Government okay with a Hanamanthappa laying bricks for Sri Sri's event?

Nadim Asrar
Nadim AsrarMar 09, 2016 | 14:26

Government okay with a Hanamanthappa laying bricks for Sri Sri's event?

First, there was ownership on the basis of an imposed monopoly over the idea of nationalism, exemplified through the bravery of our brave soldiers at India's frontiers.

It was the whip used (unsuccessfully) to drown the voices of dissent, JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar's being the most recent and prominent. "While soldiers are dying at the border..." became the favourite refrain of internet trolls to counter legitimate attacks on the government for its failures and complicity in perpetuating a culture of hatred.


It was as if the debate on nationalism - or who owns the meta narrative of a "nation" - could only be framed in the erroneously limiting and dangerous binary of whether or not you love the soldiers at the border. The men in khaki (Army, police) become the surrogate for the men in khaki (RSS). Colour-blind nationalism gets fixated on a colour.

It is this sense of ownership by India's right wing over its security apparatus that results in a number of former servicemen and even policemen joining the BJP. A video of General GD Bakshi, the famous tele-nationalist on "your own channel", mocking Mahatma Gandhi for leading a non-violent national movement was symptomatic of the same machismo that defines both the Army and the right wing.

It is perhaps this sense of ownership that sees nothing wrong in soldiers hired as private mercenaries for Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's controversial World Culture (in singular) Festival to be held on Yamuna floodplains, endangering the fragile ecosystem of an already non-existent river.


Images of jawans carrying construction material on their shoulders and building two pontoon bridges over Yamuna have been all over the internet this week. The omnipresent "bhakts", as trolls over Twitter and Facebook are called, have maintained a stoic silence on the shameful deployment.

As "anti-nationals" Kanhaiya et al were hounded with insulting the sacrifice of soldiers like Hanamanthappa, who died after a nine-day battle with death at Siachen, the question to be asked is: Can you really imagine another Hanamanthappa working on the banks of Yamuna for an event with no clear credentials of a national nature?

The excuses being given by the government for privatising the Indian Army are equally baffling. While the defence minister said it was to prevent any stampede since 35 lakh people are expected to attend, another minister informs Parliament that Sri Sri has been a crusader for environment (as if that defence gives him the right to destroy it too).

Even the president and the prime minister were supposed to attend the event as their faces flanked Sri Sri in huge billboards planted all over the national capital. While the former has declined, presumably over soldiers being deployed, there is no clarity yet on whether or not Narendra Modi will attend.


If the Army belongs to the state, what was it doing on the banks of the Yamuna building pontoon bridges for Sri Sri? How did Art of Living become a national project, and Sri Sri a national treasure? More importantly, why shouldn't the World Culture Festival be seen as yet another "soft diplomacy" by the right wing as it seeks to undermine other cultures opposed to its worldview?

India, unlike Pakistan, has always prided on its army being away from the seductive machinations of power. While Army-men have joined mainstream politics in India, the institution has maintained its distance as have other institutions from each other in what has been a marvel of an otherwise chaotic democracy.

The larger question, therefore, remains of the faith that ordinary Indians, whether or not they attend Art of Living events, must continue to have in India's institutions. They are threatened more than ever today by a government that seeks to revise that relationship between the institutions.

Last updated: March 09, 2016 | 20:39
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