New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assertion at the national executive meet of the Bharatiya Janata Party that all leaders should only focus on and speak about issues of “vikas, vikas and vikas” (development, development and development) appears to have been nullified by the political resolution of the meeting itself.
In keeping with the BJP’s decision to play the ‘nationalism’ card by hyping the importance of the slogan ‘Bharat mata ki jai’ (‘Victory to Mother India’), the resolution said: “Our constitution describes India as Bharat also, refusal to chant victory to Bharat is tantamount to disrespect to our constitution itself.” But this assertion of the party, according to constitutional experts, is itself against the spirit of the constitution.
In an article last week, ‘Nationalism Can’t be Manufactured by Reciting Verses’, Soli Sorabjee – who was attorney general when the BJP-led NDA was last in power – noted how the Supreme Court in Bijoe Emmanuel v. State of Kerala had upheld the right of students belonging to the sect of Jehovah’s Witnesses to not sing the national anthem whilst standing respectfully when it was sung. “That judgment was a clear endorsement of tolerance,” he wrote.
Authoring the landmark 1986 judgment, Justice O. Chinnappa Reddy had noted: “Our tradition teachers tolerance; our philosophy preaches tolerance; our Constitution practices tolerance; let us not dilute it.”
All the constitutional experts The Wire spoke too suggested the ruling party missed the point.
Senior advocate Aryama Sundaram, said the BJP resolution took an erroneous position on the Constitution. “I think it is completely wrong.”
Making a reference to the same Supreme Court case, he said the Kerala students had been rusticated because they refused to sing the national anthem on they ground that they belonged to a religious group known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and this group only sung in praise of the Lord and would not sing any other song. “So the students were willing to stand up but did not want to sing the national anthem. As such they were dismissed from the school. The case came up in the Supreme Court and it reversed the expulsion.”
In doing so, he said, the Supreme Court laid down that “tolerance runs like a thread through the constitution of India and it said that so long that they did not disrespect the flag or the country, it did not make it in any way a disrespect to the flag or the nation.”
So, in the present context, he said, “if a person does not otherwise disrespect the country but says I will not chant something – not chanting it does not make it a case of disrespect at all. It is open to him to chant what he wants or not chant something, but it is not open for him to disrespect the country. So not chanting something does not amount to an act of disrespect. I cannot agree that not chanting Bharat mata will amount to disrespecting the country under the constitution.”
On the controversy around the chanting of ‘Bharat mata ki jai’, Sundaram said, “I see all this as creating a polarisation which is completely unnecessary. I also believe that if someone disrespects the nation or the flag then action should be taken because you can’t disrespect either. But I cannot see what is being done right now as curbing any such disrespect. According to me such actions will only end up in hardening the polarisation which could take place.”
The controversy began after RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said the younger generation needed to be taught to patriotism by saying the slogan ‘Bharat mata ki jai’ slogan with pride.
To this, three-time MP and All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM) leader Asaduddin Owaisi said no one could make him say the slogan. The barrister-turned-politician insisted that nowhere in the constitution was it written that a citizen can be made to say it.
The reverberations of this controversy were felt inside the Maharashtra assembly last week where AIMIM MLA Waris Pathan, also an advocate, was suspended for the entire budget session after he declared that he would say “Jai Hind” (‘Long live India’) but not ‘Bharat mata ki jai’.
According to senior advocate Kamini Jaiswal, “the constitution nowhere requires people to say ‘Bharat mata ki jai, nowhere does it talk about it. [The BJP resolution] is a very wrong interpretation. The constitution just says ‘India. which is Bharat’. It doesn’t talk of Bharat mata. So, it is not a fundamental duty of every citizen of the nation to say such a slogan.”
“We all love and respect our nation,” she said, “but we don’t have to carry it on our sleeve.”
Asked how she saw the BJP’s resolution and recent incidents surrounding the controversy, she said: “They have now unnecessarily created a rift among the people. They are going to create what nobody wants. They will start dividing people over issues. These are issues which should not be raked up at all.”
She also insisted that the decision of the Maharashtra assembly to suspend Pathan was “an absolutely wrong decision” and suggested that “someone should challenge it.”
Senior Mumbai-based advocate Abdul Majeed Memon believes both the extreme views – those of the BJP and RSS on the one hand and of the AIMIM on the other – are wrong.
“I think both RSS and BJP are only playing politics over this issue. For me, this chanting of ‘Bharat mata ki jai’ is a non issue. What is the harm in chanting it? I believe that Waris Pathan’s suspension from the assembly was an overreaction but I had told Pathan also in a television debate that he should have ideally said that he believes there is nothing wrong in chanting ‘Bharat mata ki jai’ but he would not do it at the instance of the BJP or RSS. The matter would have ended there.”
Political expediency, however, demands tough posturing and Memon said parties are taking extreme positions because they want to play politics over emotive issues. “I would like to remind everyone that AIMIM does not represent the entire Muslim community and so we should not let their actions vitiate the atmosphere.”
“I also believe that the issue is unnecessarily being raked up. Now I read that a cleric in Hyderabad has objected to ‘Bharat mata ki jai’. They did not have a problem with it for the past 60 years. Even now they are okay with Bharat or jai, but have issues with saying mata or mother. What is wrong with the concept of motherland now? Bharat mata is the same as Mother India, but no one had a problem with the award-winning movie by that name which was directed by a Muslim, Mehboob Khan, and in which Nargis Dutt, another Muslim, played the lead protagonist.”
The real issue, he said, is ‘’Muslims have grown tired of proving their loyalty and nationalism time and again. They do not need certificates from the RSS or BJP for that.’’
Another senior Supreme Court advocate, Raju Ramachandran, said that when in the Jehovah’s Witnesses case not singing the national anthem was considered permissible and the decision to dismiss the students was struck down how can refusal to chant a slogan – on the demand of someone –amount to disrespecting the Constitution.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave said it is unfortunate that the BJP mentioned the issue in this manner in its resolution. “I have great regard for Arun Jaitley as a lawyer. At least he should have tried to prevent this wrong interpretation of the constitution in the party resolution.”