Supreme Court Verdict On National Anthem Mandates Hindutva Nationalism


Usual interpretation of the Indian Apex Court verdict on ‘Jana Gana Mana’, the National Anthem on 30 November, 2016 as curbing of individual’s freedom could hardly fathom the real intention behind the judicial overreach which is meant to serve a larger purpose. The verdict is in tune with overall political-moral ethos of the time. And it lends an unambiguous support to the Hindutva brand of Nationalism whose cacophony has already spread over Indian firmament through chanting of ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’,  ‘Bande Matram’ and ‘Gau Mata Raksha’ (protection of holy cow). The thinking behind the order, seems to be consistent with the prevailing political scenario which makes the people believe that the ongoing majoritarian rule is not an aberration but an accepted version of the ‘modern democracy’.

The order sends a clear-cut message: Accept the supremacy of Indian nationhood and sacredness of its symbols otherwise they shall be enforced by State diktat or through legal compulsions.

Supreme Court’s bench of justices Dipak Misra and Amitava Roy discarded the different notion of individual rights and took up Part IV A of the Indian Constitution, which speaks of respect to the National Flag and Anthem as a fundamental duty. But founding fathers of the constitution clearly stated: the ideals of national flag and anthem should be respected. However, these ideals would not be enforced by the state or extracted through legal directions. But the Apex Court’s bench has, now, ordered that ‘movie screen shall have image of the National Flag when National Anthem being played and that doors of the halls will remain shut and all present are obliged to stand up to show their respect to National Anthem as part of their sacred obligation’. Giving ten days for compliance throughout the country, the verdict clarified that ‘love and respect for mother land (Bharat Mata) is reflected when one shows respect to the National Anthem as well as National Flag  …… and (it) instill the feeling within one , a sense of committed patriotism and nationalism”. The spirit of present politics seems to   bubble up  as the court order asserted that, “ a time has come, the citizens of the country must realize that they live in a nation and are duty bound to show respect to National Anthem, symbol of constitutional patriotism and inherent national quality”.

The fresh court order is the reversal of the 1986  Apex Court verdict which  upheld  the ‘freedom of conscience’ of  three students who had refused to sing National Anthem and faced expulsion from a school in Kerala. That verdict termed the expulsion of the students as ‘violation of fundamental rights to freedom of conscience and freely to profess, practice and propagate religion. The children belonging to Jehovah’s Witness sect had maintained that singing ‘Jan Gana Mana’ was against the tenets of their religious faith. The verdict made it further clear that ‘there is no provision of law which obliges anyone to sing the National Anthem…’

The latest court order needs to be viewed in the present context when the Hindutva forces are out to enforce their agenda (aggressively) of turning Indian state into a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ with all trappings of the majority community’s ethos and religio-cultural hegemony. In March this year, the ruling BJP adopted a political resolution at its national executive insisting that ‘chanting of Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ is a constitutional obligation’. In the same month an elected legislator, Waris Pathan, was suspended from the Maharashtra assembly for refusing to chant ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’. There are several instances of vigilantism when the Hindutva activists targeted the people in cinema halls and other public places for their refusal or inability to wear ‘Hindutva brand of patriotism on their sleeve’.                   Since the advent of the BJP led NDA government at New Delhi, hounding to the minorities and dalits for their alleged involvement in the incidents of debasement of ‘holy cow symbol’ has reached to a troublesome proportion. And, the lynching of a Dadri Muslim, Akhlaq by the cow vigilante mob in September 2015 shook the conscience of the democratic people of the country who came out with a strong reaction.

Presently, we need to differentiate between ‘patriotism’ and ‘nationalism’. Patriotism embodies one’s natural love for a place (region or country) and culture where he/she lives or brought up, but the nationalism is a ‘political ideology’ of the modern nation-state which governs the affairs of people living in a place (country). Nationalism had originated in European landscape only after the treaty of Westphalia in 1648. As eminent sociologist Ashis Nandy explains that the   treaty had formalized and institutionalized the concept of non-monarchical state in Europe through a contractual element between an ‘apparatus of power’ and the general public. Later, the French Revolution of 1789 provided the required sustainability to the concept of ‘nation-state’ by linking the state, or statehood, with nationalism. Establishing of a nation-state came handy to the then European elites for cutting down the monarch to size while retaining a ‘centralized monarchical charisma through impersonal nationalism as the best guarantor of stability and legitimacy of the state’. In short, political craftsmanship of nation- state had become instrumental and helped the European elite in raising the institutions for ‘industrial capitalism and expansion of colonial empires’. The nation-state ‘marginalized all other concepts of governing a state and later it entered into the interstices of public consciousness all over Asia, South America and Africa’.

