Several years ago, the then British high commissioner suggested, in the course of a spirited conversation one evening at his residence, that it would be a good idea if England and India were to play two cricket Test series every year, one in either country.
“Brilliant idea,” I said, “but you will have a problem. Because we will beat England all the time.
“Do I care?” asked His Excellency, “I am Scottish.” That was followed by a mischievous laugh, laced with, what else, but dollops of Scotch.
This nugget is worth pulling out at a time when policemen in Meerut, less than 50 miles from Delhi, are so protective of the national interest that they threatened to charge 65 Kashmiri students with sedition for cheering Pakistan after it beat India in the Asia Cup. The patriots of Meerut obviously knew better than to let such an offence go unpunished. They know that there is something about Meerut’s soil that breeds rebellion. Remember 1857? Fortunately, they were thwarted by immediate protests from across the country, as also by Uttar Pradesh’s good-for-nothing government, whose only fig leaf, secularism, is already twisting in the wind in next-door Muzaffarnagar.
You can imagine what fate would have visited the UK high commissioner if I had not kept that conversation to myself all these years. And what may happen to him now, if I revealed his name. Ungrateful, disloyal, unpatriotic, unforgivable Scotsman, even though knighted by Her Majesty the Queen. If he represented today’s India, even his diplomatic immunity would not have saved him, one way or the other.
I stress today’s India because we are going through a phase of socio-political evolution where patriotism is back in fashion. Which is fine, actually a good thing. It is the definition of this patriotism, rooted as it is in insecurities that we thought we had left behind in the past, that is troublesome.
In the early 1990s, explaining the consistent rise of the BJP, I had said that, post-Babri, it was as if India’s majority had acquired a minority complex (Adelphi Paper 293, “India Redefines Its Role”, OUP, January 1995). Atal Bihari Vajpayee even quoted those lines, with attribution, in his speech seeking the confidence vote for his 13-day government. The same mood again seems on the rise when the BJP is surging ahead, and not because of any mandir, tension with Pakistan, or rash of terror attacks. And when, in fairness, you have to acknowledge that there isn’t even a vaguely communal appeal in its leader Narendra Modi’s campaign message. India has had a 13-year period of total peace, unprecedented in its independent history. There has been a steep decline in terror incidents. Even the Maoists seem to be shrinking slowly. And yet, our level of jingoism is as if we were approaching an imminent war, as if India were under siege, its borders getting violated continued…