Citizens into subjects

SC’s mandating of nationalism and patriotism threatens to turn the wheel of constitutional history backwards.

Written by Suhas Palshikar | Published:December 2, 2016 2:12 am
national anthem, supreme court, national anthem in movies, national anthem before movies, movies national anthem supreme court national anthem, india news So far, rights constituted the core of the Constitution.

The enterprise of teaching and instilling patriotism is fast picking up. India has fought wars before and both during those wars and in peace time, the citizens of this country have never shown any trace of disloyalty or disaffection toward this country. But suddenly, we seem to be collectively succumbing to this phobia about a shortage of nationalism and patriotism among the public. And so, pills and injections containing vitamins N and P are being forced on to the unsuspecting citizenry.

Every day, there is a new demand on our patriotism. If you complain of the queues at ATMs, you are reminded of the soldier and told that standing in a queue is the measure of your loyalty to the nation. Recently, the UGC issued a fatwa that on November 26, Constitution Day, all educational institutions must instill knowledge of not the Constitution generally, but of Fundamental Duties specifically. Now, the Supreme Court has chosen to instruct the government on how to ensure that nationalism and patriotism are instilled in the citizenry — playing the national anthem at the beginning of movie screenings in cinema halls with the national flag displayed on the screen.

The politics of patriotism and nationalism is not new and in many countries across the world, it has unfolded at different points in time, but often with very similar effects — harassment of minorities, blackmailing of dissenters and closure of intellectual freedoms. But what happens when the highest judiciary also begins to believe that the vital vitamins are in short supply and need to be injected forcibly?

Playing the national anthem in cinema halls is not a new move. Judicial overreach, too, is not a new phenomenon. In this case, for instance, the court could have chosen to wait till the government responded (the next hearing on this petition is scheduled for February 2017). Instead, it chose to hurriedly pass this order. In giving an interim order, the SC bench has sought recourse to three interconnected arguments and it is the logic employed by the court that merits critical discussion.

First, the court has transformed the national flag and national anthem into fossilised and statist signatures of power and authority instead of allowing these to be imbricated in popular affection and creative imagination. Because the court says that dramatisation of the national anthem is “inconceivable”. Also, it says that those using the national anthem should not derive any benefit from it. While this would only give rise to controversies over the use of the flag or anthem in creative performances, including their depictions in “commercial” cinema, the idea of transforming symbols of affection and pride into the legal-bureaucratic fangs of the state is equivalent to turning love into fear. Nationalism grounded in a punitive bureaucratic mindset often tends to give way to unruly vigilantism or authoritarian state machinery or both. The court arrives at this statist interpretation because it concludes that the notion of “protocol” is associated with the anthem and flag. It is a pity that popular symbols are thus turned into instruments to frighten and discipline the citizen.

Two, the bench chose to rely on Part IV A of the Constitution, the Fundamental Duties, in order to justify a forced show of respect. This is an explosive arena as far as interpretation of the Constitution is concerned. So far, rights constituted the core of the Constitution. Now, both inside the courtrooms and outside them, a shift in the discourse seems to have begun by invoking “duties”. In this order too, the court chooses to counterbalance rights with duties. This is unfortunate and problematic. Does the order imply that duties are more sacrosanct than rights? Does it imply that rights are conditional on fulfilling certain moral obligations? In fact, the court order has literally thrown open the doors for a new phase in interpreting the Constitution. While the order makes a reference to the “ideals engrafted in the Constitution”, it turns to the Fundamental Duties as instances of those ideals. Showing respect to the national anthem is one such ideal. While there cannot be two opinions on the importance of the anthem or the flag, to state that showing respect to them constitutes “ideals” enshrined in the Constitution is almost rewriting the document; changing it from a document based on welfare and liberalism to one based on authority, patriotism.

