JNU Student Denied Entry: Is Patriotism Being Refashioned As A Performance Sport?

21/03/2016 1:17 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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As an incident, it’s small, almost not newsworthy. A student from JNU walked up to the nearby National University for Educational Planning and Administration to see whether its documentation centre had some papers she needed. Upon finding out she was from JNU, the guard at the NUEPA gate pushed her out saying he would not allow in people from a “deshdroh ka adda” (den of treason), not even if their vice-chancellor came with them. According to the news report, he said the courts might be blind to set people like them free, but he was not.

Let’s assume this played out as the student has alleged. Admittedly one guard who gets carried away by his own inflated sense of hyper-patriotism in a country where thousands of his colleagues quietly do their job, is hardly front page news. One swallow does not a summer make. But at the same time there is something brewing from the BJP national enclave to the guard at the gate -– patriotism is being refashioned as a performance sport. It is not a feeling, it is an act, and it has to be performed in public view over and over again.

jnu row

Today nationalism is decided by whether or not one can say ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’. I am happy to say it but should I also oblige everyone to say it?” asks Congress MP Shashi Tharoor. “Our Constitution gives people the right not to say it just as it gives people the right to say it as well. I will choose when to say it and that’s democracy.”

But it’s that element of choice which is being carefully excised from the equation. Patriotism has to be non-negotiable. Or rather its litmus tests have to be non-negotiable. Shouting Bharat mata ki jai is one of its litmus tests. And it is not an optional one. The political resolution at the BJP enclave makes that amply clear. “Our Constitution describes India and Bharat also: refusal to chant victory to Bharat is tantamount to disrespect to our Constitution itself.”

At that same enclave, Prime Minister Narendra Modi apparently told the party: “We have one basic mantra, that is, development, development, development. It is the solution to all problems.”

The question is should we read his lips? Or should we read the official political resolution coming out of the enclave? The latter seems to suggest that the one basic mantra is actually nationalism, nationalism, nationalism.

jnu protest

Or perhaps it is the fallback mantra - if they cannot get development fast enough, let them eat nationalism instead.

The fruits of vikas take time to ripen but nationalism is like 2-minute noodles. Add hot water, steep a few minutes and it’s ready to serve. And it comes in only one flavour - Bharat Mata ki Jai flavour. The BJP has carefully calculated that it needs to brand itself the party of patriots and thus accuses the Opposition like the Congress of “brazenly rubbing shoulders with secessionist and ultra-Left elements who were demanding the vivisection and destruction of Bharat.”

The fruits of vikas take time to ripen but nationalism is like 2-minute noodles. Add hot water, steep a few minutes and it’s ready to serve. And it comes in only one flavour - Bharat Mata ki Jai flavour.

I oppose what you say but will defend to death your right to say it has no place in this simplified patriotism test. Make no mistake, this is not nationalism as in service to the nation, but nationalism as an electoral strategy as big states gear up for polls. Bharat Mata herself is being placed on the ballot (sitting on a lotus) and who would dare vote against her. This is not the old India is Indira, Indira is India sycophancy. This is BJP is Bharat Mata and Bharat Mata is BJP.

It’s working in a way. It’s not just that security guard at NUEPA who is puffed up in righteous indignation. The spooked Opposition parties also joined hands in asking for Waris Pathan’s suspension from the Maharashtra Assembly for refusing to say “Bharat Mata ki jai.”

The insidious progression is clear.

Just weeks ago shouting Bharat ki barbaadi (destruction) was the act of sedition. Now NOT shouting Bharat Mata ki jai will get you thrown out of the Assembly. What next? Will standing during the national anthem not be respectful enough? Will singing be mandatory as well? When Anupam Kher went to JNU and was told that those Afzal Guru slogans were raised by “outsiders” his retort was telling. He asked the students if they had torn down the offensive posters.

Just weeks ago shouting Bharat ki barbaadi was the act of sedition. Now NOT shouting Bharat Mata ki jai will get you thrown out of the Assembly. What next? Will standing during the national anthem not be respectful enough?

As Mukul Kesavan writes "So the fact that JNU’s students let those posters stay on JNU’s walls was culpable in itself. For Kher, the university’s students had been found wanting in Indianness. Instead of scraping the posters off the buildings as an passionate patriot would have done, they had lived with them. This inertness, was a kind of complicity.”

While the PM talks expansively about the BJP needing to be like a banyan tree whose branches “can give shelter and comfort to people who rest under it”, his representatives are turning tolerance itself into a suspect act, a failure of patriotism. Patriotism is not a virtue, it’s an obligation, a government-issued agni-pariksha but one that has to be renewed again and again like a driving license. As Kesavan puts it, in this world-view, citizenship isn’t a birthright. “It’s a kind of probation and you only truly belong when you learn to perform your patriotism.”

jnu protest

We are used to performing patriotism. We remember those Independence Day and Republic Day march pasts in schools singing patriotic songs tunelessly after the flag hoisting. We read stories about grandparents who burned British-made clothes in great bonfires in response to Gandhiji’s clarion call. But we do not read about someone being tarred and feathered for NOT burning their Manchester cloth. Now we are witnessing that uglier side of patriotism as a politican-enforced act of compulsion rather than something spontaneous and natural.

Thus a Waris Pathan is not allowed any other way to express his patriotism apart from shouting Bharat Mata ki Jai. Jai Hind is not an acceptable alternative. It’s exactly that same rigid mentality that allowed a lawyer, Yashpal Tyagi to harangue an ABP reporter during the JNU fracas saying he would not answer any of her questions until she shouted Vande Mataram first. She retorted “Aap nationalism ka certificate baant rahe hain?” (You are giving out nationalism certificates?)

It was a rhetorical question but in hindsight it makes perfect sense. If the government is devising pass-fail tests of nationalism, then it’s only natural that the next step would be to distribute nationalism certificates to those who pass the test. Patriotism is a virtue but one has to wonder what it says about its gatekeepers when it becomes the last (and easy) refuge of both politicians and security guards.

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