MNS vs Karan Johar: Putting country first is prosaic, jingoism does not further our interests

He is, after all, not an actor. No wonder Karan Johar did not quite ring true when he said, face solemn and voice quivering, "For me, my country comes first and nothing else matters to me but my country. I always put country first."

It did sound like he protested too much. But that's what was needed to appease the Mumbai mafiosi, along with the Rs 5 crore ransom, and KJo succumbed. It didn't matter whether he meant it or not; that he mouthed their formula was enough for our uber-nationalists.

But really, what does it mean if anything? Does country come first with anyone at all? Do you know one person who has put country before all else? Before oneself, family, friends? Before career, the good life, a place in the sun? People have seen ghosts sooner.

File photo of Karan Johar. AFP

File photo of Karan Johar. AFP

Not KJo, for whom saving the film, his career, his survival in Bollywood, his investors, as also the "over 300 Indian people in my crew", who have "put their blood, sweat and tears" into his star-crossed film, obviously trumped all else.

Not the obstreperous MNS either, which seems to be the Indian counterpart of the angry white American male — compensating for electoral weakness by a show of rude brute power.

Not Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who certainly hasn’t done anyone any favour by legitimising extortion in the name of "finding an amicable solution". If country had to come first with Fadnavis, he would have upheld the rule of law, instead of inviting Raj Thackeray to the high table and forcing the film industry to eat crow as if Thackeray was in the right.

Not the Cinema Owners Exhibitors Association of India too. Their refusal to screen films with Pakistani actors in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka and Goa has more to do with safeguarding their property, investments and insurance premiums from marauding hordes that political parties there evidently have on tap than with their patriotic ardour.

Is there anyone, then, putting the country above all? The army did you say? Are you sure? Aren’t they just doing their job? Doing it well no doubt, but still doing what they are supposed to be doing. Doesn’t defending our land fall within their line of duty? Why else are they there? Efficient distribution of flood or drought relief can hardly be the military’s raison d’etre.

They are, of course brave, competent, professional and quite deserving of their Param Vir Chakras and subsidised liquor. No one wants any harm to befall them either. But all said and done, risking life and limb is an occupational hazard for our heroic fighters. Just as it is for manual scavengers, miners, even passers-by on Kolkata streets at the mercy of maniacal bus drivers.

As for our boys in blue, no one wants them to be dreaming of anything beyond victory runs, records, personal glory, the next endorsement contact, has-beens like Gautam Gambhir notwithstanding. In their case, what is good for them is good for the country too.

It is convention that makes people say, "I have always put country first and this time it’s no different," as did India’s highest-ranked squash player Dipika Pallikal after her initial reservations over participating in the 2014 Asian Games for unfair draws. It’s not done to blurt out, I want it for myself, the money, the fame, the glamour, and the rest are mere add-ons.

So, Mr India finalist Jitesh Thakur, readying to take part in the first Mr Supranational 2016, told The Times of India on 21 October, "I am totally honoured to be able to represent my country at an international pageant. It is not about me anymore, it is about India and nothing is bigger than that.” What else could he say?

Did the prosperous and prosperous-looking NRIs, who throng Madison Square Garden or Wembley Stadium or wherever Prime Minister Narendra Modi happens to alight during his frequent sojourns abroad, put their country first when they escaped its chaos and corruption, its poverty and stench, its jostling crowds and inadequate facilities for a deluxe lifestyle elsewhere?

Does country come first with anyone at all? Do you know one person who has put country before all else?

Even now, are they putting country first by pushing the Hindutva agenda abroad? It was at an event organised by the Republican Hindu Coalition at Edison, New Jersey, on 15 October, that Donald Trump declared, "I am a big fan of Hindu and I am a big fan of India. Big big fan." In this Trump was smart. By conflating the two he was erring on the side of caution.

What if he failed to be President, this support would still come in handy. As he told NDTV, "I'll be honest, I have great respect for India. I actually have jobs going up in India." There you have it. Since with Trump you get what you see (however unpalatable that may be), you find him openly putting his own interests first.

Who else? Team Modi, who has unleashed such a tidal wave of nationalistic fervour that even questioning or evaluating the government’s actions is being seen as treasonable? Well, was Team Modi putting India first when they blocked GST, Aadhar, FDI in multi-brand retail trade and other UPA-II schemes when they were in the Opposition, the very same schemes they are now implementing with gusto?

Isn’t it time that we accept "putting country first" is mere platitude and not an actionable tenet at all? Not for us mere mortals, not for the greats who rule us. The more we mouth such inanities the more we give a fillip to competitive patriotism, vitiating the atmosphere to such an extent that a wheelchair-bound invalid can be punched for sitting during the national anthem while a hall full of people simply stand as mute spectators.

Only suicide bombers can and do put country, rather ideology, above all. Hardly a role model don’t you think? The most we can hope for is, like cricketers’, our interests further our nation’s too. Ultra-nationalism does not.


Published Date: Oct 24, 2016 11:35 am | Updated Date: Oct 24, 2016 11:35 am


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