Three, the order mentions in passing the idea of constitutional patriotism. It is not clear from the short order of the bench what exactly the honourable judges mean by it. Constitutional patriotism could be seen as a great idea, exhorting citizens to commit to a liberal democratic ethic. It could, alternatively, be seen as an ideological tool for reordering the cognitive universe of citizens and thereby leave behind other loyalties — linguistic, ethnic, regional, etc and place national loyalty above everything. In the former sense, it would operate in the realm of values and moral principles — that citizens must abide by the fundamental values of the Constitution above all. It is doubtful if contemporary proponents of majoritarian nationalism would endorse this idea of constitutional patriotism.

In its latter sense, the idea of constitutional patriotism could privilege uniformity of ideas and ways of life — something Indian nationalism and constitutionalism sought to avoid. From the wording of the SC order, it can be deduced that the honourable judges have probably leaned on the latter meaning of constitutional patriotism. Why else would they say that, “It (constitutional patriotism) does not allow any different notion or the perception of individual rights, that have individually thought of have no space. The idea is constitutionally impermissible.”

This approach of the court might not be very surprising. The courts have normally given rulings and interpreted the Constitution in tune with the overall political-moral ethos of the time. So, the thinking behind the order is consistent with the current ethos.

These three arguments of the bench make for disturbing reading. The order engages in a redefinition of citizenship, wherein the holding of rights is not the hallmark of citizenship; the discharge of certain obligations is the new sine qua non of being a patriot-citizen. Their lordships have taken away from us our cherished right to love our country, our society, our right to be nationalistic and patriotic; in one stroke, our rights are converted into legally enforceable duties — nationalism as compulsion is indeed a pitiful condition. The order of the court has pushed us into that pitiful condition. This is not exactly in tune with the specific history of India’s constitutionalism nor with the more general history of constitutionalism.

Constitutionalism evolved through struggles for rights of ordinary men and women. But when state appropriates the language of nationalism and blatantly sets aside citizenship rights in favour of duties, the wheels of history turn backward. India’s nationalism gave us democracy and converted subjects into citizens. Are we now contemplating to turn citizens into subjects?

The writer taught political science at Savitribai Phule Pune University, Pune and is chief editor of, ‘Studies in Indian Politics’.

