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Rohit Dhankar

The Supreme Court (SC) has ordered that:

(a) “There shall be no commercial exploitation” of the national anthem,

(b) “There shall not be dramatization” of it,

(c) “National Anthem or a part of it shall not be printed” in such a manner that “may be disgraceful to its status and tantamount to disrespect.”

(d) All the cinema halls in India shall play the National Anthem before the feature film starts and all present in the hall are obliged to stand up to show respect to the National Anthem.”

(e) While the national anthem is being played “the entry and exit doors shall remain closed”

(f) Playing of national anthem will “be with the National Flag on the screen.” And,

(g) The abridge version of the National Anthem … shall not be played or displayed.”

I have been arguing on this blog (particularly during the JNU tamasha) that:

  1. It is wrong to think that the notion of nationalism is necessarily (a) repressive for some sections of the population and (b) aggressive to other nations. There can be forms of nationalism that are no-repressive and non-aggressive.
  2. The humanity at present is not developed enough to organise itself and have a non-repressive state without the ideas of nation and constitutional nationalism, which to my mind come so close to patriotism that is virtually indistinguishable from it. Therefore, they are necessary ideas at present state of intellectual and moral development of humanity.
  3. It is not possible to argue in favour of and struggle for the ideals of equality, justice, freedom, etc. if one discards the ideas of nation and nationalism.
  4. The ideas of the nation and nationalism expressed in the idiotic Sanghi vigilante brigade are not the ideas or ideals on which Indian nation is built. Therefore, assuming that that is what nationalism is and attacking the very core of Indian nation under this false assumption is massive foolishness.
  5. The overbearing and screaming critics of the ideas of nation and nationalism are deriding the massive section of population, undermining the binding force for the democratic nation and spreading disaffection for the nation and state. While at the same time reaping all the benefits of these very ideals; they are actually being irresponsible and selfish free riders.

This SC order seems to be a legal reaction to this kind of irresponsible, loud and overbearing criticism. This kind of criticism is made possible by some theories of nationalism built on false assumption of necessity of repression and aggression in nationalism. This also provided such people an opportunity to pretend to be the champions of the repressed, and therefore take the moral high ground. Many people lose no opportunity of earning credentials of being revolutionary simply by showing deviant behaviour. For example in on public function when the national anthem was sang at the conclusion a supposed to be revolutionary intellectual remained seated. That person was clearly seeking attention in a very childish way. This act did not constitute a critique, did not constitute any resistance, it was simply an act of trying to show “who one is”.

However, the SC order itself raises very serious and disturbing questions. The order assumes that the above mentioned legal diktats will “instill the feeling within one, a sense committed patriotism and nationalism”. The court thinks that the Article 51A(a) of the constitution makes it “clear as crystal that it is the sacred obligation of every citizen to abide by the ideals engrafted in the Constitution. And one such ideal is to show respect for the National Anthem and the National Flag.” Then goes on “[B]e it stated, a time has come, the citizens of the country must realize that they live in a nation and are duty bound to show respect to National Anthem which is the symbol of the Constitutional Patriotism and inherent national quality. It does not allow any different notion or the perception of individual rights, that have individually thought of have no space. The idea is constitutionally impermissible.”

Most of the objectives of the order may be laudable, but one wonders whether patriotism can be instilled by legal orders. Yes, legal orders may ensure external behaviour as per stated norms, in other words can ensure a “show” of patriotism. But patriotism and love and respect for the nation is much more than just an outward show of it. It is a sentiment, a disposition, a commitment which comes about from one’s internal intellectual and emotional processes; from shared experiences and public feelings. This commitment cannot be enforced, this cannot be based on any “sacred” ideas with legal force. That respect and love has to come from a rational understanding and emotional bonding with the people living in the nation, the citizenry. If some loud people are building their intellectual fortunes on the basis of pitting one section of the population against other, are incapable of imagining common public good and ways to achieve that without attacking the very foundations of the nation; they cannot be made ineffective by legal action.

Their genuine concerns have to be addressed and their misguided attacks have to be intellectually countered. This is not an issue of defeating them, this is an issue of convincing them of more meaningful ways of critiquing the ills our democracy has and showing them the necessity of respect to some fundamental ideals as well as large sections of population who disagree with them. This is a project of freeing them of their own bigotry.

This requires a more balanced debate and rejection of the factionalist nationalism of the sangh-parivad as well. The saner people have to groups to deal with: the sanghi-bigots as well as the all-knowing so-called left liberals. Two wrongs in the national arena cannot be righted by a legal order.