Mohan Bhagwat's Stand On 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' Issue Is Hardly A Sign Of Tolerance

29/03/2016 7:01 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Hindustan Times via Getty Images
NEW DELHI, INDIA - NOVEMBER 22: Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Chief Mohan Bhagwat speaks during the condolence meeting of former Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) President Ashok Singhal, in New Delhi, India, on Sunday, November 22, 2015. Singhal died at the age of 89 on November 17, 2015. Bhagwat said, “Ashok ji was a pillar of unity and strength for Hindus. He has not gone but is still there in us in our memories and will continue to guide us.” (Photo by Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Mohan Bhagwat could not have timed it better.

Just in time for the BJP-PDP re-marriage in Jammu and Kashmir, the RSS chief has said there is no need to “foist” the Bharat Mata ki Jai slogan on anyone. That is now apparently a sufficient but not necessary condition for proving one’s patriotism. Instead Bhagwat has said it was important to build an India where people “voluntarily say Bharat Mata ki jai".

Good thing Bhagwat piped up when he did. Otherwise it could have created some awkward moment in the Kashmir nuptials.

Except Bhagwat is bolting the stable door long after this particular horse has been sent off on its Ashwamedha yagna.

As it is the Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna was already needling the BJP asking if Mehbooba Mufti would chant Bharat Mata ki jai as chief minister of the PDP-BJP coalition.

“Yeh ek vyarth vivaad hai (This is a meaningless controversy),” said BJP patriarch L K Advani refusing to comment on the issue. He is right in a way and Bhagwat’s conciliatory statement seems designed to defuse the issue further.

Except Bhagwat is bolting the stable door long after this particular horse has been sent off on its Ashwamedha yajna. Bhagwat himself has gone on record saying “Now the time has come when we have to tell the new generation to chant Bharat Mata ki Jai” though he added it had to be “real, spontaneous and part of all-round development of the youth.”

No one is putting a knife to anyone’s throat but the image fits into the hysteria generated by a “meaningless controversy”. Nothing like a fatwa about a patriotic slogan to cement suspicion of the other. The controversy has already done what it was supposed to do – divide and polarize ironically in the name of building unity.

The BJP National Executive has said that the refusal to chant Bharat Mata ki Jai is tantamount to disrespect to the Constitution. Maharashtra MLA Waris Pathan has been suspended from the assembly, with support across party lines, for refusing to chant it. Baba Ramdev has said the law should be changed so that everyone says it. The issue has already become de facto communalized with reports that an Islamic seminary in Hyderabad has issued a fatwa against chanting Bharat Mata ki Jai as the “land of Hind is not a goddess”.

The United Muslim Forum issued a statement expressing outrage over the “environment being created in the country using the Bharat Mata slogan”. AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi has refused to chant it even if a knife was put to his throat while other Muslims have gone on record saying they are not opposed to it. No one is putting a knife to anyone’s throat but the image fits into the hysteria generated by a “meaningless controversy”. Nothing like a fatwa about a patriotic slogan to cement suspicion of the other. The controversy has already done what it was supposed to do – divide and polarize ironically in the name of building unity.

Bhagwat now saying it should be “voluntary” is hardly a concession. It was always voluntary. By making it the un-negotiable litmus test, the BJP has stirred up this hornet’s nest of vyarth vivaad and is now shrugging off its consequences.

Today Bhagwat can appear conciliatory. His statement can be read as a sign of tolerance and magnanimity. He can pretend to be peacemaker, the kinder gentler RSS. But all he has really done is signal a quasi-return to what was status quo anyway – where a particular slogan was not the litmus test for patriotism. That was always the case and should have always been the case. Bhagwat now saying it should be “voluntary” is hardly a concession. It was always voluntary. By making it the un-negotiable litmus test, the BJP has stirred up this hornet’s nest of vyarth vivaad and is now shrugging off its consequences.

It is all part of the BJP’s clear agenda to become the gatekeeper to Indian patriotism. The Congress has been coasting along for decades on its unquestioned legacy as the party of freedom fighters that helped birth independent India. The BJP and RSS have always been on the back-foot here with few names to boast of. But the Congress party’s myopic vision of eulogizing and beatifying only Mahatma Gandhi and the Nehru-Gandhi family at the expense of other leaders, has allowed the BJP to try and co-opt some of the sidelined luminaries like Sardar Patel or Subhas Bose.

Bose’s grand-nephew currently running on a BJP ticket in West Bengal sees similarities between Netaji and Narendra Modi. “The RSS has become the contractors of patriotism,” an unnamed senior Congress leader tells The Telegraph. “Does (Arun Jaitley) know what the RSS was doing when the entire nation was chanting Jai Hind? It is our failure, we seem to have created a vacuum.”

The Congress relies heavily on historically legacy to buttress its patriotic credentials. The BJP is cleverly using contemporary issues, for example JNU, as the new patriotism test which works to its advantage.

Surely Jaitley knows but does the nation? The leader wondered why the party did not bring out booklets to "expose RSS-BJP hypocrisy" and "send crack teams of spokespersons to different parts of the country".

The Congress is trying to make up for lost ground by tweeting out images of a pantheon of other leaders like Sardar Patel with Acharya Kripalani or Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan with Tagore or Abdul Ghaffar Khan. But that also underscores the fact that the Congress relies heavily on historically legacy to buttress its patriotic credentials. The BJP is cleverly using contemporary issues, for example JNU, as the new patriotism test which works to its advantage.

Bharat Mata ki Jai has become in effect the new improved more patriotic and positive iteration of the #GoToPakistan slogan, used in the same way to divide people into true patriots and false ones.

The BJP also knows that thanks to the unvarying Gandhi-Nehru diet generations of Indians have been subjected to, our knowledge about other freedom fighters is minimal anyway. Thus it can blithely co-opt a Bhagat Singh, a self-proclaimed atheist, into its pantheon though the RSS leaders would hardly have tolerated a modern-day Bhagat Singh who had digested his Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, and Thomas Carlyle by the time he was 22.

That the Congress is on unsure footing is apparent. Thus a Digvijaya Singh is forced to say “why should anyone have a problem saying (Bharat Mata ki jai)?”

While Rahul Gandhi might meet Kanhaiya Kumar it knows it’s far trickier to stand up for the right to not chant Bharat Mata ki Jai than to condemn those who taunt #GoToPakistan. Bharat Mata ki Jai has become in effect the new improved more patriotic and positive iteration of the #GoToPakistan slogan, used in the same way to divide people into true patriots and false ones.

All of that goes to show that while the controversy might be meaningless in real terms, politically speaking it might not be so vyarth after all.

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