With Shivratri celebrations concluding on July 21 this year, the merriment of the boisterous “baseball bat brandishing” Shiv-bhakts has finally ended, allowing conditions on the Delhi-Ghaziabad roads to normalise and letting people attend to their daily chores peacefully.
Along with this yearly ritual, what was noteworthy this year was the display of nationalistic, rather hyper-nationalistic, fervour among the pilgrims. There was egregious use of the tricolour, which invariably found place next to the bhagwa pataka (saffron flag).
Almost every motorbike, cycle, car and tractor had the national flag placed atop. One witnessed a group embarking on its journey with a 131-ft national flag placed behind the chariot carrying a huge Shiv idol.
Reportedly, a number of national flags and T-shirts with “Bharat mata ki jai” slogan were distributed by the RSS to the kanwad yatris, who were also heard chanting nationalistic slogans amid religious ones. Huge flags were also placed near the tents erected as resting places for the pilgrims.
The pilgrimage this year could be confused with what has been described as “some rehearsal for the forthcoming 70th Independence Day celebrations because the entire route is dotted with national flags”.
Undeniably, there is no law which prevents carrying of the national flag. However, any such carrying or use of the flag is regularised by provisions of the Flag Code of India, 2002.
The act of carrying the national flag by Shiv-bhakts fell foul of the provisions of the Flag Code. As per Rule 2.2(iv) of the Code: “The Flag should not be flown on any vehicle except in accordance with the provisions contained in Section IX of Part III of this Code.”
Section IX provides a list of dignitaries who have the privilege of flying the national flag on their motor cars and contains no exceptions permitting the flying of the flag on vehicles for religious purposes.
Another provision of the Code that gets attracted is Rule 2.2 (viii), which states that “no other flag or bunting should be placed higher than or above or side by side with the National Flag; nor should any object including flowers or garlands or emblem be placed on or above the Flag-mast from which the Flag is flown.” However, several pictures on the internet show the revellers displaying the national flag side by side with the bhagwa pataka.
This shenanigan of mixing the tricolour with saffron could mark a gradual movement towards getting rid of the other two colours from the national flag.
It may also envision erosion of one of the basic structures of our Constitution, i.e. secularism. Secularism in the Indian context has been defined in the case of Aruna Roy vs Union of India (2002) as having “a positive meaning that is developing understanding and respect towards different religions”.
No exception in the Code permits the flying of the flag on vehicles for religious purposes. Photo: PTI
Also, the Supreme Court, while identifying secularism as a basic structure of the Constitution in SR Bommai vs Union of India (1994), very categorically held that “government and political parties which lack religious tolerance, deny equal treatment to all religious groups and which fail to protect their life, property and places of worship run counter to secularism”.
With this background, the question which arises for consideration is whether the freedom to practise one’s religion guaranteed as a fundamental right under the Constitution is being re-interpreted, which is resulting in a movement towards dilution of the principles of secularism.
Is the country failing the Bommai test of secularism, with the lack of religious tolerance and denial of equal opportunities to every religion? If yes, then this diluted meaning of secularism could be used to interpret nationalism ominously by clothing it with religious fabric.
This re-interpreted meaning of nationalism would find favour only with those who would show loyalty towards the religion, and even a slight deviation from the set ideologies could be sufficient for one to get the tag of “anti-national” and to attract the wrath of the self-acclaimed nationalists.
To provide an instance of this failure, in a reported incident near Aliganj police station, the kanwariyas “turned violent and pelted stones at the police” upon their arrival on a complaint by “members of a different community” who had “objected to the playing of loud music”.
The Supreme Court, regrettably, lost the opportunity last year to reconsider its 1995 decision of Dr Ramesh Yashwant Prabhoo vs Shri Prabhakar Kashinath Kunte where the court had concluded that “the words ‘Hinduism’ or ‘Hindutva’ are not necessarily to be understood and construed narrowly, confined only to the strict Hindu religious practises unrelated to the culture and ethos of the People of India depicting the way of life of the Indian people… these terms are indicative more of a way of life of the Indian people and are not confined merely to describe persons practising the Hindu religion as a faith".
This interpretation of Hindutva has the potential of rendering secularism vulnerable, thereby providing an opportunity to the brigade of self-acclaimed nationalists to use it to legitimise their unconstitutional conduct.
The advent of this new era of nationalism coupled with the “uni-colour agenda” has shaken the idea of secularism in an unprecedented manner. It has become imperative to consider whether we should allow this degradation of our constitutional philosophies; and the answer should, unequivocally, be a big NO.