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Am I free to choose any other flavour of nationalism other than “Bharat Mata ki jai”?

The controversy started way back in 2012, albeit in a smaller scale, when a not-so-hip-looking Imran Hashmi danced to the tune of a song that underlined both the good and bad aspects of “motherland” India.

The foot-tapping song from Dibakar Banerjee-directed film Shanghai got into trouble for equating dengue and malaria to “Bharat Mata”, and a PIL was filed by a nondescript group to ban the song:

“Sone ki chidiya Dengue, Malaria/Gud bhi hai Gobar bhi/Bharat Mata ki jai…”

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Actor Imran Hashmi (right) dancing to the controversial song “Bharat Mata ki jai” in the 2012 film Shanghai.

Cut back to 2016, and a similar issue has snowballed into a huge controversy on nationalism, aka ‘patriotism’. The slogan “Bharat Mata ki jai” has come to define whether Indians are patriotic or not… The phrase that defined the zest of India’s freedom fighters during the fight for Independence, is now acting as a litmus test for some (read minority) to prove their love for the country.

The issue itself is very simple at the surface. A Muslim MLA from the AIMIM recently refused to chant “Bharat Mata ki Jai”, and was promptly suspended from the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly for daring to show “disrespect” to India.

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The ongoing controversy on sloganeering over AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi (right) refuses to die down.

When I was young, several children from my colony would gather, and playact that we were all freedom fighters from the old era. We would raise long, shrill cries, proclaiming our great love for our “motherland”; which would range from, “Jai Aai Asom,” “Mera Bharat mahan”, “Hindustan zindabad”, “Jai hind”, “Bharat mata ki jai” and “Vande mataram”.

We would chant all of these in no particular order, raising a big cacophony in the evening. I would admit, the inspiration was drawn from poetry (of text books), historical TV serials and of course, live political rallies; but the sentiment was purely patriotic.

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When I was a child, the inspiration to shout nationalistic slogans was drawn from text books and TV serials, but the sentiment was purely patriotic.

The current scenario has befuddled me in big way. I mean, what is the issue, I dare say! Why does an MLA refuse to chant this slogan… I believe it can’t be due to his religious inclination; after all, we are just saying “Hail to mother India”. He is not jeopardising his religious belief by just mouthing the phrase. There is no mention of a goddess here, neither is he asked to revere India by prostration (an act prohibited in Islam, unless it is to Allah).

Islam doesn’t have strictures on considering women as mother; neither does it have strictures on anthropomorphizing a country. May be, it has to do something with the recent association of this slogan with pro-Hindu group RSS. Mohanrao Bhagwat, the RSS chief, had stated last month that “people in the country have to be told to chant Bharat Mata ki Jai” in the backdrop of the sedition controversy in JNU.

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It’s become a worrying trend that we need to wear the badge of patriotism on our chest. This is quite different from wearing it on our sleeves voluntarily.

But then again, why did the incident become such a big issue of “us versus them”? I am sure the MLA has other ways to prove his patriotism. We are a multi-lingual country, with thousand expressions. Why can’t we pick up any other way to profess our love?

It’s become a worrying trend that we need to wear the badge of patriotism on our chest. This is quite different from wearing it on our sleeves voluntarily. I wonder if my slogan “Jai Aai Asom” (Hail to mother Assam) would land me in a case of sedition, because I preferred to choose my state Assam instead of Bharat, India.

This forced nationalism is becoming too uneasy to handle. Certain leaders are ramming one specific flavour of nationalism down the throat of all Indians and insisting that they swallow it. This is so against the spirit of a democracy.

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We are a multi-lingual country, with thousand expressions. Why can’t we pick up any other way to profess our love?

Dissent means disagreeing on the fundamental issues, not the refusal to say a particular government-supported phrase, and the leaders have to recognise this. The government can intervene only if unrest and violence are unleashed as a result of the dissident acts.

People had voted BJP to power in 2014, on the issue of development, not on the Hindutva plank. A restraint on the hyper-ventilated sloganeering is required to dispel the paranoia that is beginning to emerge in the mind of all “Bharatiyas.”