When Bollywood bluebloods like Karan Johar must prove their patriotism and grovel before the ruling regime for protection, you know you’re in trouble. Like the writer Perumal Murugan before him, you know which side is winning: The thugs with muscle.
Perhaps we should have been more worried about the images on our TV screens in February when the nationalism debate was only warming up. On that February day when tricolour-brandishing lawyers and one BJP MLA proceeded, within the premises of a Delhi court, to chase and beat up journalists and student leader Kanhaiya Kumar, we should have known that things would only get worse.
The irony of “nationalists” acting with impunity, without any fear of consequence or rule of law now oppresses India like a thick fog. The jingoistic justification of BJP MLA OP Sharma who asked in February, “If someone abuses your mother, then will you not hit him?” is now reason enough.
Consider recent events.
Early this month, one of the 18 accused of murdering Mohammad Ikhlaq in Dadri, died in jail. Ravin Sisodia, died apparently of complications caused by chikungunya; his family says he was attacked in jail. Regardless of which side you believe, there’s no escaping the fact that before cremation, the body of the murder accused was kept in a coffin wrapped around with the tricolour — a validation of gau rakshak as martyr.
Our Flag Code and law forbid the use of the flag in funerals “except in state funerals or armed forces or other para-military forces”. No case has been filed. Instead, Sisodia’s family has been promised a job and financial compensation from the state government as well as BJP politicians to the extent of Rs 25 lakh.
Then, on Tuesday, film-maker Karan Johar, whose film Ae Dil He Muskhil is scheduled for release on October 28, released a short video. The movie features Pakistani actor Fawad Khan in a cameo, reason enough for Raj Thackeray’s MNS to threaten vandalising movie halls where it is released (the Thackerays are generally true to their word; Bal Thackeray’s goons dug up the pitch at Wankhede to prevent the taint of Pakistani cricket players on our soil).
Johar’s video proclaimed (i) he is a nationalist (ii) he will henceforth not work with talent from the “neighbouring country” (iii) he loves the Indian Army and (iv) holding up his film will directly affect 300 Indians who worked on it. Later in the week, he met Union home minister Rajnath Singh who has announced safe passage for the film.
When Bollywood bluebloods like Johar must prove their patriotism and grovel before the ruling regime for protection, you know you’re in trouble. Like the writer Perumal Murugan before him, you know which side is winning: The thugs with muscle.
It’s not enough any longer to merely say yes to the all-consuming question: Are you a patriot (pre-2014, it was an assumption). Now, definitive proof is required. The University Grants Commission wants 30 million students to take a unity pledge on October 31, the birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. It will dedicate oath-takers to “make my own contribution to ensure internal security of my country”.
What does this “contribution” include? The legitimising, even sanctioning of nationalistic vigilantism reached such a level that a movie-going couple in a Goa cinema chose to attack a wheelchair-bound man who obviously could not stand during the mandatory singing of the national anthem. Irrespective of whether they knew of his disability, they were certainly blinded by their sense of righteousness. Who gave them the right to take the law in their hands? Has any attempt been made to track them down and book them for assault?
The pledges, the flags, the chanting of Bharat Mata ki Jai by themselves would not be harmful, except that they are now seen as validation of criminal behaviour that has, so far, gone unpunished.
This is subversion of the most basic meaning of nationalism. When you take the law into your hands — no matter what the provocation — you are showing disrespect to the constitutional values we stand for. You are sliding down the slippery road to anarchy.
Every patriotic citizen has reason to worry.