Monday, October 3, 2022

Discordant nationalism


Allegations made by the opposition, that the Modi government is rewriting, re-interpreting or erasing India’s history for political benefit cannot be dismissed outright if recent decisions serve as proof. Besides throwing up controversial claims on ancient history , the leaders of the ruling party at the Centre have also made no bones about bringing a series of amendments to change the basic character of Indian democracy for a one nation, one people and one constitution. The most recent ones involve the dropping of the hymn “Abide With Me” from this year’s Beating The Retreat ceremony of India’s Republic Day celebrations. The move to drop the hymn from this year’s ceremony came days after the Centre’s decision to merge the Amar Jawan Jyoti flame at the India Gate with the eternal flame of the National War Memorial (NWM). The Beating Retreat ceremony is held on January 29 every year as part of the culmination of the celebrations of Republic Day. Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite hymn “Abide With Me” will cease to be played and replaced by the popular rendition of the patriotic song “Ae Mere Watan Ke Logon”, sung by Lata Mangeshkar and written by Kavi Pradeep to commemorate the supreme sacrifice made by Indian soldiers during the 1962 Indo-China war. The other decision of the government was to merge the Amar Jawan Jyoti flame at the India Gate with the eternal flame of the National War Memorial (NWM). The Modi government deployed several military officers to defend the move on the ground that merging of the flame was logistical. The other was the unveiling of a hologram statue of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose installed at India Gate on the occasion of Bose’s 125th birth anniversary on January 23. The BJP move to honour Netaji is appreciated at face value but there is more than meets the eye. In all these moves- dropping the hymn “Abide With Me”; merging the flames of Amar Jawan Jyoti with the National War Memorial and installing a statue of Netaji at India Gate- are the BJP’s determination to change historical events. The dropping of the hymn “Abide With Me” was said to be on the ground of accommodating other popular Indian songs. In 2020, reports had emerged about the hymn being dropped from the Beating Retreat Ceremony and being replaced by poet Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s Vande Mataram. The hymn is always the last piece to be played by the brass bands before the troops recede up Raisina Hill to the tune of poet Allama Iqbal’s Saare jahan se achha. The other decision to merge the flame at Amar Jawan Jyoti was nothing but trying to milk patriotism. Amar Jawan Jyoti was conceptualised and constructed after the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 and inaugurated on 26 January 1972. The flame was to commemorate the sacrifices of Indian soldiers in the First and Second World Wars. It was known as the National War Memorial till the Modi government constructed a new memorial with the same name in 2019. There is no debate that Netaji is a giant among freedom fighters who believed in use of force. Trying to appropriate history is an illogical move since it (history) belongs to the people of India and not any party of leader(s). Also there are many issues that are needlessly raised due to the vested interest behind such decisions that only serve to divide the country.