Enforced Patriotism

Madras High Court
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Good citizens are not made by a judicial order to sing a hymn

THESE ARE CONTENTIOUS times in India. After almost three decades of weak governments, during which regional parties and state governments filled the power vacuum, there is a strong Central Government in New Delhi.

This is bound to cause a disequilibrium of sorts between politics, which often treads along regional grooves, and sound governance, something that requires a strong central authority. The need of the times is a careful calibration of political ideas, ideologies and even plain words to prevent any damage to the foundational ideas of the republic.

On July 25th, the Madras High Court passed a judgment saying that ‘Vande Mataram’, a hymn that has inspired millions of Indians, should be compulsorily sung in schools, offices and industries in Tamil Nadu. The court said the hymn should be sung at least once every week in schools and once in a month in offices.

The spirit behind the issuing of this order is understandable, but it fails to acknowledge that the inculcation of patriotism requires other means. Also, that a judicial pronouncement asking for its singing borders on coercion. It could even provoke reactions from some that might prove counter-productive to the court’s aim.

The National Anthem evokes the feelings it does in part because most Indians have sung it since early childhood, and its meaning and origin are widely appreciated. A fine mix of history, culture and political understanding go into a song achieving such a status. That is one reason why governments across the world rely on a variety of means—ranging from education to service in the armed forces—to imbue words with patriotism. An order may work in the Army to achieve what’s needed. It can’t be that way with patriotism in a diverse nation-state like India.

All this can cause heartburn that manifests itself in different ways. There have been demands for state flags— something unheard of even during the peak of secessionist movements—and street violence against the imposition of a language in some parts. Adding combustible matter to this cauldron should be avoided.

India has many symbols of nationhood—the flag and the National Anthem being just two. All are respected across the length and breadth of the country. Whether another one needs enforcement is questionable.