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Slogans and patriotism: India’s obsession with trivial, banal things

It would seem that the country is preoccupied with slogans, patriotism and trivia and not the more weighty issues that should really matter.

columns Updated: Apr 03, 2016 11:54 IST
RSS,BJP,Narendra Modi
People's Democratic Party (PDP) president and MP Mehbooba Mufti. What is her stand on Bharat mata ki jai?(HT Photo)

Their pronouncements usually constitute a well-orchestrated symphony. So I was truly surprised to hear the very discordant notes struck by the RSS and the BJP on that all-consuming issue of whether or not people should heartily chant ‘Bharat mata ki jai’.

The BJP in its recent national executive passed a political resolution saying “The Constitution describes India as Bharat also; refusal to chant victory to Bharat is tantamount to disrespect to our Constitution itself”.

And given its past record, I thought this would be heartily endorsed by the RSS, which is taking a moment off from its fervent preoccupation with affecting a sartorial makeover.

But along came RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and set a cat among the pigeons. “All people living in the country are our own and we can’t force our ideology and thinking on them.” Bharat mata ki jai should be chanted voluntarily, said Bhagat in rare show of statesmanship.

In case you are under any impression that the case rests, let me assure you that you are totally off the mark. You will somewhat naively base your premature assumption on the fact that we are beset with all sorts of crises and problems in recent times and slogan chanting does not feature very high on the priority list.

READ: Where does the RSS figure in the nationalist scheme?

For a start, we have four crucial elections coming up in four states. But does the polity care a fig? Not at all, it would seem. We have farmers doing away with themselves with horrifying regularity, but forget about that. We have cattle traders pursuing a legitimate profession being lynched, among them a small boy. We have unresolved terrorism cases, border problems, an economy that is not in the pink of health, I could go on. But, if you were from another country looking to sink a bit of money in, say, Make in India, you would see a cacophony of trite verbiage on non-issues like whether or not people should chant Bharat mata ki jai.

Wearing patriotism on your sleeve is now a qualification for Indianness. In the recent JNU case, which should not really have got more than 15 minutes of air time or attention, the government of the day went on record to say that it had won the battle for nationalism against a student leader whom no one had really heard of until then.

And now we have the Shiv Sena leaping into the fray, saying that Mehbooba Mufti, whose party, the PDP, is in alliance with the ruling party in Jammu and Kashmir, should chant Bharat mata ki jai to prove her patriotic credentials. The fiery Ms Mufti has not responded yet but she well might, given that this call came from none other than the Shiv Sena supremo, Uddhav Thackeray.

READ: See the distress Mallya caused, Bharat Mata Ki Jai

PM Narendra Modi has gone around the world canvassing business, inviting people to come to India, set up manufacturing, promising to smooth the path and reduce red tape. And he has been lauded for this. But for another country which is looking to invest in India, the picture is hardly encouraging. It would seem that the country is preoccupied with slogans, patriotism and trivia and not the more weighty issues that should really matter.

I really don’t think that if we all stood up every morning and chanted Bharat mata ki jai, we will see a queue of investors beating down our door with sacks of money and contracts. We are today saying, and rightly so, that we are moving into the big league. We have left Pakistan behind long ago and are now positioning ourselves to equal China in Asia. It is a different matter that this is more wishful thinking than actual fact at the moment. But with this nonsense on slogan chanting and hyper-patriotism, the impression we are conveying about ourselves is that of a country with no real gravitas.

And we cannot get away from the negative image created by the intolerant behaviour of many sections associated with the ruling party in recent times. Again, the image of India has really taken a beating after being seen as an attractive alternative to even China a few years ago.

The ruling party which came to power on a plank of development seems to have completely forgotten its mandate. It today is enthusiastically engaged in whether or not certain pronouncements are seditious, whether certain leaders are patriotic enough, whether Veer Savarkar deserves as much prominence as many freedom fighters and whether Indian culture and ethos need to be inculcated in the youth via textbooks.

None of this will ensure that India gets its rightful place under the global sun. We have a host of problems to begin with. Poor infrastructure and connectivity are among them. Air pollution and the rising crime rates are others. Caste and communal violence is yet other factors. The ease of doing business is yet to fructify. Instead of dealing with these hugely worrying issues, we are frittering our goodwill and time away by arguing about slogans.

We are not taken seriously enough despite our vast population, democracy, civilisation and skills. That our political system does not inspire confidence is one thing. But today we have a government with a huge mandate and it had promised to focus on all the myriad ills that beset India. But forgive me for being cynical, with all these slogan controversies, beef bans and random violence, we have just added to our problems and enhanced a negative image of ourselves.

I still feel that the more sane voices in the political establishment can put things in perspective, push these non-issues to the side and get down to business. That is the least we can expect, at least from the ruling party, after two years in power. If the opposition has any thoughts on this matter, it has been sketchy and ineffective barring a few individuals.

I am no fan of the RSS but I cannot but agree with Bhagwat when he says any slogan chanting should be voluntary, spontaneous and natural. So let those who want go around chanting do so to their hearts’ content. But for goodness sake, it is not a national issue.

READ: ‘Vande Matram’ real national anthem: RSS leader Bhaiyyaji Joshi

The government and opposition should get back on track and stop this dangerous preoccupation with the most banal and boring issues that make no difference to the quality of life for a vast majority of Indians.

This sort of uber patriotism and debates around it make for stirring television shows and may get you a bit of extra applause at rallies. It is at best a sidelight. It cannot be allowed to take over the show as it is doing now. I am sure that this issue will fade away.

My only fear is that it will be replaced with something even more trivial and ludicrous, something that will make India seem even more lacking in gravitas than it already is.

The views expressed by the author are personal.

First Published: Apr 02, 2016 21:29 IST