Supreme Court ruling on compulsory National Anthem jars with the external image of a nation comfortable in its own skin.
It is not about standing for the National Anthem, that’s a given for everyone anytime Jana Gana Mana is played. Rather, a national debate is needed on the far more important question of judicial legislation and overreaching of constitutional boundaries, as well as enforcement of patriotism via law rather than understanding it as a genuine citizen emotion.
The National Anthem is played in many public places already; but that is due to individual choice of each authority/owner of that place. The cinema hall is not a governmental building, should the law of the country enforce what happens there, beyond following the existing laws of the country? Can it enforce? What is the legal principle for an invalid who may not be able to stand but gets beaten up by vigilantes? Does the police now arrest the invalid or the vigilante?
Law (and specially law that derives from the Supreme Court) is always based on principle. What is the principle here? Does the law now state that in any public gathering the National Anthem must be played? If not, then are cinema halls a special area of public gathering that they are singled out? If it is to be played in all public places, should this not be debated & enacted by the Legislature first and enforced by the Executive? To my knowledge, there are well established protocol for the National Anthem in government activity. For example, when the President of India/Governor of state walks into a public function the National Anthem is played immediately and when he leaves the National Anthem is played again. Thus, it is not as if this is some neglected area of patriotic duty.
“Be it stated, the time has come, the citizens of the country realize that they live in a nation and are duty bound to show respect to the national anthem,” the judgment reads. I am surprised at the negative take on our fellow citizens. As far as I know there has been no mass outbreak of disrespect to national symbols to necessitate such a stern warning, or else. Looking into the petition that led to the ruling, it seems the litigant was upset when he once stood for the National Anthem during a film screening but the people behind him objected. Trust me, if anyone objects when I stand up, I know what choice words I would use; but at the same time it is my upbringing as an Indian that makes me stand up, not a law that threatens arrest if I do not. A few discoloured apples does not make a whole barrel turn so. They usually remain red on their own.
Which brings me to my moot point. Our country has hitherto been celebrated all over the world as one with responsible constitutional systems, structures and processes which are deep-rooted in a democratic pluralistic structure. We have evolved as a responsible citizenry, forward looking and contributing internationally in myriad professional fields. The pejorative ‘Banana Republic’ has never applied to India, through good times and bad. Yet suddenly over the last two years we have descended into a perverse nationalistic obsession, playing a game of ‘I am more patriotic than you’ and ‘you cannot question these decisions for it is in the nation’s interest’. Military action, economic reform, political moves, judicial ruling are no longer to be debated because they apparently are for a larger national goal.
Democracy is a give and take of ideas; choke that off and what you will have is a majoritarian mindset. This leads to that road most other democracies which got independence in 1950s gradually went down: authoritarian despotism. I may question the Judiciary’s overreach of its mandate (and I could be wrong), but instead of a debate am side-tracked with a juvenile accusation that I do not want to stand for the National Anthem. This is not the India I grew up to be an adult in.
There are certain periods of history I would urge those in favour of today’s resurgent right-wing nationalism to browse through. No, I am not suggesting Germany’s 1930’s. Rather, read up on Mao Tse-tung’s Cultural Revolution of 1966. Paranoia swept through Chinese society as the Great Leader called for purging non-Communists to re-impose Maoist thought as dominant ideology. Families were rent asunder, millions persecuted, a wide range of legal and social abuse was carried out. Today the Communist Party of China acknowledges Cultural Revolution as responsible for the most severe setback to the country since founding of the Republic, and scars of that period reverberate till date. You smile and say, this cannot happen in India. I think if you asked a Chinese citizen prior to 1966, he too would have smiled and said, this cannot happen in China. I pray we do not make a similar mistake.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NEWSD and NEWSD does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.