Why RSS has no business talking about patriotism
Rather than taking inspiration from myriad sources to build a mosaic of pan-India identity, we are caught in a maze of saffron.
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I am looking for a good tank where I can give some "nationalists" a dunking - especially the synthetic variety who try to provoke others into proving their patriotism.
But "rashtrabhakti jagaanaa kya paap hai (is rekindling nationalism a sin)?
No, but to demand real-time demonstration from a citizen - Kya tum Vande Mataram ga sakte ho - is to question the relationship of trust that citizens have with their country. Implicit in this relationship is the assumption that each citizen is a patriot and that we are all bound not by religion or any other identity but by our allegiance to the Constitution.
Because such jingoistic demands by "nationalists" - that, for instance, pit the Vande Mataram against the national anthem by suggesting that one is more patriotic than the other - are a thin disguise for their own scorn for the Constitution.
So, it will be equally ludicrous of me to beseech, in a "patriotic moment", the Sangh Parivar and ask it to replace its shakha prayer with "Ae mere watan ke logon" - my daily morning chant. Because I cannot question their lyrical idiosyncrasies, just as they cannot question mine.
Nor can I make the outlandish demand: why don't they sing the national anthem or the "national song" in their morning shakhas rather than reciting a prayer in Sanskrit that I cannot comprehend?
Strictly speaking, under Article 51A of the Constitution (Fundamental Duties) we are duty-bound to propagate and promote only the national anthem and the national flag. In fact, according to the apex court, there is no national song per se; also - this is for those who are not musically inclined - singing is not mandatory: even when "Jana Gana Mana" is played in cinema theatres, the audience is obliged to stand, but not necessarily to sing along.
Jingoistic demands by 'nationalists' that pit the Vande Mataram against the national anthem by suggesting that one is more patriotic than the other, are a thin disguise for their own scorn for the Constitution.
The BJP has an inbred conflict with historical facts but even it cannot recoil from admitting that the RSS was able to make assertions about its "nationalist" bonafides without unfurling the tricolour until 2002.
In fact, Sardar Patel, with whom the BJP is besotted, had to virtually goad the RSS into accepting the national flag, even linking the demand to lift the ban clamped on the Sangh after Gandhi's assassination.
It, of course, took the RSS half-a-century to overcome its inhibition and rekindle its patriotism - prodded perhaps by Atal Bihari Vajpayee - and unfurl the tricolour.
For all their robust nationalism, some of these voices - of all hues - shrank like a violet during the freedom struggle, hiding like sissies in the imperial rabbit hole, and that is a historical aberration that no amount of patriotic whining over a "national song" can now drown.
I wonder what bedtime stories these "nationalists" tell their grandchildren: Oh! We just merrily watched the proceedings from the sidelines when the entire country was caught in a groundswell of nationalist fervour. And it was such a delight watching the Dandi March from our balcony, any day better than the half marathon these days. No, we were not even moved by the lilting melody of Vande Mataram - as you know we are stone-deaf, a congenital infirmity that is induced by own shrill rhetoric.
But don't worry, we are making amends for the lack of spunk then, by stomping now under our feet a national icon (Sachin Tendulkar) who played hooky while Parliament was on.
Any clamour to prove one's patriotism - and tomorrow it may get linked to the Aadhar card - is absurd in a democracy that is maturing at 71. And that too in a nation that has cruised through the ebb and flow of nation-building without any recourse to belligerent nationalism.
We have also engaged in the battlefield, overcome terrorism in Punjab and crushed a few insurgencies in the Northeast without laying down such benchmarks - "Agar is desh mein rehna hai to Vande Mataram gana hoga". Nor did we have to take recourse to the slur, "Go to Pakistan" - reminiscent of the "Go back to Africa" racist chant in North America.
But these days, for all the saffron bluster, we are not exactly bristling with pride. Rather, simmering with anger, riven with divisions, we are widening the trenches further, making the social schisms and the fault lines insurmountable.
To add to our discomfort, we have the likes of "detox" Baba Ramdev telling us rather menacingly that he would have "beheaded" those who refuse to chant "Bharat Mata Ki Jai" were it not for the law of the land.
How different would that be from North Korea where citizens in detention centres are thrashed for forgetting the words of patriotic songs?
The other extreme being the United States of America where courts have ruled that desecration of the flag is protected by the First Amendment because it is clearly a political statement.
Such is the tenacious hold of the "bhagwa dhwaj" on their intellect that some "nationalists" have tried to suggest by word and innuendo that the tricolour has communal overtones - possibly instigated by the colour green for which they have a pathological hatred.
The saffron cheerleaders are perhaps still clinging like a limpet to the golden words of their mentor MS Golwalkar who had said: "The saffron flag is a glorious symbol of India's cultural history... this is the only flag that we will salute. We have full faith and are certain that in the future this is the flag that the entire nation will salute."
But patriotism is too sublime an emotion and all encompassing a narrative to inhabit the narrow confines of a song or the shades of a colour card. Or, to be tethered to silly shibboleths; to be held captive by a political discourse that is tribal and toxic; and anchored to an anthem of hate.
Because this kind of bellicose nationalism makes us chary of others, it impairs ours judgement, it tramples our freedom of choice; it is also "another kind of social control". Also it does not answer my school-going son's simple query: "How can you love a country but not its countrymen?"
The modus operandi for spreading this virulent form of nationalism is simple: Tell lies and half-truths about the idea called India - invoking ancestry, religious absolutism, mythology, national symbols - spew venom, internalise the hate into governance, make it an instrument of state policy.
Occasionally, the strategy works: It makes a section of the population livid, keeps the intellectuals off balance, the political class divided, the media confused, widens the chasm between the liberals and the conservatives - disturbing the equilibrium and poise of the nation.
Rather than taking inspiration from myriad sources to construct a mosaic of pan-India identity, we are caught in a meandering maze of saffron.
Maybe, we are all turning colour blind.