It would have been any other government function. The launch of the Vidya Veerta Abhiyan by Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar in the presence of Minister of State for Defence Subhas Bhamre would not have made news in the normal course of events.
Even the presence of Army Vice Chief Lt Gen Sarath Chand along with Rear Admiral Krishen K Pandey and Air marshal HN Bhagwat at a function to launch a programme to honour Indian soldiers would not have caused any flutter.
The presence of Bharatiya Janata Party politician and former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak Tarun Vijay at the function would also have been routine.
But there was a problem.
A different idea of India
The Bharat Mata to which charan vandana – salutations at the feet – was offered by the leaders of our armed forces at this function was no ordinary Bharat Mata. For this Bharat Mata, resting on a lion and holding a saffron flag against the backdrop of a map of India, is the RSS version of Bharat Mata. The map she spreads over is also not the usual, ordinary map of India. One can sense that this is the map of Vrihhtattar Bharat, greater India which extends far beyond the internationally recognised boundaries of what is known as India.
This Bharat Mata is not a Hindu deity. Nor a religious figure. She is a creation of the expansionist ideology of Hindutva which exhorts the Hindus to realise the dream of Vrihhttar Bharat Varsh. The idea is to keep the concept of Akhand Bharat, Undivided India, alive in the Hindu minds, filling them with an inferiority complex and a sense of injustice that they have to live with a truncated India. And, of course, Muslims are held responsible for taking away Pakistan (and Bangladesh) from Akhand Bharat. This image is also aimed to keep an anti-Pakistan rage alive in India. Hindus have to prove their worth before this mother figure by restoring her integrity. This remains an ever unfinished task.
This image of Bharat Mata been discussed a lot in the last two years after the call by the chief of the RSS, the parent body of the BJP, to teach every Indian child to chant Bharat Mata Ki jai. [History Lesson: How ‘Bharat Mata’ became the code word for a theocratic Hindu state]
As we know from the century long debate on this issue, this image of Bharat Mata is used to arouse hatred against Muslims and is closely associated with the narrative of Anand Math of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyaya. Muslims are shown as villains in this novel, and their ethnic cleansing is celebrated.
The Sanyasins in the novel seek strength from goddess Durga by singing Vande Mataram in her praise. And what do they seek strength for? To cleanse their mother land of the evil presence of the Mlecchas, who are none other than Muslims. They also welcome the British who would help them overpower Muslims.
From modesty to militarism
After the charan vandana, in the May 2 programme, Vande Mataram was sung in full, The Telegraph reports, including the references to the goddess Durga. Only the first two stanzas of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s poem have been adopted as the country’s national song – these contain no references to any Hindu god or goddess.
Questions definitely need to be raised about ministers and government servants participating in a ceremony that violates Constitutional propriety. There definitely is a reason why only the first two stanzas of the song were declared the national song. There was certainly no compulsion for the leaders of our armed forces to be part of this highly questionable act of ideological symbolism. They need to be reminded that in this highly divided country, it is still the army that is sought and trusted by hapless minorities in the worst times of violence against them. The partisan complicity of the police forces has often made them seek the protection of the army. But if the leaders and members of the armed forces start aligning with the ideology of the RSS, who would the people turn to?
Parents,teachers and teachers also need to think about the coupling of Vidya with Veerta – education with bravery. In the Indian ethos, knowledge is supposed to lead to modesty. Replacing Vinayam with Veerta is not an innocent act. It is part of the militarist nationalist discourse that the ruling party, with the support of its parent body, is busy promoting for the last three years, in which a benign Bharat Mata has been transformed into a militant goddess.
Last year, it was proposed by some retired militarymen that tanks should be installed at the centre of so-called anti-national campuses like the Jawaharlal Nehru University. Then came the infantile order of hoisting giant sized national flags – all 46 centrally-funded universities were asked to install flag masts 207 feet tall to hoist the tricolour at a time when it was struggling to contain the largest nationwide student protests in a quarter of a century. But clearly that was not enough. The campuses are still, apparently, suffering from nationalist-deficiency.
To cure them of this lack, Tarun Vijay, who has a special sense of entitlement over Bharat, where he also allows “black south Indians” to live, mooted an idea of having a “Wall of Heroes” on university and college campuses which would display the portraits of all the 21 Param Vir Chakra winners, recipients of India’s highest gallantry award.
We learn that the vice chancellor of the University of Delhi, the Director of the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, the rector of the JNU and the vice chancellor of the Central University of Kerala received portraits of these awardees from the minister. It is now incumbent on them to erect this wall of patriotism on their campuses. The minister has made it clear that the government would not be funding this patriotic drive – he wants teachers and students to contribute voluntarily towards this nationalist cause. Would our vice chancellors now issue circulars announcing deduction a day’s salary of their employees at the source itself – and levy patriotic surcharges on the students’ fees?
That our brave and decorated soldiers should be used to further and promote the narrow nationalist politics of the ruling party should be a matter of shame – and concern. More shameful and alarming is the consensual participation of the top leadership of the armed forces in these rituals. The abject surrender of the leaders of the institutions of higher education before this militarism is even more worrisome.
Apoorvanand is a professor of Hindi at the University of Delhi.