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AKAM: National Flag vs Nehruvian Nationalism
|by Dr. Jaipal Singh|
Ever since the government launched the initiative of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav (AKAM) on March 12, 2021, it has organized numerous and variety events of national importance to celebrate and commemorate 75 glorious years of the Independence of India. In the prime minister’s own words, the Mahotsav (grand festival) is being celebrated as a Jan-Utsav (people’s festival) in the spirit of Jan-Bhagidari (people’s participation). While the lead initiative and role has been undertaken by the Government of India (GOI), Ministry of Culture, all other ministries and departments too have participated and promoted it by organizing various events by associating and ensuring maximum participation of masses for over a year now. Needless to mention, the focus of these activities is to remind and increase awareness among people about the nation’s glorious culture and history while simultaneously inculcating the spirit of nationalism and patriotism.
In the same sequel, the government recently launched another two-weeks drive of Har Ghar Tiranga (Tricolour at Every House) to coincide with the celebration of the 75th Independence Day on 15 August. To begin with, a Tiranga Rally of the law-makers with the proposed participation of all was organized in the national capital on 2nd August from the historic Red Fort to Vijay Chowk near Parliament. Similar rallies were also organized at other places and in many state capitals with the willing participants taking part into it. The opposition parties, chiefly the Indian National Congress, did not participate in the joint rally citing it as the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP)’s agenda. However, to an utter dismay of displaying their belligerent spirit and opposition, they came out with their own version of Tiranga (national flag) with the image of the former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru holding the flag on the occasion, a somewhat different version of national flag and nationalism.
Controversy on Har Ghar Tiranga Programme
The saga started with Mr Arjun Ram Meghwal, State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs and Culture writing a letter to all members of Parliament (MPs) on 29 July 2022 about the GOI initiative of “The Har Ghar Tiranga (HGT)” to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Independence aimed at inculcating the spirit of nationalism in connecting the citizens of India and the Indian National Flag . The programme aimed at approximately 200 million households hoisting/displaying Tiranga in their household premises during 13 - 15 August 2022. Therefore, in order to amplify the awareness about the programme, a Tiranga Motorbike Yatra was also proposed on 3 August, 2022 from the historic Red Fort to Vijay Chowk near the Parliament House. The minister invited all MPs to join this Yatra (rally) commencing at 8.30 AM on motorbikes from the Red Fort to the Vijay Chowk after being flagged off by the Vice President of India. All willing members were requested to give their confirmation by 31 July with the provision that those who did not use own motorbike shall be officially provided with alternative transport.
Needless to mention, the proposed rally was a grand success with enthusiastic participation of a large number of law makers, ministers and others on the scheduled date and time. Apart from the aforesaid MPs rally, many enthusiasts and even students driven by the national sentiments also organized similar rallies in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Kashmir and other parts. For instance, about 750 bikers led by the BJP leader MS Sirsa organized a similar rally under the Har Ghar Tiranga Abhiyan from Talkatora Indoor Stadium to India Gate in Delhi, all participants wearing saffron turbans. The prime minister personally paid tribute to Pingali Venkayya coterminous with his birth anniversary, the man who designed the national flag. To increase the national awareness and spirit of integration among people, a wide range of events are planned on completion of 75 years of independence. These include prabhat phries, recitation of Gandhi’s favourite devotional song ‘Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram’, national song ‘Vande Matram’ and national anthem from 11 to 13 August. An event is also proposed on 14 August to commemorate the Partition Horrors Remembrance Day.
Though the Tiranga Motorbike Yatra commenced and concluded with enough enthusiasm and participation on the scheduled date, albeit the opposition parties did not favourably respond to the government call by giving some or the other reasons for its boycott. For instance, the Congress leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said that his party chose to boycott the Tiranga rally due to suppressive actions taken by the government against their leaders. Taking a potshot on the ruling party, He said, “Who is the real patriot we all know. The newspaper that played a major role during the Independence War is being targeted. They are celebrating their events. Why should we accept the BJP’s political agenda?” Recently, the sleuths from the Enforcement Directorate had grilled key members of the Nehru-Gandhi Family that traditionally run the Congress party since independence, for the alleged corruption in the National Herald scam. The said family members are currently on bail in connection with the aforesaid scam involving the National Herald newspaper group. While law is taking its own course, the leaders and members of the party blame the BJP and Prime Minister Modi for the alleged coercive action against the elite family.
