Almost a week from now, Ganesh Utsav will be celebrated in many parts of the country. With the resurgence of a more integrative national spirit on top on his agenda, Bal Gangadhar Tilak had converted Ganesh Chaturthi, a traditional family festival for worshipping the deity of knowledge, into a social festival. He established the practice of its collective celebrations, and with the same approach, he also established Shivaji Maharaj’s birth anniversary every year as a public festival.
Years later, Mahatma Gandhi realised that although a sufficiently awakened national spirit was giving impetus to the freedom struggle, to join civil disobedience and court arrest every now and then was not easy for the commoners. This prompted him to invent some set of actions in the form of activities pertaining to everyday personal conduct. Spinning yarn on an easy-to-operate charkha or wearing clothes made of khadi, thus, eventually became acts of patriotism, and thereby, symbols of joining the freedom struggle. Veer Savarkar, too, appealed to countrymen to stop using clothes made abroad and campaigned for swadeshi, or country-manufactured clothes. Almost during the same period, K B Hedgewar, yet another creative thinker, evolved the practice of joining RSS shakhas for, largely speaking, evening games. Thereby, he cultivated the new apparatus called “shakha”. Over the years, the shakha became an instrument for generating social consciousness, assimilation and national spirit.
Like every other lofty ideal, patriotism too is easy to preach and difficult to practise. Visionary leaders like Gandhi, Hedgewar, Savarkar, and leaders like Lal Bahadur Shastri too, tried to simplify patriotism and bring it closer to one’s day-to-day conduct. Shastri, in 1965, appealed to the countrymen to forego a meal to save food, and many took a vow and started observing a fast on Mondays all through their lives. For them, it remained a mark of serving the cause of the nation.
What Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made a fervent appeal for, through his Independence Day address last August 15, is precisely in keeping with the traditions established by the likes of Gandhi. But unlike Gandhi, both Shastri and PM Modi made their appeals while in office. Naturally then, their appeals also reflected an attempt to link governance issues to the personal conduct of the countrymen. Just about three years back, Modi asked the people to buy at least one khadi apparel annually, and it worked wonders. According to the KVIC, in 2015, Khadi saw a phenomenal 60 per cent increase in its sales. Similarly, his appeal to fellow citizens — who had the ability to afford — to forego subsidies on cooking gas or sleeper-class train tickets for the sake of the underprivileged classes, also received a highly encouraging response.
Two years back, addressing a youth gathering to mark the birth centenary of Nanaji Deshmukh, Modi posed a piercing question to the youth. He asked, “How can we chant Bharat Mata ki Jai and in the next moment unhesitatingly dirty the very land of Bharat Mata by either spitting or littering at public places?” Similarly, a set of appeals that he made during his recent Independence Day address, could be seen as the articulation of a brand of patriotism that is in practise. In the past, on several occasions, he has reiterated his appeal to every citizen to work towards water conservation, and in the same spirit this time, he appealed to the countrymen, saying “from October 2, let us pledge to make the country free of single-use plastic… On Diwali let us gift people cloth bags instead of plastics… That will be an advertisement for your company as well”. Notably, he also urged start-ups to come up with ideas to recycle plastic in the country. Sharing his concern about the excessive use of chemical fertilisers, he has also appealed to farmers to pledge to reduce the use of fertilisers by at least 10-15 per cent.
PM Modi’s appeal to the countrymen to visit at least 15 tourist destinations within the country by 2022, along with family members, is also remarkable in this context. However, what is more noteworthy is his attempt to change the mindset. Equally remarkable is his attempt to link social reforms to patriotism. Without mincing words, in his Independence Day address Modi said, “Population explosion in the country will create various problems for the coming generations. Those who follow the policy of small family also contribute to the development of the nation, it is also a form of patriotism.” Never before in the past has any prime minister come forward with such clarity on a subject considered so sensitive.
The message is loud and clear. Nationalism can certainly not be a bad word as some would want us to believe. However, it is also not about mere emotions and slogans. It has an actionable aspect to it, and the prime minister has been consistently emphasising the same, while denying any room for mere lip service.
(The writer is national vice president, BJP)