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Rohit Dhankar

According to The Hindu (17th March 2016) Maharashtra assembly has suspended an AIMIM MLA for refusing to chant “Bharat Mata ki jai”. The assembly is said to be unanimous in this expression of pseudo-nationalism; as BJP, Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP all supported this resolution. This is deeply disturbing and shows how small minded people can misinterpret and misuse the constitutional processes.

According to The Hindu a “BJP MLA … asked both [AIMIM] MLAs to chant Bharat Mata ki Jai. Mr. Pathan stood up and. said he would not do so even at the cost of his life.” The BJP MLA demanded this chanting totally out of context; and therefore, a test of their respect for the country. It was totally uncalled for, and he had no right to slight fellow legislator by demanding proof of their nationalism in this mindless manner. Mr. Pathan was completely within his rights to refuse to chant the slogan. He later on said “I love my country. I was born here and I will die here. I can never dream of insulting my country. Don’t judge anyone’s love for the country by just one slogan. Jai Hind; Jai Bharat; Jai Maharashtra.” And still he is charged of “disrespecting the country”.

This is blatant imposition of one single imagination of the nation on all its citizens. This is an attempt to create a religion out of nationalism, and deification of the nation. “Bharat Mata” is being seen in the same way as Durga or any other Hindu goddess. This imagination if taken toofar will decrease the respect for the nation rather than increasing it. Of course there are many people who see the nation in this manner. Of course, this slogan has been historically used my many patriots who contributed to the freedom movement and shaping this nation. Many of us grew up chanting this slogan. And so it is fine if you imagine the nation as Bharat Mata and love or worship it in that form. It is your freedom as an Indian citizen.  But all this does not make it the only way of expressing our respect and commitment to the nation. And it can take dangerous interpretations if pushed too far.

A nation is a shared imagination of its citizens. It includes their visions of living and flourishing together. It includes their aspirations and frustrations. It includes their cooperation and confrontations. It includes varied imaginations of the nation itself, of values and of peoples place in the system that they themselves create to make this collective life possible. The relationship of a democratic citizen with his/her nation is not necessarily that of a worshipper, or that of love. It is not a surrender of the citizen to the god of nation. It is a relationship of continuous creation and critique; of shaping and reshaping the nation. We as citizens shape the nation, we make it as per our imagination of good human life and aspirations of all. Deification of the nation demands abject surrender to that god, which cannot be questioned, cannot be critiqued, cannot be shaped and reshaped. This is a relationship of a blind bhakta. A nation that has only an army of blind bhaktas will be a poor nation and will not be able to take care of all democratic interests and aspirations of its citizens.

In this sense this imagination of the Indian nation as Bharat Mata makes it possible to love that non-existent imaginary goddess without respecting and caring for its citizens. Calling all of us Bharat Mata’s children in a sense infantilizes us. This is an example of a useful metaphor taken too far, too literally. It creates a false imagination that Bharat Mata is some kind of mysterious being that will take care of its perpetually infant offsprings. Or that it stands in need of these children to safe guard its honor. This is poetic imagination that might have its beauty, but the undeveloped minds who start taking this imagination as some kind of mysterious existence do a lot of harm to the very idea of a nation.

Remember the starting words of the preamble of Indian constitution: “WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC …”. It is we who create this nation, it is we who want justice, equality, freedom, fraternity and dignity for all. Once you create an imaginary goddess called Bharat Mata it becomes possible to worship that imagination and forget autonomy if its citizens. It becomes possible to profess false love to that imaginary goddess and support injustice and perpetuate inequality in the sections of its population. Making chanting of “Bharat Mata ki jai” mandatory for all citizens is an attempt to change the relationship between the nation and its creator citizens.

A critical citizen cannot be demanded to love and to worship the nation. All that can be demanded from her/him is respect for the constitution, respect and care for all its citizens and their rights, and commitment to its integrity and flourishing. Mr. Pathan violated none of it. Charging him of ‘disrespect for the nation’ is an expression of demanding expression of respect and commitment in a particular way that some people favour.

We as critical citizens of a democracy should avoid bind love and worship; and inculcate thoughtful respect and commitment. And st the end, let us recognise without doubt that the demand that every one chants “Bharat Mata ki jai” and that  shouting of “Bharat ki barbadi tak…” be considered ‘freedom of speech’ fuel each other. Both are unjustified and both are harmful for this nation.

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