Thank God for Justice DY Chandrachud! He’s raised a question millions have been asking for the last three years: “Why do people have to wear their patriotism on their sleeve?” These are words that deserve to be inscribed in letters of gold and prominently placed where everyone can see them – particularly ministers of the government and their RSS colleagues but also, sadly, a few of the justice’s fellow judges.
Speaking during the hearing of a petition asking the Supreme Court to revoke its November 30 order making the playing of the national anthem before the start of a film compulsory, Justice Chandrachud spelt out his personal position in unequivocal terms. “Why should we assume that if we don’t play the national anthem in movies halls we cease to be patriotic … you don’t have to sing the national anthem to prove your patriotism … patriotism cannot be inculcated among people by the Supreme Court”.
In sharp contrast, Attorney General KK Venugopal believes: “By reasons of vast diversity based on religion, caste and region, it becomes necessary to have a unifying force which can be brought about by playing the national anthem in theatres. So when people come out of the theatre they are all Indians.”
I’m afraid the A-G’s argument baffles me. What does he believe we are before we enter a cinema hall and the national anthem is played? And if that status is acceptable earlier why is it not afterwards? Doesn’t Venugopal realise playing the anthem doesn’t alter either our nationality or our love of and pride in our country?
However, both Justice Chandrachud and Venugopal accept the national anthem is a symbol. The Justice believes one mustn’t make too much of it. What matters is the sentiment in your heart. Venugopal, on the other hand, believes the symbol is everything. It’s needed to reveal what you feel inside.
The truth is that symbols like the anthem and the flag or slogans like Bharat Mata Ki Jai can either reveal an inner sentiment or artfully camouflage it. That’s why it’s both dangerous and silly to make too much of them.
Perhaps in the early years after independence these symbols were necessary because our nation was fragile and, therefore, insecure and unsure of itself. Seventy years later that’s no longer the case. Now, a confident people don’t need to prove their patriotism or question that of those who differ. The diversity Venugopal is so scared of is, in fact, our strength. The beauty and magic of being Indian is we can also revel in our multitude of religions, castes, regions, languages, complexions and cuisines.
Last November the Supreme Court made a terrible mistake reverting to a practice discarded decades ago. The bench that was responsible for this foolish decision was headed by the man who is Chief Justice today. I applaud Justice Chadrachud for speaking out against his own Chief Justice’s ruling.
He may not have gone so far – but I don’t think Justice Chandrachud would disagree – when I add that patriotism is a sentiment that’s necessary at times of national crisis or natural at moments of euphoria. But if on such occasions it doesn’t come spontaneously you can’t force it. At most other times it can devolve into an ugly manifestation of prejudice and division.
So, underneath Justice Chandrachud’s glorious question I suggest we also inscribe the immortal words of Samuel Johnson: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”