However, the Congress party was not an exception as the law makers from most other opposition parties too did not participate. While some of them chose to simply ignore and maintain stoic silence but others shared their barbs with media. The Samajwadi Party MP Shafiqur Rehman stirred a controversy by saying that wearing the tricolor should not be compulsory and that they use their party flag. He questioned whether the patriotism is defined and proved only by hoisting a flag, in response to the government asking citizens to use the national flag as profile photo in their social media accounts during the period between 2 and 15 August 2022. Reacting to Prime Minister’s call to put Tiranga as a display image on social media, the former chief minister and Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti put up the erstwhile state flag of Jammu and Kashmir as display image in an act of open defiance. It may be relevant to mention that the law that granted a separate flag for the aforesaid state under Article 370 was revoked by the Indian Parliament on 5 August 2019. It is a well known fact that some parties and leaders in this country have not been able rise above their religious or regional identity even after partition and 75 years of independence.
Many opposition parties have a grudge about BJP’s participation in the Tiranga Rally; hence while boycotting it, some of the law makers said that they will celebrate Tiranga in their own way instead of following the BJP agenda. Although the Congress MP Rahul Gandhi currently does not hold any significant party post, as a de facto leader and trend setter he tweeted with former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru holding Tiranga in his hand giving rise to different speculations and interpretations in the media. Needless to mention his tweet became the trend setter and sort of fashion statement of the party on the occasion. Another party spokesperson said that there was no difference in BJP and Central Government; For them (BJP), it is just an event but for us (Congress) this is passion and commitment. India being a multi-party country, various other major opposition parties such as Aam Admi Party, Nationalist Congress Party, Trinmool Congress too chose to boycott and/or criticize it as a BJP agenda and event. To learn the significance of the event and associated controversy, it may be relevant to briefly explain the event and its purpose.
Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav
An initiative was taken by the Government of India about a year back to celebrate and commemorate 75 years of independence as the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav (AKAM) by revisiting nation’s glorious history, culture and achievements. The Mahotsav is dedicated to the people of India who are not only credited with taking India on its revolutionary journey but also have a vast potential to carry on the Prime Minister’s vision and mission about India 2.0, with an underlying spirit of an Aatmanirbhar (self-dependent) Bharat. Officially, the AKAM was commenced on 12th March 2021 encompassing a span of 75 weeks action packed programme coterminous with the 75th anniversary year of independence, which will officially conclude on 15 August 2023. In the Indian Prime Minister’s own words, the AKAM implies elixir of energy of independence, inspirations of the warriors of freedom struggle, new ideas and pledges and Aatmanirbharta (self-dependence). The Ministry of Culture has had the lead role all along with the following five themes as the Freedom Struggle, Ideas@75, Resolve@75,Actions@75 and Achievements@75.
1. Commemorating Milestones in History, Unsung Heroes, etc.
This theme anchored the commemoration initiatives under AKAM by bringing out alive stories of numerous unsung heroes whose sacrifices have made freedom a reality for all Indians. Although post-independence, the successive governments mainly focused in acknowledging and glorifying the contributions of the great men of the ilk of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and some other Congress leaders, the fact is there were many leaders, freedom fighters and revolutionaries, whose contributions remained unacknowledged in the history or forgotten with time. The government made sustained and assiduous efforts to discover and recognize these unsung heroes besides revisiting the milestones, freedom movement in the historical journey to 15 August 1947. Some of the important programmes under this theme include Birsa Munda Jayanti (Janjatiya Gaurav Diwas), Declaration of Provisional Government of Free India by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Shaheed Diwas etc. The list of such organized national and regional events is rather long under all categories.
2. Celebrating Ideas and Ideals Shaping India
Among other things, the present nationalist government has envisaged the period of next twenty-five years from the AKAM year as the “Amrit Kaal” of the nation. Accordingly, the theme of the ideas and ideals are about the programmes and events that may inspire and shape the countrymen to navigate through the period of Amrit Kaal (i.e. between India@75 and India@100). We all know that the new world order is now unfolding and, undoubtedly, India would play a significant role in influencing and shaping the future of the world in the years to come. In such scenario, the strength of nation’s courage and convictions will determine the longevity and success of the ideas. Events and programmes as designed and planned under this theme include popular and participatory initiatives that help to bring alive India’s unique contributions to the world. A few important events and initiatives include the Kashi Utsav dedicated to Hindi literary luminaries from the land of Kashi (Varanasi), Post Cards to Prime Minister with nearly 75 lakh children writing their vision of India by 2047 as also their impressions of unsung heroes of India’s freedom struggle.
