Monday, April 4, 2016

Any Attempt to Kill the Spirit ... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ April 03, 2016

Any Attempt to Kill the Spirit Behind the Slogan Bharat Mata ki Jai is Anti-national

Members of the Muslim community chant Bharat Mata ki Jai in Meerut
India’s first PM Jawahar Lal Nehru discovered real India when he wrote his 595-page book Discovery of India in 1946. Written during his four-year stay in Ahmed Nagar Fort Jail, Nehru spoke about India’s ancient civilisation, culture and the greatness that was polluted by invaders from outside. Four decades later, Shyam Benegal, a genuine liberal, wrote and directed the historical drama Bharat Ek Khoj based on Nehru’s book in which Roshan Seth, a Nehruvian and Doon school alumnus, played the role of the former PM. The first episode was titled Bharat Mata ki Jai (BMKJ). The first scene showed a group of villagers welcoming Nehru to a public gathering with chants of BMKJ. When Nehru asked his audience if they knew the meaning of the slogan and whose victory they were aspiring for, initially no one had an answer. Finally, one of the young farmers said Bharat Mata meant the dharati (land), which was their mother. But Nehru refused to accept that it was just the earth beneath their feet; he said Bharat Mata referred to the whole country, to its mountains, rivers, sky and seas and, most importantly, to its people. It was the only in the victory of its people that Bharat could find its victory, he said. 

But having said that, he chose to end his famous Tryst with Destiny speech at Red Fort in August 1947 with Jai Hind, not Bharat Mata ki Jai. Despite being one of India’s leading freedom fighters, Nehru chose to ignore the fact that the slogan had been coined by those seeking freedom from British rule under the leadership of the Indian National Congress, and that people of all faiths proudly chanted it during protests against the British. Powerful freedom fighters like Liaquat Ali had to face the wrath of brutal British controlled police for shouting BMKJ and Vande Matram.

That was then. Seventy years after Nehru wrote his book, his disciples and progeny are still engaged in an exercise to discover the idea of India and define the space and importance of BMKJ. Not only political parties, even civil society leaders, Bollywood icons, writers, social media-savvy religious gurus and organisations are fiercely fighting to either own or disown BMKJ. For every champion of Bharat Mata, there is one who feels pride in declaring himself or herself anti-national by refusing to chant the slogan. Indeed, it has become the biggest issue dividing the country along communal and political lines. 

With elections becoming a permanent feature of every calendar year, India’s idea- and issue-starved political parties have made nationalism (ours vs theirs) the main plank for the coming polls. While the Sangh Parivar led by PM Narendra Modi has made the chanting of BMKJ the only credible test of one’s loyalty to India, its adversaries insist that undiluted faith in the Constitution of India is the solitary symbol of patriotism. Perhaps, it is the over-enthusiastic imposition of BMKJ by the Sangh Parivar that has contributed to the equally-aggressive opposition of its detractors.

The battle for grabbing a nationalist trophy acquired religious overtones last week when leading Islamic seminary Darul Uloom Deoband issued a fatwa asking Muslims not to chant Bharat Mata ki Jai, calling it un-Islamic. The same seminary also advised madrasas across the country “to hoist the Tricolour and celebrate Independence Day and teach students about the Indian freedom struggle and the country’s original spirit of unity in diversity”. Earlier, sensing growing resistance to BMKJ, the RSS had clarified that people should not be forced to participate to chant the slogan. But now, with the anti-BMKJ missive emanating from the Islamist organisation, hard-core Hindu outfits have been quick to question the nationalism of the minorities. 

It’s ironic that a slogan like BMKJ, which was created to unite the nation, is now polarising the country. Ever since Independence, political parties, social organisations, NGOs and RSS-affiliated outfits have chanted Bharat Mata Ki Jai at their functions, without any interference or protests from any quarters. Over a decade ago, there was some brouhaha over the singing of Vande Mataram, which was met with recriminatory (and what some would call threatening) responses like “Agar is desh mein rahna hoga, Vande Matram kehna hoga (If you want to live in this country, you shall sing Vande Mataram)”. But never have we seen such a confrontationist atmosphere in the country as we see today. Indeed, Vande Mataram is sung at many official functions without any protest from the audience.
This leads one to believe that the current opposition to BMKJ is aimed at bringing all Sangh Parivar forces to one platform and converting the debate into an issue of threat to freedom of expression. Those who oppose the slogan claim that nowhere does the Constitution provide for the invocation of BMKJ. A coalition of liberals, neo-communalists and Leftists has been formed to defeat any attempt by the ruling political dispensation to dismantle the current eco-system which hardly recognises the importance of national flag, national geographical identity and judiciary. This group invokes selective and subjective use of the Constitution to protect its political perks and imposes its personal choices on the rest of the country. It swears by the Constitution when it serves its ideological convictions. It has no problem if the National Anthem is sung at every function attended by the President of India, or at the beginning and end of the Parliament session. 

But when the Constitution talks about prohibition, the same people see it as a threat to their fundamental right to consume what they will. They support a judicial verdict that’s aligned to their choices but hit the streets if the courts deliver judgments based on constitutional provisions that disrupt their lifestyle. Undoubtedly, the foreign-educated current crop of intellectuals, media stars, political leaders and elitist business leaders have brilliant minds. But they are only half educated when it comes to the idea of the motherland. BMKJ was not a gift from any narrow-minded sectarian Hindu leader or organisation. Bharat Mata ki Jai was the most successful non-violent verbal weapon forged by a freedom-starved crowd which helped end the 200-year-old British rule and sent the English packing. Any attempt to kill the spirit behind the slogan runs the risk of being labelled anti-national. BMKJ is just an assertion of independence from slavery of every colour and nothing more.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

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