My words are drawn from Justice (now Chief Justice of India) Dipak Mis ra’s order on November 30, 2016. The operative part reads: “… for love and respect for the motherland is reflected when one shows respect to the National Anthem as well as to the National Flag… it would instil the feeling within one, a sense of committed patriotism and na tionalism.“
On December 9, 2016, and April 18, 2017, the court gave directions on clos ing (not bolting) the doors of the cinema halls, the audience standing up for the anthem and making allowances for the infirm. I sought intervention in this mat ter, telling the court that this was pop corn nationalism -a phrase also used independently by my good friend Bhairav Acharya.
The court was actually in a dilemma. In 1986, the Supreme Court in the Jehovah’s Witnesses case had adjudicated the issue when members of the sect said their children would respectfully stand but not sing because they accept only one God. The court’s answer was three fold. First, religious rights, belief and practices have to be protected. Second, this sort of compulsion is simply unfair by any account, echoing the American Supreme Court‘s decision in Barnette (1943) which did not make singing the national anthem compulsory even during World War II (reversing its earlier view). India’s Supreme Court has followed this decision with approval.Third, these things cannot be done by executive order. This confronts Justice Misra in 2016 but he evades it by making the National Anthem compulsory before the screening of feature films in cin ema halls. So, this was a judicial order, not an executive order. This was the court’s way to get around its own decision of 1986. Standing up for the National Anthem being a judicial order, the punishment is contempt. Unfortunately in the must carry case (1998) our Supreme Court ap proved “must carry“ provisions by law, not by executive fiat. But now executive fiat is replaced by judicial fiat. Surely, this should have gone to a Constitution bench.
Then, on October 23, 2017, Justice Misra (now chief justice) beat a hasty retreat.He probably realised that this kind of judicial fiat was not the way to go. Now the court cleverly said that this was a matter for the Central government “to take a call… because discretion rests with the Central government (to act) without being influenced by our interim order“.This is problematic for three reasons.First, the Central government cannot do it by executive fiat. It would be strange if the Central government says that it is au thorised by the Supreme Court so it can ignore the Supreme Court’s decision in the Jehovah’s Witness case (1986). Sec ond, the Central government may find such a provision in some statute. When that is attacked, the government will say that we only did what the Supreme Court said to “regulate in an inclusive manner or as the Central government thinks fit“ (same order). Third, does the Court’s in terim order continue in the meantime?
This takes me to Justice Chandra chud’s appropriate comment that we do not need to wear our nationalism on our sleeve. By the way in Britain, the Union Jack is printed even as underwear and the US’s Stars and Stripes is allowed similar publicity. America goes further and says “must carry“ provisions are themselves bad. Our 1998 decision needs a review.
But when do you celebrate the Na tional Anthem and the National Flag?
On ceremonial occasions, for sure. Na tionalism in the cinemas was a wartime measure to bring people together at a time of crisis. India used it at the time of three wars (with China and Pakistan).
But to say that it must be flaunted at all times -at 12 p.m., 3 p.m., 67 p.m., 9 p.m., etc -is enforced nationalism. Let those who want to murmur the National Anthem do so as if it is a religious man tra. Let others hum eena-meena-deeka or other film songs. India’s music and songs (not just the anthem) are part of its heritage which is celebrated in many unenforced ways. Let India breathe. Let citizens find their own interpretations of nationalism. Some will be uncompro misingly national, some will be scepti cal of what the Indian government and the Indian St ate does.There is no greater tribute to nationalist democracy than a fine and balanced scepticism. If people have doubts, win them over.Don’t force their will.
This kind of practice is one of the principles of fascism. Adolf Hitler required the salute (copied by our RSS) and the anthem, Deutschland uber alles (Germany above all), to be sung, for the fatherland. And they sang a nation into war, destroying culture and sending groups as anti-national to the gas chamber. This kind of nationalism reinforces Narendra Modi‘s attempt to focus on a false nationalism. Hence, an overt emphasis on the National Song and the National Anthem. These are 19th century ideas of imperialists. Modi’s India is taking fascism in its stride: both politically and socially. Where the government steps back, its social cohorts move in.
Let me find my nationalism if I want to in my own way.