3. Reinforcing Commitments to specific Goals and Targets
The aforesaid theme has focused on the Indian citizens’ collective resolve and determination to shape the destiny of the motherland. The journey to 2047 (the year it completes 100 years of independence from the colonial powers) requires every Indian to rise to the occasion to act and contribute their part as individual, group, civil society, institutions of governance, and so on. Ideas and ideals can be translated to the result-oriented actions only through the collective wisdom, resolve, well laid out action plans and determined efforts. Some of the events and programmes under this category include initiatives such as the Constitution Day, Good Governance Week, Yoga and Play etc., which may help to bring alive citizens’ commitment towards the ‘Planet and People’, while being driven by the deep sense of purpose.
4. Steps Taken to Actualize Policies and Commitments
Under this , the endeavour of the government is to focus and highlight all the efforts that have been taken in the last few years and are now being undertaken to help and strengthen India to take its rightful place in the new world order commensurate with its past glory and present might and right. It has become more so important and relevant to recover from the Covid-19 shock and vigorously pursue programmes and policies commensurate with the long term vision and mission to actualize commitments. The most remarkable factor in this regard is the Indian Prime Minister’s clarion call of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas, Sabka Prayas; this encompasses Government policies, schemes/programmes, action plans, targets along with commitments to meet it, including those from the business houses, NGOs, civil society. The idea is to collectively actualize inclusive progress and development to create a better tomorrow for the people and nation. For instance, the programmes under this theme include initiatives such as Gati Shakti - National Master Plan for Multi-modal Connectivity.
5. Showcasing Evolution and Progress in Different Sectors
This theme showcases and represents the outcome of all cumulative ideas and ideals, programmes and policies, actions and implementation during the passage of time and milestones along the way. It is intended to grow into a public account of India’s collective achievements as a 75-year-old independent nation with a legacy of over 5000 years of a credible ancient history. Some of the events and programmes under this theme encompass initiatives like Swarnim Vijay Varsh dedicated to the victory of 1971, launch of Shreshtha Yojana during Mahaparinirvan Diwas, and so on.
The Nehruvian Legacy and Its Relevance Today
This is relevant to discuss here in view of the religious adherence of leaders of the grand old party with the Nehruvian ideology even after seven decades of independence. The author has gone through several biographies, essays and illustrated works of past and present authors, historians and political leaders, including those of Maulana* Abul Kalam Azad’s “India Wins Freedom”, KM Munshi’s “Pilgtrimage to Freedom”, NV Gadgil’s “Government From Inside” and some of Sardar Patel’s Correspondence edited by Durga Das in volumes. Some of these writings present an illustrated and vivid account of the status of High Command culture and internal party democracy in the Congress, including selfish and eccentric behaviour of certain key Congress leaders, during the freedom struggle and post-independence. There is no doubt that the leaders like MK Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were iconic leaders with great contribution to the cause of India’s independence. Gandhi is often cited as an anchor and architect of the modern India and the grateful nation always remembers him with great reverence. Yet like many great people, he too had his personal and professional weaknesses and short-sightedness, including his choice to lead the country after independence. Similarly, Jawaharlal Nehru too was an iconic leader but the subject here is not to mrely glorify him for his qualities.
Towards the end of the World War-II, it had become pretty certain that the colonial powers (British) would soon leave India, and the Congress President shall be invited to form the Interim Government in such case. In this background, the position of the Party President suddenly became very crucial for the aspirants and power brokers in the Congress party. Despite Gandhiji’s known preference for Jawaharlal Nehru, the majority members of the Congress wanted to see Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel as the Congress President (and an obvious choice for the Prime Minister’s post) owing to his seniority, executive skills, organizing ability and effective leadership. When the election process started in April 1946, twelve (12) Provincial Congress Committees out of total 15, the only legitimate bodies to nominate and elect the Party President, had nominated Sardar Patel and none of them supported Pandit Nehru. It appears that Gandhiji gave a hint to Jawaharlal that he did not enjoy support for his candidature except from a few CWC members, to which he (Nehru) maintained a stoic and embarrassing silence. This was interpreted as Nehru being unwilling to accept second place to any other Congress leader, and, therefore, Gandhi, having the final say, sacrificed his most trusted and faithful colleague (Patel) in favour of the glamorous and westernised Nehru.
