The Mohan Bhagwat School Of Patriotism
It doesn’t bode well for 2021 that my first column is my annual ode to Mohan Bhagwat. Last year I lavished words on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief for saying that women are multitaskers, but men can just be hunters.
Bhagwat gave us a sneak peek into the quality of public discourse in the year that looms with this gem: “If someone is Hindu, he has to be patriotic, that will be his or her basic character and nature. At times you may have to awaken his or her patriotism but he (Hindu) can never be anti-India,” he said at a book release function.
I’m convinced that it’s only a matter of time before the RSS—the alter ego of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party—suggests gaumutraboarding as a way to awaken the patriotism of underperforming Hindus like myself.
In a country that conjured a lethal cocktail of laws that together put Indian citizenship through a religious sieve for the first time, replacing water with every patriot’s favourite drink in the infamous torture technique is hardly a stretch.
On the other hand, India has already figured out an efficient way to shut down its “unpatriotic” citizens: just jail them under anti-terror laws that will ensure they can’t get bail. These days Indian jails are full of people who flunked out of Bhagwat’s School of Patriotism. Or rather, those who refused to line up for admission.
Bhagwat is experimenting with the P-word because last year an RSS worker gave him a quick history lesson on ‘nationalism’ and its association with Nazis and fascism. I’m not kidding, he communicated this in a meeting to his followers.
Of course the idea of patriotism too has mutated beyond recognition in recent years, courtesy the BJP’s elected representatives, all toppers from the Bhagwat School of Patriotism. Judge for yourself.
Patriotism as anti-dissent, Tejaswi Surya: “What is happening today in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh is a stark reminder that if the majority of this country is not vigilant, the patriotic Indians do not stand up to this, the days of Mughal Raj coming back to Delhi are not far away”
Patriotism as sloganeering, Amit Shah: “…BJP is the only party which raised slogans of Bharat Mata Ki Jai. It shows BJP’s patriotism.”
Patriotism as family planning, Narendra Modi: “Population explosion will cause many problems…But there is a vigilant section of public which stops to think, before bringing a child to the world, whether they can do justice to the child, give them all that she or he wants. They have a small family and express their patriotism to the country.”
I must say I agree with him on one point – it’s worth thinking twice before you bring a child into New India.
Patriotism as justification for acts of terror, Pragya Thakur: “Nathuram Godse was a patriot.”
Wedding patriotism, Panna Lal Shakya: “None of us goes to a foreign country to get married ... (Virat Kohli) earned money here and spent billions there (Italy)... (he) doesn’t have any respect for the country. This proves he is not a patriot.”
Patriotism as vote bank, KS Eshwarappa: “A rashtra bhakta (patriot) Muslim will vote for BJP, and those who are pro Pakistan and rashtra drohis (traitors) will hesitate to vote for BJP.”
It has always been sexist and casteist. As Congress leader Sonia Gandhi put it, “Today, we are being taught a new definition of patriotism while those not accepting diversity are being called patriots.”
Thankfully, there are enough inspirational Indians who have always practised a different way of living. Whether it’s Mahatma Gandhi emphasising via his weekly newspaper Young India, “Patriotism for me is the same as humanity” or feminist Hansa Mehta without whom the Universal Declaration of Human Rights would have been termed the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man, there’s always been a different path to follow.
From protesting farmers demanding their rights to jailed Indians and their families who are bravely combatting state atrocities and government servants who continue to speak up despite the odds, there’s an abundance of inspiration in India today.
No self-respecting citizen should feel pride in the brand of patriotism being taught at Bhagwat’s school.
In a world where patriotism has only been linked with hatred, it’s time we lived by new values.
As Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of a tiny country that is home to more than 200 ethnicities, said a couple of years ago at the General Assembly of the United Nations, “What if we change what ‘us’ means? If instead of fierce nationalism or self-interest, we seek to form our tribes based on concepts that can and should be universal.”
“What if we no longer see ourselves based on what we look like, what religion we practise or where we live but by what we value,” she added. “Humanity, kindness, an innate sense of connection.”
What if more world leaders were inspired by John Lennon’s Imagine.
Priya Ramani is a Bengaluru-based journalist and is on the editorial board of Article-14.com.
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.