it all. But the present controversy over Bharat mata ki jai truly takes the biscuit.
The BJP’s National Executive has passed a resolution stating: “Our Constitution describes India as Bharat also; refusal to chant victory to Bharat tantamounts to disrespect to our Constitution itself.”
I’m sorry, but that’s simply not true.
First, the Constitution speaks of Bharat and not Bharat mata. Second, it does not require Indian citizens to chant any slogan including BMKJ. Third and most importantly, the Supreme Court ruled in the 1986 Jehovah’s Witnesses case that refusal to sing the national anthem — provided you stand in respect — is not disrespect to the Constitution or the anthem. And Jana Gana Mana is more sacrosanct than BMKJ.
What the BJP has forgotten is that India’s Constitution not only grants each citizen freedom of speech but also the freedom to be silent. So whilst I may be happy to chant BMKJ if some Muslims don’t wish to they have the right to refuse. Pratap Bhanu Mehta says it would be “objectionable” to coerce them. More importantly, that would be disrespect to our Constitution.
The Muslim position is simple. Some have a religious objection to BMKJ. First, it represents the deification of the country. Second, RSS illustrations show Bharat Mata as a goddess astride a lion waving the saffron flag and not the tri-colour. For those who believe their faith requires they only bow before Allah embracing BMKJ feels wrong.
Now, you may think this is an exaggerated concern. You may suspect it’s thin cover for other motives. But whatever your doubts you have to accommodate their hesitation. Otherwise you could be guilty of disrespecting the Indian Constitution.
Unfortunately, so strong are the emotions that centre around this issue that even the Congress Party is confused. Newspaper reports claim either its Maharashtra legislative leader, Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, moved the motion to suspend Waris Pathan when he refused to say BMKJ or the party consciously and deliberately failed to dissent when the motion was put to vote. The first makes Congress the prime mover, the second willingly complicit. None other than Shashi Tharoor accepts that either way the Congress was “intimidated” by the BMKJ controversy and the emotions surrounding it.
My point becomes clearer when you recall that four weeks ago Rahul Gandhi berated the prime minister for destroying relationships between communities in the name of the flag but when his own MPs supported the suspension of an MLA, because he wouldn’t chant BMKJ, Mr Gandhi was deafeningly silent. The Maharashtra MLAs contradicted him. Their behaviour suggests they don’t accept his criticism of the BJP. Yet he had nothing to say.
This brings me back to my original point: We can, at times, be an odd and inexplicable country. Who would have imagined BMKJ would achieve such salience and create a deep and divisive controversy? Who would have thought the newly outspoken Rahul Gandhi would be reduced to helpless silence by his own colleagues? And who would believe Mr Modi would let the BJP derail his development agenda in pursuit of BMKJ?
Finally, does Amit Shah realise that if Mehbooba Mufti refuses to say BMKJ he must break the BJP-PDP alliance? Or end up perpetuating what he considers disrespect to the Constitution?
Truly, this is India! Bharat mata ki jai.
The views expressed are personal.