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  1. P
    Prashant
    Dec 2, 2016 at 8:18 am
    Modi is trying to break the caste jinx with the help.of Nationalism nd patriotism,,,,,so those people are feeling the maxm heat who are alive in politics due to Castism,,,,Modi is himself from Teli community,,,OBC,,,as per historical social strata,,Teli community were just on border line between OBC nd SC,,,,,,,,,,,,,,It's is necessary to break this caste politics,,,,,otherwise dreams of stani to establish Mughal kingdom again will bcm a reality
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    1. R
      Rosh Dillon
      Dec 2, 2016 at 9:27 am
      "Leftish definitely need to certify themselves...!" - From luminaries such as yourself, I presume. Luminaries who side with the RSS who sided with the British against the freedom movement.
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      1. R
        Rosh Dillon
        Dec 2, 2016 at 9:29 am
        Was this the same guy who was raping his 9 year old wife?
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        1. K
          K SHESHU
          Dec 2, 2016 at 2:19 pm
          Not surprising .. graver things have happened due to intolerance of the ruling party and its organisations ..
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          1. A
            ak dev
            Dec 2, 2016 at 2:13 pm
            If Muslims have problem with standing for national anthem, let them go to stan that had been created for them but some of them didn't go there. Pseudo siculars who are a tiny percentage can't be allowed to always meddle with nation building work.
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            1. A
              Amit Sinha
              Dec 2, 2016 at 2:40 am
              What a moronic argument to justify that SC is wrong. If people stand few seconds to remember their nation first before their entertainment package then how does it make it so offensive.If Army can stand all day to defend our borders at least nation should show a bit of courtesy to stand for the national anthem for few seconds and remember that there are people who are sacrificing their lives so that they enjoy their lives in cosy theaters.
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              1. D
                Diplomat
                Dec 2, 2016 at 8:01 am
                People who go to movie will be certified nationalist. What about people who do not go to theater to see movie? Will they face penalty? You never know.
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                1. A
                  Anuj Kapoor
                  Dec 2, 2016 at 3:38 am
                  Functionally Illiterate - ha a new phrase -- but how about intellectually fascist - defined as one who cannot hear the other point of view apart from his own self righteous opinion.
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                  1. N
                    NAVIN ASTI
                    Dec 2, 2016 at 2:21 pm
                    It should be a must that Govt upholds 'Fundamental rights' of the citizens.But it must be obligatory for citizens to abide by 'fundamental duties'.Mere enjoying rights cannot be allowed fact,in India,some rights have been misused,thanks to so-called rationalists,Pseudo-secularists and rotten politicians.Under the shelter of 'Freedom of expression',it has become a fashion to call for 'breaking India',Hailing stan','hailing terrorists'.And these nefarious activities are supported by today's SHAMELESS POLITICIANS(IN FACT GOONDAS).Does the blogger want this to be allowed and National Anthem verdict not?These are the trends which are dangerous to the democracy.Why even such articles are getting published?
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                    1. B
                      bala Raja
                      Dec 2, 2016 at 3:08 am
                      The author precisely highlights the problems with the SC ruling. Rather than letting people be inspired to use the national symbols as an expression of their affection (like hats, dress, even bikinis in more advanced democracies), the SC ruling treats India like a despotic society like North Korea or takes us to colonial days where everyone must stand up and sing the praise of the dictator or the king. With this ruling, A.R. Rahman's rendition of Vandhe Mataram or a pop version of the National Anthem are not "legal". Leave aside the overreach of the SC in literally ping a law. It's whimsical view of dictating what we must do in a cinema hall is plain ridiculous. The SC has become the unelected dictatorship of India. While it indulges in cinema hall etiquette and BCCI, the larger issues in front of it languish. The collegium system is an obvious failure.
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                        bala Raja
                        Dec 2, 2016 at 3:02 am
                        This is the problem when the functionally illiterate are presented with a deep study of the consution. You neither understand what the author is saying nor have any idea of the consutional principles. Best you keep quiet.
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                        1. C
                          Col S
                          Dec 2, 2016 at 1:55 am
                          This order MUST be CONFIRMED as ELITE and BRAINS like him FAILED to INSTILL NATIONALISM in 70 years.Nationalism is made SECONDARY to caste, colour, religion and region, which is not a good OMEN.Public is SICK of SUCH expert OPINION who are SELF CENTRED and talk for PRIVILEGED only.Country heading towards FEUDALISM as it becomes VICTIM of Conspiracy of Silence on KEY ISSUES-- Loot of Country's wealth, by COLLUDED politicians,legalised per and Country's SOVreignty. .lt;br/gt;Democracy reduced toGOVERNMENT for the rich, privileged and thieves.NO TIME to think and SPEAK.
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                          1. C
                            Common
                            Dec 2, 2016 at 4:11 am
                            From what I understand, the national anthem is part Bengali and part Sanskrit. Pray, may I ask, how many folks in this country understand the anthem in it's entirety. What's the point in muttering the words if one cannot understand what they are saying. How do you expect it to invoke a sense of patriotism when one has no idea what it means. This is one of those many things that we Indians mindlessly do just because it needs to be done. When will this mindlessness end.