Sardar Patel was not only senior to Nehru in age and experience, he clearly had administrative skills and organising ability too. The aforesaid averment was proved only during the next few weeks when Sardar Patel assiduously and skilfully succeeded in the merger of over 560 big and small princely states with the Indian Union. On the other hand, Nehru decided to handle the state of Jammu and Kashmir himself and we all know the result with the nation still bleeding and suffering for the fiasco. Pandit Nehru is often credited with the laying down of the foundation of the secular and liberal thought in the modern India; however, many rational and logical thinkers find it difficult to accept or justify his brand of secularism and liberalism, and commensurate ideas and actions. He liberally introduced facilities for the Haj pilgrimage and religious education for Muslims through Madrasas with the government funding and subsidy but he was against similar considerations for the majority Hindu community. He even opposed Sardar Patel and Babu Rajendra Prasad for the renovation of the legendary Somnath Temple in Gujarat and the latter’s visit to Gujarat for the inauguration of the said temple as President of India in the name of guarding secularism. Further, it was under Nehru regime that the legislation was passed for the administration and acquiring the immovable properties of the Hindu temples and Mutts but similar action was not taken for the Muslims and other minorities.
As a reformist leader with modern outlook, Nehru was a severe critic of many Hindu practices and rituals citing it as superstition of a backward community but he never dared or deemed it necessary to similarly raise his voice against several socio-religious evil practices of the minority communities, mainly Islam. The Constitution provided for the uniform civil code, but under his regime the Hindu Code Bill and Special Hindu Marriage Laws were enacted but he consciously avoided taking similar initiative and action for the Muslim community as if only Hindus needed such reforms. Secularism, in his purported view, conveyed the idea of social and political equality but ironically double standards were followed all along while dealing with two prominent communities. This dichotomy does not exist or fit in any other model of secularism - Western or Indian. A national leader or party should either maintain equidistance in socio-religious issues of all communities or give equal treatment to all communities. Thus the Nehru brand of secularism and liberalism allow and justify a political party’s reluctance to appreciate social and religious sensitivities of one community while going out of way to facilitate the other community in all such matters - beating all logic and rationale.
Notwithstanding many shortcomings and flaws, the Party which was once associated with the freedom struggle has religiously followed Nehruvian legacy without much needed review in nearly all social, political and economic matters dominated by one family i.e. Nehru-Gandhi clan. In fact, ex-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of the Congress party is on record to have said addressing the 52nd meeting of the National Developmental Council (NDC) in December 2006 that the Muslims minority have the first and foremost right on the national resources of India; he, however, did not elaborate it, why? To put it bluntly, it is like putting the Hindu majority population of India on a constant trial, and predicating Indian secularism on certification by the minorities. In the past, a few forward looking Congress leaders such as the former Prime Minister PV Narsimha Rao chose to inroduce the economic reforms in 1991, deviating from the path of the Nehruvian economics, in the interest of the development and progress of the country. Consequently, the party discredited and abandoned him so much so that even a piece of land was not spared for his cremation in the national capital after his death.
Coming to the nationalism, it is widely known that Pandit Nehru was a staunch vocalist of internationalism with his own philosophy and vision on nationalism. His admirers believe that he stood for the global cooperation among the nations in the interest of the world and was in favour of striking a balance between the nationalism and internationalism. According to him, a narrow approach towards the nationalism encourages and leads to imperialism - a concept outrightly disliked and discarded by him. Reportedly, he opened his mind on this after independence in 1947 in advocating that the nationalism is relevant is a country’s history as it fosters one life, growth, strength and unity but it also tends to limit thoughts about one country vis-à-vis rest of the world. Thus the same nationalism which is an engine of growth for the people of one country becomes a symbol of the cessation of the same growth in the mind. Consequently, the successful nationalism in one country spreads in an aggressive way and becomes a danger internationally. His many subsequent actions and decisions appear to conform to this philosophy.
While the author has no quells about the marvels of his philosophy but one thing is pretty clear that unless the concept is appreciated and endorsed by all other nationalities or at least of those who really matter in the world geopolitics and economy, pursuing this in standalone mode may have dangerous implications for the very nation. Besides, route and foundation to the internationalism is also through the nationalism only; in other words, one cannot pursue the goal of internationalism unless he (or she) himself is a true nationalist and patriot. To what extent the countries of the world appreciated or act on his spirit and ideology is not well known but some examples of his unilateral approach on nationalism are well known. For instance, a large number of people of a particular significant minority in India still disregard the national symbols like the National Flag, National Anthem, Bharat Mata, National Song, and so on, citing conflict with their religion. As a result, the oldest national party and many leaders publicly avoid endorsing these symbols of national pride and integration lest they might lose a large vote bank. It is not surprising that the party chose the symbol of Nehru carrying the national flag, an endorsement of the Nehruvian nationalism.
