What does our country expect from us?
At his swearing-in ceremony in January 1961, the 35th President of the United States, John F Kennedy, told his fellow Americans: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."
What did he mean? He meant that there was an American way of engaging with the country. This was to build one's life oneself without depending on the State.
Kennedy was referring to an old tradition wherein American communities and individuals took care of their needs themselves. This attitude was also associated with freedom. To be really free meant that one was free from all obligations, besides the basics like following the law. True love for the country — the kind Kennedy refers to — means not burdening the country.
This was different from the methods the Soviets, the global rivals of the Americans, had been advocating. Their system had very strong intervention from the State at every level.
Twenty years after Kennedy, another president, this time from the rival political party, said something similar. "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government, and I'm here to help,'" Ronald Reagan had said.
Reagan was representing the Republican Party's view, which is a more extreme way of saying the same thing Kennedy did. What Reagan meant was that the government was something that got in the way and hindered an individual; that the government was something that should stay out of the individual's way.
The Republican Party, for many decades, has said that the smaller the government, the better it is for citizens; the larger it is, the more intrusive it is in the the lives of citizens. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'minimum government, maximum governance' line of work stems from the same logic.
What is the view we have in India of the relationship between the country and the individual and the government and the individual? To examine that, I want to turn to something recent.
While speaking at a media event, Union minister Smriti Irani said: "What is extremely interesting to note is that while we speak about India, there are many Indians who are told it is not cool to be patriotic."
She said these anti-national people would probably say something like: "Why would you shed a tear when the national anthem is played, why would you want to stand? In fact, the best way to celebrate democracy is by saying 'Bharat ke sau tukde honge' (India will be cut into a 100 pieces) and I disagree with it."
Going by the way Irani framed her statement, there are only two ways the relationship between the nation and the individual can exist. The first being emotional and tear-inducing when the national anthem is played; and the other is to wish that the country breaks up.
This is not a realistic way to describe how we citizens engage with our country. Individuals have several points of contact with the nation. This contact through the national anthem is just 52 seconds long. Even if we stand and cry for the national anthem every day, that leaves us another 23 hours and 59 minutes every day. Does love for the country not exist in this period? What happens before and after we stand up for the anthem?
The fact is that the other points of contact between citizens and the nation in India are weak. Our country expects us to pay our taxes so the State can function, but Indians have one of the worst records of tax-paying, and this includes those individuals who will stand and cry for the anthem.
Our country expects that we follow the law, and rules and regulations, but Indians are one of the world's worst violators of these very laws and rules. Those of us who have extensive travel experience can testify to this fact. These are the points of contact Irani should have focused on instead of the cartoon image of the crying patriot.
Lastly, when it comes to dependence on the State, we have the opposite attitude as Kennedy. We want the government to help us for everything, starting from loan waivers. We do not have an independent or freedom-minded attitude. We want to burden the government and the nation to the maximum, while taking little responsibility for its development ourselves. And the sad fact is that unlike Kennedy and Reagan, our politicians actively encourage this mindset.
What Irani and others of her type want us to do for our country begins and ends with crying at the national anthem.
Updated Date: Dec 23, 2018 14:48:52 IST