Discourse On National Anthem: From Heart Warming To Chest Thumping Nationalism


A fanatic slogan by Hindu fundamentalist group reads “garv se kaho hum hindu hai” (say with proudness that I am a Hindu). Such a sloganeering transforms a religious identity from a set of emotion based on ‘bhakti’ towards ‘supreme’ to that of an inflated ego of ‘religious supremacy’ based on a proud religious identity with ‘hatred’ for others. Displaying ‘chest thumping’ to express an identity changes the very nature of it.

With symbols of Hindu fundamentalism in reign, the discourse on nationalism has undergone a perversion in India. A similar process of displaying pervert nationalism based on crude chest thumping is at display. Symbols of Nationalism are being sought to be used to display patriotism in a particular way. These included attempts at forcing people in saying ‘Vandemataram’, ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’ to display the same. The latest to join the list is the National Anthem ‘Jana, Gana, Mana’. Under the current regime, the national anthem has been transformed from that of ‘heart warming to chest thumping nationalism’. Unfortunately this gets legitimised by Supreme Court directive to stand during National Anthem.

The National anthem joins the list of tools by fanatic groups to impose nationalism. Vigilante groups have emerged to enable this process. Malayalam writer and theatre activist Kamal Chavara gets arrested in the name of insulting national anthem on social media. Twelve people get arrested for not standing during national anthem at the International film festival of Kerala. A writer and disability campaigner Salil Chaturvedi gets thrashed for not standing during National anthem in Goa. Nine members in Chennai get assaulted for not getting up while national anthem was run. National Anthem from a ‘non-violent’ patriotic emotion becomes a symbol of promoting ‘violence’ by such groups and the police state.

The ‘National anthem’ becomes the symbol of imposing nationalism by those who in reality do not accept it. RSS General Chief Bhaiyyaji Joshi had earlier in the year said that “Vande Mataram is the real national anthem as opposed to the ‘Constitutionally-mandated’ Jana Gana Mana.” In the 1966 publication of MS Golwalkar ‘Bunch of Thoughts’, the chapter titled ‘Territorial Nationalism’ had referred to Vande Mataram as National anthem.

While the National anthem celebrates ‘diversity’ and ‘plurality’ in the process of referring to diverse regions and rivers, the protectors of nationalism who are chest thumping Nationalists seek to impose ‘homogeneity’ and ‘uniformity’. They tend to forget that the penning of the national anthem by Rabindranath Tagore in a sitting position did not make him unpatriotic. Moreover, his lyrics written to display Bengali identity had also been absorbed in the Bangladeshi National anthem. Hence he was more of an internationalist and a humanitarian than a nationalist. The author of the national anthem in 1908 himself had written “Patriotism can’t be our final spiritual shelter. I will not buy glass for the price of diamonds and I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live”.

Imposing a rule to stand during national anthem only means imposing the national identity as the highest form of political identity. There are sections which may not necessarily believe in ‘national identity’ based on ‘pan India’ concept to be the highest political identity. These could be that of struggling nationalities attempting to either get accommodated to the idea of an ‘India’ or moving away from it. There could be groups who may believe, ending other forms of social discrimination through social reform needs to get precedence over formation of political identity. There may also be people who may genuinely accept national anthem but are not able to stand up such as the sick, aged and disabled. Doesn’t the rule making it mandatory to stand irrespective of one’s situation or beliefs make it undemocratic?

We seem to be moving to a situation of proving ‘nationalism’ at every step. It is not surprising that the discourse on national anthem glorifies this shift ‘from heart warming to chest thumping nationalism’.

Navin did his M.Phil from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). He works as a Researcher in an NGO.

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