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                              deshmukh shekhar
                              Dec 2, 2016 at 6:54 am
                              Mr. Palshikar is right in saying by ping an order SC turning wheels of history backward. This is absolutely ridiculous forcing people to prove their patriotism, that too in a movie theater. This is typical of any authoritarian rule which tend to grab captive audience to enforce their nationalistic agenda. Let's accept the fact, We as nation, going into the hyper nationalistic mode. Every turn is marked by DANGER sign...Those who are hyper nationalist following words from American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetty might prove an eye opener... lt;br/gt; lt;br/gt;Pity the Nationlt;br/gt;Whose people are Sheeplt;br/gt;and whose Shephards mislead themlt;br/gt;Pity the Nationlt;br/gt;whose sages are Silencedlt;br/gt;Pity the Nationlt;br/gt;who raises no Voicelt;br/gt;except to praise Conquerorslt;br/gt;Pity the Nationlt;br/gt;- Oh, Pity the Peoplelt;br/gt;who allow their rights to erode and their freedomlt;br/gt;to washed away my country, tears oh thee,lt;br/gt;Sweet land of liberty.
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                              1. P
                                Pankaj
                                Dec 2, 2016 at 3:10 am
                                This is the same lot who was in the name of defending consutional rights of innocent *Yakub Menon*, knocked the doors of supreme court after midnight. They saw intolerance in society after formation of this government. Now, in this case, according to the writer, judgement of Supreme Court is in tuned with the overall political-moral ethos of the times. It means, this decision comes because of the current ethos (please read as current government).
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                                  D.K. Bhatt
                                  Dec 2, 2016 at 2:35 am
                                  Chapter IV-A Fundamental Duties were inserted into the Consution during the National Emergency when Indira hi government ruled the center with absolute majority in Parliament. Indian mes have always been patriotic and need not go into cinema halls to learn or show their sense of patriotism. The Supreme Court order is clear violation of Fundamental Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression of every Indian citizen and must be recalled at the earliest.
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                                  1. R
                                    Rajeev
                                    Dec 2, 2016 at 1:37 pm
                                    Two, the bench chose to rely on Part IV A of the Consution, the Fundamental Duties, in order to justify a forced show of respect lt;br/gt;Bhakts from all cults, and more importantly their Gurus, beware !lt;br/gt;By the same logic, EVERY citizen will HAVE TO inculcate Scientific Temper and Spirit of Inquiry !!!
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                                    1. G
                                      G YAGNESWARAN
                                      Dec 2, 2016 at 1:46 pm
                                      It is not difficult to understand why the blogger is so disturbed at this order. It is because a section of minority will demand all benefits deriving out of consution but will terrorise Supreme Court and political outfits over a triple talaq issue and are against singing National anthem. Be straight forward. Instead of these round about arguments you can say this one is against Muslims.
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                                      1. H
                                        Harsh
                                        Dec 2, 2016 at 12:33 pm
                                        It's true that we are converting citizens into subjects, but somewhere it is our failure. We cannot uphold essence of democracy and make administrative lapses a subject of mockery. We are setting two rules one for ourselves and one for other, and fail to understand that in this way we are hijacking others civil rights. In a religious society slavery is an inherent character, instead of curbing it to uphold human values we are practicing it. Actually, this is the failure of intellectual who fail in their duties to educate society about the evil of heroism. It is high time as common people we have to understand that the destruction appears heroic, which can be happened within a fraction of second, but construction takes hard work and sacrifices of years and years. We just get something in platter without our hard work and sacrifices that does not mean that those have achieved it for us without hard work and sacrifices. It is our duty at least to respect their hard work and sacrifices to preserve our dignity as a human.
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                                        1. R
                                          Rishi Raj
                                          Dec 2, 2016 at 2:38 pm
                                          The saving grace is that the issue has got a humourous side in it.
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                                          1. L
                                            Lotus Valley
                                            Dec 2, 2016 at 3:50 pm
                                            If every citizen start performing his/her duties first before asking for rights not only it will result his/her own personal growth but also help in becoming a better human being with strong character and thus resulting in overall development and growth of the nation as a w and a better world also. But a certain coterie of hypocrite and so called liberals, intellectuals and civil society walas in Lutyens Delhi who keep ranting about rights, freedom of expression but never utter a word regarding the duties which every citizen has to perform.
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