April 04, 2016

India: The Nationalist as Tattooist - Gopalkrishna Gandhi

The Telegraph, 3 April 2016

Totem and taboo
- The nationalist as tattooist
Gopalkrishna Gandhi

In November 1948, a debate of some moment took place in our Constituent Assembly. It was on a name for the new India, the Republic of India, that was to come into being on January 26, 1950. The occasion for the debate was provided by the draft for the first article of our Constitution - Article 1(1), which defined India. B.R. Ambedkar, as chairman of the drafting committee had proposed, "India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States."

The erudite professor, Shibbanlal Saksena, suggested on November 15, 1948, that Part I should say, "The name of the Union shall be BHARAT." Meeting again almost a year later, on September 18, 1949, the Constituent Assembly took up H.V. Kamath's new amendment proposing that "Bharat or, in the English language, India, shall be a Union of States." "Is it necessary to have all this?" Ambedkar asked, "I do not understand the purpose of it..." Kamath's amendment putting 'Bharat' before 'India' was then put to vote. The assembly divided by a show of hands. Kamath's amendment was lost, 38 supporting Kamath, 51 supporting Ambedkar's formulation. A difference of 13 hands gave us "India, that is Bharat", rather than "Bharat, that is India".

The difference was vital. India was the reality that subsumed Bharat, its dream. We live in the real even as we conjure the ideal. lndia was about life where the common man and woman - Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian, agnostic - face inflation with poverty, extravagance with squalor, corruption with defeat and where he and she have to be hassled at each step, whether it is for an electric connection, a change of name in the electric metre, a birth certificate, a land-mutation, a driving licence by men with the authority to delay if not deny what is due and where men and women have to face cheats and con men posing as facilitators. That is where rage resides. Bharat is where the affluent and privileged - the two going together - open the doors of malls and multiplexes, where bullet trains link the rich with the richer, where spaceships are launched from, missiles tested, submarines built, and also where yogic asanas are taught, indigenous noodles made to substitute ones with 'foreign'-sounding names, where methods of attaining bliss and calm are prescribed.

Ambedkar's formulation adopted by the Constituent Assembly is being questioned today, nearly 70 years later, by those who want to rewire the reality of India and Hindustan using the leaden batteries of a spurious 'Bharat'. Saying or not saying " Vande Mataram" and "Bharat Mata Ki Jai" is being made a test of patriotism. Who is anyone to test anyone else's patriotism in a republic? " Agar Bharat mein rehna hoga to Vande Mataram kahna hoga" is a form of bullying alien to the spirit of our Constitution and wholly unworthy of the values of a republic.

"Bharat Mata Ki Jai!" intoned from the fullness of one's free heart is one thing, but when made to lobotomize Article 1 of the Constitution, drop 'India', banish 'Hind' it becomes menacing. No Indian can menace another Indian in India's name. No one can choreograph Bharat into a goddess figure with "fierce aspects" in order to turn the Republic of India into a theocratic nation-state.

Bharat resonates with every fibre of our being in Lata Mangeshkar's words: " Koyi Sikh koyi Jaat Maratha/ koyi Gurkha koyi Madaraasi/ Sarahad pe maranewala/ har veer thaa Bhaaratavaasi." Bharat Mata resonates no less in Atal Bihari Vajpayee's tribute to Nehru on the great leader's death: " Bharat Mata aaj shok magnaa hai - uskaa sabse laadlaa rajkumar so gayaa... surya ast ho gayaa, taaron kii chhayaa mein humen apna marg dhundhna hai".

But it does not, and should never, resonate with all Indians when some hate-filled goon demands that another Indian must say Bharat, not Hind or India and, foaming at his mouth, asks her or him to declaim "Bharat Mata Ki Jai" when she or he believes equally and interchangeably in " Jai Hind". It not only does not resonate with them, but it also positively raises the gall in them. They will not abandon Bharat, Bharat Mata or Vande Mataram to be abducted.

Nations, great and small, have anthems, emblems, mottos, flags. States that slip under a supremo's clawed clasp or the vice-like grip of a 'supremo ideology', a 'supremo-ism', a 'supremo cult' including a fake 'supremo goal' to be a superpower or a regional power or, if not even that, at the very least, an internal gas chamber, add to those symbols of State another - a national totem. We who have grown with Bharat and Bharat Mata alongside Hindustan Zindabad and Jai Hind cannot allow Bharat Mata to become a totem, cannot allow that golden heritage to be reduced to a blade of the cheapest tin. Our forebears could be slapped with sedition for saying " Bharat Mata Ki Jai". We cannot be slapped with sedition for not saying it.

Also, let us not forget that totems and taboos go together. When something prescribes, lays down at the cost of dire consequences, that 'something' also forbids. What do the Bol Bharat Mata Ki Jai prescribers taboo? They taboo sharing the spaces of democratic choice, republican optionality, national liberties. In the name of order, they prescribe conformism and taboo individuality. In the name of nationalism, they prescribe jingoism and taboo self-criticism. In the name of the nation, they prescribe allegiance and taboo thought. They are not nationalists, they are tattooists. They want to scald and brand humans into herds. In the name of statesmanship, they want helmsmanship. In the name of a leader, they want a herder.

If we look closely at the person wanting Bharat and Bharat Mata to become a pair of totems and tattoos, we will find, first of all, that the person is a he, a man singularly un-agonized about caste oppression, the grim future of India's politically organized but socially and economically discriminated Dalits, her politically orphaned and socially un-understood tribals, about human rights, civil liberties, the rule of law. The question does not even arise of the Bol Bharat Mata Ki Jai man worrying about global warming, about the fragility of our water aquifers and wetlands. But most important of all, the "Bol Bharat Mata Ki Jai Varnaa... Dekh..." man is not going to be concerned about the torments of "Bharat Mata Ki Beti". He would not want Manna Dey's " Ay merey pyare vatan" to be invoked because it sings not of 'his' kind of mata but the ma whose ocean heart clasps the nanhi si beti. He will not want Mehboob Khan's immortal film, Mother India, to be screened afresh because that is about a Mother India, played by someone named Nargis.

The game plan is simple: let the hired or wired hotheads put the fear of the bully into the dissenter, make her or him cower under the filth of abuse, the sludge of calumny, the scare of 'action'. And why? So that via the headiness of religious frenzy, a power cabal gets established in the nation state and a fanned-up fanaticism keeps age-old oppressions un-checked - caste oppression, religious oppression, class oppression and above all, male oppression of not just the female but of the dissenting Indian, female and male.

Making " Bharat Mata Ki Jai" a 'safety password' is about road-rolling diversity, opiating discontent, anaesthetizing misery. It is about robotizing a people that are, by instinct and temperament, open to charismatic leadership, so that they listen and obey, act and react to signals and slogans, signs and signage like so many digits. To make 'Bharat' an escutcheon and "Bharat Mata Ki Jai" a compulsory battle-cry is to make Bharat an eternal zone of combat where there is always 'the Other', that being of course the one who is discontented with the prevailing order, dissimilar and dissenting.

Bharat Mata is far too valuable a concept, too valuable, to be turned into something that excludes and threatens huge chunks, large glacial masses, massive tectons of her offspring, the Peoplehood of India. We cannot let a fatherland schemata of pernicious biases stage a coup in our motherland. We whose national motto has come from the Upanishads, whose emblem from Ashoka, whose anthem from Tagore and whose Constitution have risen, after careful labour, from the integrated will of a people, cannot be doped into becoming a totem raj.