Being forced to say ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ is not the same as saying it because you want to. It’s like dancing to the tune of the bully, who cracks the whip. No one except the bully enjoys the ‘Nach Basanti!’ number. Are we all Basanti today? 

Admit it. You have been disrespecting the Constitution all your life. No? Tell me, when was the last time you chanted “Bharat Mata ki Jai”. Can’t remember? Maybe never, you say? I rest my case.

After two days of serious deliberations, the Bharatiya Janata Party has just informed us that if you do not chant “Bharat Mata ki Jai” you are disrespecting the Constitution. Which makes most of us habitual disrespectors of the Constitution. And you know that’s a serious matter. Why, the way things are, you could even land up in jail on a sedition charge. Quick, repeat after me: “Bharat Mata ki Jai”.

What, you say you have a problem saying that? You’re a Muslim, are you? Yes, yes, I know Muslims have a problem with worshipping their country as Bharat Mata — who has become a goddess in the mould of Durga — because Islam forbids idol worship. But, you know, India is the land of syncretic traditions, Indian Muslims often celebrate Deepawali and Durga Puja — many Indian Muslims have no problem saying “Bharat Mata ki Jai”. They are citizens of a secular country, they have the right to choose how far they will let religion determine their behaviour.

Pardon? You are not a Muslim? Thank god! Then what on earth is your problem? Oh, you don’t want to be forced. Maybe you would have said “Bharat Mata ki Jai” if you felt like it, but now you won’t because you are being told to? You sound exactly like my daughter. Anyway, I think I can understand that. I don’t mind wearing saris, for example, but would hate to wear saris as a rule. What I wear is my choice.

So you say whether you chant “Bharat Mata ki Jai” or not is your choice. Well, not anymore, sweetie. The BJP has decided that it must be said to prove your patriotism. So better get down to it. Unless you are feeling seditious.

Me? Of course, I will say it. I will say it loud, I will say it proud. For I am a Bengali, and we started it all. We created Bharat Mata. And as a Bengali I have grown up learning to worship every bit of soil around me — with the possible exception of potted earth — as mother. From our own state to the whole world. Banga Mata. Bharat Mata. Ma Dharitri.

We drew pictures of Mother Bengal and Mother India, both based on their respective maps, coloured them vividly to depict a sari made of green land bordered by blue oceans and put silvery white crowns on their heads to show the Himalayas. We didn’t much care about Abanindranath Tagore’s picture of Bharat Mata — which was probably the first pictorial depiction of the concept of Mother India. That was a rather plain Jane vaishnavi type saffron-clad woman with four arms. No hills and valleys. No oceans and rivers. Boring.

We grew up belting out vocative songs like “Banga amar, janani amar, dhatri amar, amar desh! (My Bengal, my mother, my nurturer, my homeland!)” and “Vande Mataram” — even the problematic verses where the mother was being likened to Goddess Durga and Goddess Lakshmi. No one I know seemed to have a problem. It was an innocent age.

Which reminds me, have you got the video doing the rounds about Vande Mataram? Pretty scary stuff, huh? Some grim-faced guys and girls advance menacingly towards you brandishing the national flag, clenching their fists and warning, “Hindustan mei rahna hai toh Vande Mataram kehna hoga! (If you want to live in Hindustan you must say Vande Mataram!)” It goes on in that vein for more than three minutes. Makes you want to have nothing to do with Vande Mataram ever again.

So I do understand your point. Being forced to say “Bharat Mata ki Jai” is not the same as saying it because you want to. It’s like dancing to the tune of the bully who cracks the whip. No one except the bully enjoys the “Nach Basanti!” number.

Are we all Basanti today? Are we being forced to dance to the tune of the saffron brigade simply because they have bullying power? Perhaps you are right. Perhaps we should take a stand and all refuse to say “Bharat Mata ki Jai” because we must not be forced against our will to support something that is unnecessarily hurtful to millions of our citizens. Maybe we should not let the bullies establish India simply as “Hindustan” where non-Hindus must obey Hindus if they wished to stay. The “Hindustan mei rahna hai..” video ends with “Love my country, or leave!”

At the BJP’s two-day national executive meeting over the weekend, BJP president Amit Shah declared that they would not tolerate criticism of the country. Freedom of expression, he said, cannot be an excuse for shouting anti-national slogans. The BJP’s deliberations were focused largely on the developments at Jawaharlal Nehru University and its so-called anti-national slogan shouting. This unholy interest in one university’s student affairs fits in very well with BJP’s recharging their Hindu nationalism and the fact that even without any proof JNU student leaders are being charged with sedition and hounded by the government. It is the ease with which this government focuses on manufactured dissent, in order to ignore the real and present dissent, that makes your skin crawl.

So finance minister Arun Jaitley explains that not saying “Bharat Mata ki Jai” is disrespecting the Constitution. Because this slogan is “the reiteration of our constitutional obligations as citizens to uphold its primacy.” Wow! Sounds so grand, no? But what exactly does this mean? To uphold the primacy of the Constitution — which says very clearly that all religions will be considered equal in India — we need to look at the country as a Hindu goddess? Wow again!

And we thought killing Muslims, Christians and dalits at the slightest provocation was disrespecting the Constitution that guarantees equality irrespective of religion, caste or gender. We thought not being able to provide proper healthcare to people was disrespecting the Constitution. We thought our abysmal human development figures and our heartbreaking human rights record showed how we disrespect our Constitution. We thought looting the country and getting away with it showed how we disrespect our Constitution.

We were clearly wrong. So now we know how to be ideal citizens. Never mind the looting, killing, bullying, lying or cheating. Never mind the inefficiency and callousness. Just utter the magic mantra and you are safe. “Bharat Mata ki Jai!”

The writer is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at: [email protected]