Oops Bengal did it again.
Already deemed insufficiently patriotic, Kolkata is annoying Delhi by spurning its patriotism circular.
The Case of the Patriotic Circular is causing much social media heart burn.
The government, in its urge to create the proper "patriotic mood" for the 70th anniversary of India's independence, came up with a circular for all schools suggesting "participatory activities" that "all the schools/educational institutions may be instructed to take".
The idea is to build "mass fervour" around Prime Minister Narendra Modi's New India Mission and administering a Sankalp se Siddhi pledge to all students.
Bengal has stuck its nose up in the air and declared it does not "need lessons on patriotism from the BJP". It has instructed schools to celebrate Independence Day the way they have always done.
That's led to a false idea that Bengal is rejecting Independence Day. West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh has brought up the favourite bogeyman of "anti-national" activities.
"The Union government provides a major portion of the funds under SSM (Sarva Shiksha Mission) and hence it has the right to enquire whether the funds are utilized properly or not." But rejecting Delhi's syllabus for Independence Day is not the same as rejecting patriotism.
Whether it comes from courts or from the government, we seem to increasingly think of patriotism as a drill display rather than a feeling.
The issue here is really centrally-mandated performance patriotism which wants to set down one path for everything. Whether it comes from courts or from the government, we seem to increasingly think of patriotism as a drill display rather than a feeling. Instead of inspiring patriotism we want to impose it whether by court decree or government circular.
Thus we are now told that the national anthem must play before every film screening. There's a heated debate between the shouting heads on television about the national song Vande Mataram and when and where and how often it should be sung. It was only a matter of time before someone in the government came up with the idea of a patriotism syllabus — quiz competitions for Classes 11 and 12, painting competitions for Classes 6 to 8, an oath ceremony near a Shaheed smarak and video proof of it all to be uploaded to the proper agency. This is patriotism with a red tape bow on it.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with taking an oath to rid India of poverty, terrorism, communalism, casteism and all kinds of other isms. It's a worthy goal.
But it's cynical when its comes from politicians, who irrespective of party, are more than happy to play communal cards or pander to solidify votebanks. Politicians would do far more to instill patriotism and inspire students if they came down hard on their own leaders forwarding fake messages on WhatsApp stoking communal fires. Politicians could do far more to make students proud of their country if they showed that they took responsibility for something as horrendous as what happened in Gorakhpur or a gang rape instead of passing the blame to everyone else.
Politicians would do far more to instill patriotism and inspire students if they came down hard on their own leaders forwarding fake messages on WhatsApp stoking communal fires.
Without leadership that truly stands up for the most vulnerable, a patriotism circular feels empty, just words, as if the onus for patriotism falls on the shoulders of school students. What a different country it would be if its leaders themselves inspired patriotism by their acts. There would really be no need for patriotism by circular then.
HRD minister Prakash Javadekar has expressed puzzlement at Bengal's obstinacy. Jadavekar has said the language used by the Bengal government is "strange and unfortunate" and stressed that "What we have proposed is a secular agenda, not a political party agenda."
There's no reason why it cannot be both actually. A secular agenda can also be a political weapon. The Congress was accused of using it that way for years. The issue is not whether the Sankalp programme is "secular" or not. As Trinamool's Derek O'Brien puts it, it feels more like "bulldozer federalism" rather than "cooperative federalism". It feels like my way or the highway or rather no funds for your highway.
It feels like my way or the highway or rather no funds for your highway.
The issue is not the particulars about the oath or the quiz or the painting competition. The issue is the growing tendency to want to prescribe one government-sanctioned way to do everything. The natural result of that is any dissent from that path will be seen as anti-national. The government and the nation fuse together in this monotheistic vision of patriotism.
Other states feel differently as they have the right to. Karnataka has said it sees no harm in taking an oath to rid the country of poverty, casteism, corruption, terrorism and communalism by 2022. Punjab does not mention the Sankalp programme in its directive but has no objection to it. Kerala's education minister says he has not received any circular from the HRD.
Bengal might be the outlier here, but then Rabindranath Tagore said "ekla chalo re". In this case, Bengal is going it alone.