Bharat, Mother of In­ven­tion

Ul­tra­na­tion­al­ism has been at­tached as the fifth wheel to the Hin­dutva rath

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Flash back to the sum­mer of 1989 when Hin­dutva jar­gon sounded Greek. In a press con­fer­ence af­ter his party passed the water­shed Palam­pur res­o­lu­tion that made con­struc­tion of a Ram tem­ple in Ay­o­d­hya its of­fi­cial agenda, Lal Kr­ishna Ad­vani said that the ag­i­ta­tion wasn’t just to build a tem­ple. It was all about mak­ing the idea of cul­tural na­tion­al­ism the only prism to view the na­tion and na­tion­hood.

Ad­vani’s ex­pla­na­tion that the Ay­o­d­hya is­sue was “a sym­bol of a strug­gle be­tween gen­uine sec­u­lar­ism and pseudo-sec­u­lar­ism” and pro­vided a “con­text for a sharply po­larised de­bate be­tween two op­po­site con­cep­tions about the source of In­dia’s na­tion­hood and na­tional iden­tity” re­peat­edly came to mind while de­ci­pher­ing the re­cent three-pronged as­ser­tions on un­set­tled is­sues.

Is it nec­es­sary to pro­claim ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’ as way of af­firm­ing loy­alty to the coun­try? Which ‘song’ should be given pri­macy? Jana Gana Mana? Vande Mataram? If the na­tional flag is the of­fi­cial stan­dard, what is the place of the Bhagwa Jhanda?

Of these three in­cite­ments, let’s be­gin with the lat­est — and with the long­est run­ning his­tory: Jana Gana Mana vs Vande Mataram. But be­fore its his­tory, some lessons from Bhaiyyaji Joshi, sec­ond-in-com­mand of the RSS, are in or­der. Coun­try, state and na­tion are dis­tinct. But the English lan­guage blurs the lines, he says.

The coun­try is a ter­ri­to­rial en­tity, the state an ad­min­is­tra­tive ne­ces­sity, and the na­tion is a self-pro­pelled cul­tural en­tity that, un­like the other two con­cepts, is not sub­ject to al­ter­ation. This means that the idea of Ak­hand Bharat re­mains, but be­cause of geopo­lit­i­cal and ad­min­is­tra­tive lim­i­ta­tions, the na­tion is ‘sadly’ not part of our present coun­try and state.

Cit­i­zen­ship, the RSS leader said, can be ac­quired with the ben­e­fit of laws of the land. But only those with a mother-son (not ‘daugh­ter’ or ‘child’) re­la­tion­ship with the coun­try can be na­tion­al­ists. Joshi then jux­ta­posed the na­tional an­them with the na­tional song: Jana Gana Mana imag­ines the idea of the state, Vande Mataram evokes the na­tion.

Demo­cratic Sta­tus

Pit­ting these two cre­ations against one another den­i­grates its cre­ators. Few re­mem­ber off­hand that when Vande Mataram was first sung in the Cal­cutta Ses­sion of In­dian Na­tional Congress in 1896, its verses were set to music by Rabindranath Tagore.

In the 125 years since then, Bankim Chan­dra Chat­topad­hyay’s lines have been de­ployed var­i­ously: poem, song, slo­gan, poster call for free­dom and com­mu­nal war cry. Be­cause of the con­text of his novel Anand­math, there was never any doubt that it was an in­vo­ca­tion to God­dess Durga (‘Dashapra­hard­harini’, or the Ten-Handed God­dess).

Yet, na­tion­al­ists, es­pe­cially of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary va­ri­ety, used Vande Mataram as a mo­ti­va­tional slo­gan. Yet, when the song got em­broiled in com­mu­nal con­tro­versy in the 1930s, Tagore ad­vised Jawa­har­lal Nehru and Sub­hash Bose that the song, though ap­pro­pri­ate in the novel, but be­cause Par­lia­ment had rep­re­sen­ta­tives of “all re­li­gious groups”, it “can­not be ap­pro­pri­ate”. Tagore favoured the “bal­anced judge­ment” and feared an “end­less tug of war”.

The Con­stituent Assem­bly left the de­ci­sion on this till the end: Jan­uary au­thor wants to con­vey. What­ever may be the in­ter­pre­ta­tions of Bhaiyyaji Joshi or any other leader, an av­er­age cit­i­zen of this coun­try can­not tol­er­ate any­one who raises anti-na­tional slo­gans in the name of free­dom of ex­pres­sion.

M S Vaidyanathan 24,1950, when Ra­jen­dra Prasad an­nounced that the two “shall have equal sta­tus”. The mo­men­tous mid­night ses­sion be­gan with Vande Mataram and ended with Jana Gana Mana.

Joshi’s at­tempt to re­vive the con­tro­versy with con­trast­ing de­scrip­tions at­tempts to pro­voke hawks like Asadud­din Owaisi, whose bel­liger­ent re­fusal to pro­claim ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’ stirred up the con­tro­versy over Mo­han Bhag­wat’s state­ment.

By play­ing off the tri­colour against the Bhagwa Jhanda, Joshi at­tempted yet again to force the de­bate on a set­tled is­sue. He said that while it was the duty of cit­i­zens to re­spect the na­tional flag, the saf­fron flag sym­bol­ised the na­tion since an­tiq­uity and peo­ple must re­vere it.

Whether it is the mat­ter of imag­in­ing the na­tion as god­dess, a pa­tri­otic song that du­pli­cates as a hymn to a god­dess and a Flag claimed to be rooted in the na­tion’s ‘cul­ture’ (read: re­li­gion), all are ob­jects that must be con­sid­ered sa­cred.

Para­dox­i­cally, the na­tion was not al­ways imag­ined by Hin­dutva votaries as Mother. The ter­ri­to­ries of the na­tion, wrote V D Savarkar, must be con­sid­ered as pitribhu (father­land) and pun­yabhu (holy land).

More­over, Bharat Mata was pre­ceded by im­ageries of Hind Mata and Hind Devi — both pop­u­larised in the late 19th cen­tury by the car­toon mag­a­zine The Hindi Punch, iron­i­cally edited and pub­lished by a Parsi, Baror­jee Nowro­jee.

Sta­bil­is­ing Wheel

Bhag­wat and other Pari­var lead­ers have re­vived con­tro­ver­sies over the coun­try as god­dess, the na­tional an­them-na­tional song, and the two flags be­cause it en­ables them to force de­bate within their ide­o­log­i­cal frame­work. Dif­fer­ent lead­ers strate­gi­cally speak in di­ver­gent tones be­cause it en­ables them to limit ar­gu­ments within the spec­trum cho­sen by them.

Since the 1980s, the Hin­dutva rath surged ahead on four wheels: tem­ple, cul­ture, cow and (pro­tec­tion of) women. Af­ter the events in Hy­der­abad Cen­tral Univer­sity and Jawa­har­lal Nehru Univer­sity, all-in­clu­sive ul­tra­na­tion­al­ism has been fab­ri­cated as the fifth wheel.

This ad­di­tion is aimed at pre­vent­ing the band­wagon’s break­down in the event of one is­sue los­ing steam mo­men­tar­ily. The three prongs now be­ing used to stoke so­cial em­bers are spokes of this fifth wheel.

Rally around her

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