Forget the cow, Shashi Tharoor and Jan Gan Mana: Is this really about national pride?

This piece is a response to an article by Bikram Vohra titled ''A cow is safer in India than a Muslim': Why would a man like Shashi Tharoor fire such a toxic salvo?'.

Read it?

Good.

The situation is actually much worse than depicted in the article above.

The flight, it would appear, isn’t delayed, but has been diverted elsewhere due to adverse weather conditions. After all, the climate is far too stormy and blustery for common sense and logic to even attempt an emergency landing.

But it is imperative that we examine these adverse meteorological conditions. There is little doubt that the National Anthem is a source of great pride. The unfurling of the tricolour, set to 52 seconds of poetry (the appropriateness of the word adhinayak notwithstanding) by Rabindranath Tagore, whether on Republic Day, at the Olympics, or a school annual day is an act loaded with powerful meaning.

 Forget the cow, Shashi Tharoor and Jan Gan Mana: Is this really about national pride?

Reuters image.

But should this national pride be forced? Of course, you don’t get to decide where the National Anthem is played, but if you don’t genuinely feel that emotion, should your response necessarily have to be Pavlovian?

Before torches begin to burn, pitchforks are sharpened and the tar prepared, there are a few aspects about the thrust of the argument in the piece in question that warrant inquiry.

‘Whenever the Anthem is sung or played, the audience shall stand to attention’ reads the Ministry of Home Affairs’s (MHA) Orders relating to the National Anthem of India. The orders make no mention of any penalty for failure to comply. In fact, as senior advocate Iqbal Chagla told The Times of India, “Guidelines from the home ministry are not legislation. They serve an advisory role."

The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act of 1971 does on the other hand stipulate that ‘(whoever) intentionally prevents the singing of the Indian National Anthem or causes disturbances to any assembly engaged in such singing shall be punished with imprisonment for a term, which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both’.

The highly-publicised video of the family being hounded for not standing up for the National Anthem starts after the yelling and screaming has already begun. There’s no way of knowing whether this began during the National Anthem itself when a few self-appointed saviours of India’s honour set upon the family. Had that been the case, these saviours would have found themselves in a highly actionable position.

‘Thug nationalism’ as senior counsel and former advocate-general of Maharashtra Darius Khambata points out, is more disrespectful than someone not standing up. "People will do anything, they will run their lives any way they want, and then suddenly on this issue they will get hyper-nationalistic,” he told The Times of India.

That a family has to be grateful that it ‘went home for dinner’ and wasn’t beaten, lynched or worse is a reflection of the growing acceptability of this brand of ‘thug nationalism’. Remember how we sat on our high horses and laughed at the almost Neanderthal pronouncements of “Love it or leave it! USA #1”? The bad news is we’re getting there.

That Muslim localities in certain parts of the country are forced to put up Indian flags when India plays Pakistan in a cricket match was a warning sign we all seem to have conveniently missed.

But that’s a digression.

Standing up for the National Anthem and even tearing up in memory of those who lost their lives on 26 November, 2008 is respectful. But then so was dressing up in white and marching up and down Marine Drive clutching candles.

Newsflash: Terrorists are not scared of candlewax, and there are more effective ways of being patriotic than paying lip-service. Look no further than what’s happening in Chennai.

People voicing their rationales for why ‘it was okay for this family not to stand up’ may well be ‘blasé and self indulgent’, but the question that needs to be asked is why no one bothered to ask the family for its own reasoning. Was there a physical disability that prevented one or more of them from standing up straight? Was it a condition like vertigo or something more personal? Or was it ideological? Did anyone bother to find out?

On the topic of National Anthems, the sight — and indeed sound — of over 70,000 French and English fans singing La Marseillaise ahead of a football match in the days after the Paris attacks was a wonderful gesture. Respectful too.

But using France as a yardstick for nationalism is problematic. The country takes the idea of free speech to great extremes, while at the same time enforcing a system of homogenisation in which any religious or spiritual attire is strictly verboten.

And since we were discussing La Marseillaise, let’s remind ourselves that the Anthem does include the line “Qu'un sang impur abreuve nos sillons!” or “Let an impure blood soak our fields”. Any correlation between that and our own ‘thug nationalism’ is completely coincidental.

As for Shashi Tharoor? What’s to say that hasn’t been said before.

In this stormy climate, all aircraft will veer off their flight paths, and it’s naïve to expect Tharoor to cling to a higher path, in this case, a flight path.

Updated Date: Dec 03, 2015 07:32:49 IST