English educated leaders of the Indian freedom struggle –Gandhi ,Nehru,  Patel and even Jinnah et al— were well-exposed to the European model of state with all its constitutional and election system engagements and they un- questioningly inherited not only the English system of governance but also incorporated, word by word, the three-fourth of British-framed Indian Act of 1935 into the constitution of independent India. And that constitution came handy to the rulers of independent India to gloss over and to continue with age-old ills and discriminations prevailing in the society. Eminent thinker Perry Anderson makes a terse comment in this regard in his book,’ The Indian Ideology’ (p 112). “Gandhi declared that caste alone had preserved Hinduism from disintegration. His judgment could be given a more contemporary application. Caste is what preserved Hindu democracy from disintegration.”

For applying the model of nation-state governance, the Indian sub-continent was needed to be converted into a ‘Rashtra’ (nation). Attempts for that kind of change-over began as earlier as in 1920s when Gandhi went on  inducting ‘Hindu’ symbols for raising an ‘Indian nation’ based on the ethos and culture of the Hindu majority. This enraged the Muslims and their leader Jinnah came in direct confrontation with the Congress leaders over the use of national symbols from the Hindu religious cultural archive. Among other things, the Congress insistence on singing of ‘Bande Matram’ in government schools and other places widened the communal gulf and sent alarming signals to the Muslims constituting 25 per cent population of the sub-continent. The raising of a ‘Indian nation’ of Nehru’s dream, as he painted India as a 6000 year old civilization and culture , pruned the space for a communal harmony and foreclosed possibilities of settlement between the Congress and Muslim League. Ultimately the sub-continent was partitioned giving birth to two nation-states overnight in mid August 1947.

As Pakistan cannot conceal its existence as Islamic theocratic state, India’s secular credentials always remained shadowed since the Independence as its rulers rarely refrained from violating democratic norms and using army to retain the territory bequeathed to them by the English as an Indian unit. Instead of accommodating the political dissent –a natural outcome of religious, ethnic and linguistic diversity, the Indian Establishment resorted to all repressive measures at its command and gradually impinged upon professed secularism preparing  a fertile ground for the Hindutva forces  to grow. In the process it also invested legitimacy to the perception of the Hindu Rashtra.

The march of the project of building of a strong Indian territorial and cultural unity saw the Indian Establishment bludgeoning of north-east rebels, holding Jammu and Kashmir under tight control, crushing of the Sikh dissent, mounting of military attack on the Golden Temple and organizing of anti-Sikh pogrom in November 1984 to be followed by killings of Muslims in Mumbai in 1993 and the Gujarat massacre of 2002.

The baton of the project for building a strong Indian nation and creating of a resounding ‘Indian Identity’ subsuming the smaller ones, now, goes into hands of Hindutva farces enjoying patronage of the state. RSS  is now  whipping up a jingoism for the Hindu Rashtra cause and even resorting to ‘thought-policing’ of the intelligentsia. Independent India has already seen silencing of 1500 odd oral languages, displacement of 40 millions in name of development and killing of 10 millions in riots and near permanent deployment of more than a million troops for internal security. Besides that the birth of Indian and Pakistan nations had already taken a toll two million lives in addition to world’s largest displacement to the tune of 12to 15 million people in the sub-continent in 1947.

Perhaps  Rabinder Nath Tagore was a lone great soul in early 20th century  and author of  ‘Jana Gana Mana, the National Anthem,  who was awaken to the dangerous fall-out on the  adoption of the Western nation-state governance in India. He disagreed with Gandhi  and described nationalism as entailing  ‘carnivorous and cannibalistic in its tendencies, as it feeds upon the resources of other people s and tries to swallow their whole future”. Tagore wrote when Hitler rose to power in 1933. “ Germany in which the light of European Culture was at its  brightest- has torn up all civilized values—with what ease has an unspeakable delivery overtaken the entire country”. He said the nationalism is ‘based on exclusiveness …. always watchful  to keep ay bay the aliens or to exterminate them”.  End

Jaspal Singh Sidhu is an author and independent journalist,  can be reached at E-mail: [email protected] .


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