February 21, 2016

India: Down a slippery slope (Editorial, The Telegraph)

The Telegraph - February 21, 2016

Down a slippery slope

A spectre now haunts all Indians. It is the spectre of nationalism. All Indians have to be nationalists, and what constitutes nationalism will be defined by the present government and those organizations that determine the ideology of the present government. By a sleight of hand, the ideology of the present government has been made into the ideology of the Indian State. The political headquarters of the Indian State has moved from New Delhi to Nagpur. The prime minister and his cabinet may sit in New Delhi, but their ideology is dictated from Nagpur. Everyone, the diktat runs, must be a nationalist: if the government feels that an individual is not being a nationalist, the individual is liable to be arrested on trumped-up charges by the government. What is the simplest manner of displaying this government-promoted nationalism? By flying the Indian flag. This is the answer suggested by the minister of human resource development, the redoubtable Smriti Irani. It has now been decreed that the Indian flag will fly in every Central and Centrally-funded university, even at night, when the flag has to be brightly lit.

It would be quixotic to ask if flying the flag on some university campuses will make the students of those universities nationalists. Ms Irani seems to think it will. If one were to disagree with that, one would run the risk of being branded "anti-national". So the answer to the question is, as the words of the famous song go, "blowin' in the wind". It struck no one - the concerned minister and the wise men who gave their consent to the minister's suggestion - that this act will subject the Indian flag to the worst possible kind of tokenism. The flag will fly, according to some laid-down specifications and at considerable cost to the universities, without anyone paying to it the slightest attention. (Even this should be said sotto voce, lest the minister, in her nationalist fervour, decree that every day at these universities should begin with a salute to the national flag.) The Indian flag should be flown on special and ceremonial occasions to evoke pride and inspiration. By flying it every day, the flag is subjected to collective indifference.

There is something very serious embedded in the decision discussed above (and others of its ilk). How can the government impose such views on the citizens? Does it assume that it has the right to define and regulate what the beliefs of Indian citizens should be? Why is it necessary to articulate only those views that this government sanctions as, and decrees to be, acceptable? The assumptions that the government upholds indicate its inability to accept views that are different from its own. This is the first step towards authoritarianism and the suppression of dissent. That suppression is taking place through muscle power and government fiat. A spectre now haunts India, the spectre of authoritarianism.