At a Skill India Centre function in Madhya Pradesh last month, BJP legislator Panna Lal Shakya questioned cricketer Virat Kohli’s decision to get married in Tuscany, Italy. “Kohli earned money here and spent billions there. He doesn’t have any respect for the country. This proves he is not a patriot,” said Shakya.
Apparently, it’s not enough that Kohli carries the pressure of a billion plus hopes every time he’s on the cricket field. Or that he spends over 200 days a year on tour as India’s captain. After amassing well over 2000 runs in 2017, this BJP politician grudges him some privacy from his legions of fans for a significant life event. Meanwhile, the rest of us may seek comfort in the fact that in this current environment nobody is spared — not even Kohli — if they’re not proudly exhibiting some version of devout nationalism.
It seems unfair to single out a couple because they happen to be in the spotlight. In the last decade, the biggest ticket weddings by industrialist families from India have been held in Europe and Thailand. However, if the benchmark of a good citizen is paying your taxes and following the laws of the land, how and where we choose to spend our private income should be just that, private.
When Phil Knight, promoter of Nike, was questioned if he felt guilty about depriving his fellow Americans by outsourcing shoe production to Indonesia, he replied that he considered himself a citizen of the world. Irrespective of whether his motivations were just the bottomline and a more viable economic strategy, the premise he chose to focus on was that all human beings are equal. If another country’s citizens benefited by his enterprise, how much does it really matter?
In India, right now, there is an inherent contradiction in identifying as both Indian and as a citizen of the world. Shakya has merely articulated the strong message we hear from the culture everyday. We see it everywhere, whether it’s Pakistani actors being sent back home from Bollywood or the announcements on social media to boycott Chinese-made crackers. Patanjali radio spots have a beseeching line, Patanjali apnaiye, desh ko aarthik azaadi dilaiye. Their half page print ad ends with ‘a humble request’ to consumers and store owner to give prominence to Patanjali ‘in your shops and in your hearts’. Ever since a marketplace opened up on Facebook, many fashion designers market themselves by saying that by purchasing their products, weavers in far flung corners of India benefit immediately.
Does the fact that we may choose to holiday abroad, wear Zara clothing and drive Japanese cars lessen our credentials as stellar citizens? No doubt, buying local, is a good way to live for the environment. As a show of nationalism, not so much. It’s important to take pride in your identity but focus on it too much and you end up with a narrower perspective, and run the risk of losing sight of the bigger picture, like in this case, the free market economy. Consider the horrors the Rohingyas are facing while the world watches, a heartrending tragedy because the prevailing world view is that each individual country should do what’s in their best interest. Something like family first. It requires a very evolved mind to think about outsiders when the liberation of so many of our fellow citizens remains a distant dream. And whether we like it or not, most of us are inherently patriotic. There’s a reason why even those who can afford to leave choose to remain in Delhi, breathing foul air and spending half their lives in traffic jams. The only explanation can be it’s hard to shake off one’s love of the land.