Owing to his conviction about the particular brand of nationalism, several actions and decisions of Jawaharlal Nehru caused adverse and far-reaching implications over the national interests of Indian people. There are conflicting versions about the ownership and transfer of Coco Island, a strategic territory in the Indian ocean, in the vicinity of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands but this is beyond doubt that India exercised some control and rights over this territory which was ceded to Burma (Myanmar) during the Nehru regime. Burma, in turn, leased these Islands to China in 1990s which is now using it as a strategic base to keep a watch over the Indian interests in the region. Somewhat similar controversy exists about Kabaw Valley in Manipur too. Yet another controversy exists about the offer, or at least significant feelers, from then US and USSR leadership to India of a permanent seat in the UN Security Council in lieu of Taiwan, which Nehru is believed to have declined or missed the opportunity in favour of the PRC as he felt it rightfully belonged to China. It is well known that India is now facing stiff opposition and veto from the same Communist China globally as also almost every United Nations forum.
Even before the Sino-Indian war of 1962, in a parliamentary debate on 5 December 1961 on Aksai Chin in the Rajya Sabha, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had made his famous statement “It is a territory where not even a blade of grass grows, about 17,000 feet high. Ladakh is a useless uninhabitable land. Not a blade of grass grows there. We did not even know where it was”. This invoked an immediate sharp rejoinder from the veteran member Mahavir Tyagi, who angrily pointed out towards his bald head and bantered, “I am bald, does that mean I will abandon my head?” Such instances and illustrations only suggest that Pandit Nehru’s philosophy was often short-sighted and intellectual skills overstated in many cases. As the opposition party has resorted to their own version of the Tiranga Rally with Nehru carrying the national flag, this is also a clear indication and endorsement of the Nehru brand of nationalism.
There may be different perceptions and opinions but in essence, the internationalism is a real appreciation of the diverse culture of people with a desire for the world peace having greater socio-economic and political cooperation among nations. Same way, the essence of the ancient Indian philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam was to unite people regardless of nationality, belief, socio-economic status and religion for the common welfare cause but was more oriented towards ground realities. Internationalism may be the right universal ideal and dream vision but this cannot be achieved with some developed countries following restrictive and self-centric policies with monopolistic trends to control global wealth and resources for own use, while the majority countries remaining unable to meet even basic needs and opportunities for a satisfactory living. In fact, India had to suffer with humiliation and heavy cost for many years geo-politically and economically owing to flawed nationalism and pursuance of internationalism with the aforesaid inherent flaws.
Organizing such national events at a mass scale for promoting national awareness and integration of people is very significant in a country like India, which is already heavily divided on religion, caste, creed, region, language, and so on. There is a large section that not only gives overriding priority to own religion but also oppose, or some of them even despise, the national symbols like National Anthem, National Song, National Flag, Bharat Mata, and so on. Then there are political parties and leaders which consider Indian nationalism as a harmful concept or have their own version of nationalism. Already the country is facing grave threat of insurgency and terrorism as also separatist movements in various parts. Many forces of diabolic nature are already operative with their overt and covert participation and funding domestically and international sources to destabilize and divide the communities and nation. The opposition parties also need to learn the fine distinction between opposing a party or leader and the nation.
In such a scenario, the significance and need for the participation of people in the national events like the Independence Day or Republic Day becomes important for an inclusive growth, progress and development of the country along with all communities and groups. The spirit of nationalism and patriotism inspires people to keep the interest of nation supreme while operating or working in whatever field. Probably the delicate difference between the two is that the nationalist feels allegiance and pride for his country in a sort of blind patronage, while the patriot is proud of his country for what he chooses to do for it i.e. an inclination with a sense of responsibility. Thus despite the aforesaid technical difference, the two appear nearly same in essence as both add to the ultimate cause of the nation. In such case, the true nationalism and patriotism stand together as a ground reality and far more down to earth option of the integral progress and prosperity of the nation. Besides, the National Flag alone stands validated to define true nationalism and there seems to be no express need for any further adulteration or qualification like Nehru’s or BJP’s nationalism.
Mahotsav logo images from GOI site
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