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Cash For Your Tears

Ideologues, politicians, corporate houses, socialites and celebrities...for many it's time to exploit a nation's love for its soldiers

Cash For Your Tears
Someone from the Delhi chief minister's office called not once or twice but at least 10 times and asked Anuj's mother when his body would be arriving because 'madam wants to visit'. Why can't she offer her condolences to the family, why does she need to wait till the body comes? Because their condolences and sympathies are aimed at television cameras.'

A relative of Capt Anuj Nayyar, 23, killed at Tiger Hills in The Hindustan Times (July 10)

All of India salutes Capt Anuj Nayyar. Without the flash bulbs. For no camera can ever capture a people's gratitude for a soldier who died protecting them. Who taught them, all over again, to love India. And love her passionately. Even fiercely.

'Pakis, with this bat I'll beat you,' read six-year-old Arush Mishra's missive at the Wall of Letters at Delhi's India Gate. A middle-aged mother in UP's Khekra village pledged both her sons to the army with orders not to come back 'alive' without a rightful share of the enemy's blood for the family. The police had to be called in to disperse huge crowds of youth at Rourkela and Balasore who'd come to volunteer for emergency army recruitments. Agitated crowds gathered on Pune's Fergusson College Road and penned letters for valiant soldiers that screamed: 'Show the Pakistanis what we can do!' Concerned passengers in a train compartment, strangers to each other, collected over Rs 50,000 towards 'ammunition for enemy destruction' in the duration of one journey. Hundreds of residents came out to hoist the tricolour in a congested Old Delhi bylane to the fervent chant of a Bollywood tune: 'Dil diya hai/jaan bhi denge/Ai Watan tere liye...'

...Then, the local mla turned up, thrust an unsolicited speech on the gathering.

Even as our patriotism spills out on to the streets, it's being stalked by those who want to lead it into wayward routes. Those who want to drag our fervour to pinnacles of beliefs and suspicions so very unreal and different from the peaks our brave soldiers are dying defending. Those who're glorifying war and someone else's death to whip up a frenzy that could turn healthy nationalism into jingoism. Time, perhaps, to be wary of those cashing in on Kargil.

Why else would we tolerate lumpens making shrill demands on Dilip Kumar (see box) to prove his 'Indian' credentials? Why would many of us who till recently condemned the Shiv Sena opposition to Indo-Pak cricket matches feel it might be unpatriotic to express an opinion contrary to Kapil Dev's? Is it because 'public sentiment' today is to stop all interaction between two 'enemy countries'? But isn't patriotism much, much more than just 'popular mood'?

For if patriotism is just that, it'll find many more exploiters than it's already attracting. Like the politicians who denied Capt Nayyar's family the privacy to mourn their son's death. Vote scroungers who'd elbow their way into any occasion, no matter how sombre, for a byte on television. Like the truckload of bjp activists who reportedly insisted on leading an otherwise spontaneous crowd at Lt Vijayant Thapar's funeral procession. The political sloganeering on what was otherwise a solemn occasion jarred.

'The filmstars vs cricketers football match for our soldiers made me sick! The tamasha, the cheering, the meaningless speeches. ..all at my expense,' fulminates the wife of a Major fighting in Batalik. 'The compere even said the war was being won because of our PM! Couldn't they have donated the money with more dignity?' Nobody, she says, wants to be a so-and-so sponsored war widow. 'Everyday my kids pray their father survives. Then to see this horrid display of corporate-filmstar-politician publicity machines earning mileage out of our prayers.'

Yes, now they've found a marketing appeal in our patriotism. The army recently turned down a Rs 2 lakh offer by an electronic corporate house because, in turn, they wanted a joint press conference. An automobile company advertises 'patriotic' intent with its promise to pay Rs 100 to the Army Welfare Fund on each purchase made. The ads of many others insist they care, almost always more than the others, for the martyrs.

Not surprising then that many feel even the citizenry's got into the 'competition of contributions' this time. Says Delhi's Pushpa Johra, 74, who's gathered over Rs 40,000 from her kitty-party friends: 'I collected money in other wars. People gave little but with heart. Today, they want to know what others are giving so that they can give more. They want receipts, want to be photographed. Much of it is bhed-chaal (herd mentality). It's fashionable, TV says so.'

Perhaps, without his knowing it, Mayank Deodhar, 23, an iit Powai student, is caught in this zeal to outdo others. He's written letters, collected money, donated blood. Now he plans to walk continuously for a week. 'But not one reporter's written about me,' he says. 'I even called up two newspaper offices. They only write about the very poor and the very rich contributors. What about us?'

Social scientist Ashis Nandy says it is, in fact, the urban middle-class that's been most 'swayed' by what he feels is a 'media-sponsored war'. 'This mobile middle-class is insecure, suffering from a sense of defeat in other spheres of life, has little sense of community. Then, suddenly, you bombard it with images of valour and victory 24 hours a day, renew its identity as an active Indian citizenry. Naturally it'll revel in its new-found patriotism and be vulnerable to all who want to play on it: both to sell products and to buy votes. The danger is these same vested interests might want it to remain euphoric about such victories and wars because it benefits them.' Prof Imtiaz Ahmed of Delhi's jnu adds a note of caution: 'The fear is this sense of euphoria might not be allowed to simmer down. It has to remain on the boil for the votes to keep coming in.' However, the historian also points out that the absence of civil strife or Hindu-Muslim riots despite an Indo-Pak war proves the large masses have not been as moved into war-mongering as vested interests might want them to be.

Yet, pacifists are finding neither debate nor discussion but allegations being flung at them to counter their voices today. Many opposed Fr Cedric Prakash's recent effort to organise an All-Faith Prayer Meet for Peace in Ahmedabad as pro-Pakistan and unpatriotic. 'It's commendable, this generosity for the soldier. But neither the media nor the politicians seemed to be so eager to mobilise help when the cyclones killed so many,' says he.

Significantly, a soldier voices similar concern. Brig Mohinder Singh, president of the Indian Ex-Services League, says a retired jawan's pension is less than a fourth class employee's. 'If money is any indicator, then a soldier's been less important to us than a peon. My fear is he'll be less important to us again.' Former police chief of Punjab K.P.S. Gill echoes the sentiment. Hundreds of policemen, he observes, lost their lives battling an enemy that was also Pakistani in origin. But they fought a war less defined: 'Today who remembers their widows or children? Or them?'

But Ashok Pandit of Panun Kashmir, an organisation of displaced Kashmiri Pandits, is the angriest for being forgotten. Thousands of Kashmiris, he laments, have lost lives, their women raped, homes burnt in the past 10 years. 'Now they call it war! This is billboard nationalism. Wonder what they'll advertise on next?'

'Hyped it may be,' says author Bhisham Sahni, 'but this war was thrust upon us.' Having experienced Partition violence and known the passions begotten by assault on national identity, he feels Kargil has seen us rediscover our love for India: 'We mustn't let it die.'

For pacifism too is sometimes mere symbolism. Like Rajya Sabha member and filmmaker Mrinal Sen says about his recent participation in an anti-war march in Calcutta: 'Ten steps for this cause or that doesn't solve a problem. We've to ask ourselves that had there been no election, would the politicians have hyped up war to such an extent and whether 'patriotism' would've been modified? The manufacturers of excessive passions are at work here.'

But they're our passions for our country. Genuine and spontaneous. Like the now-famous Orissa bride's were when she gave away her jewellery on her wedding day for the Kargil soldiers. 'It's the least I could've done,' she says. But with 42 countries having witnessed her wedding through a bbc telecast, she's fighting to keep pace with eager reporters. Last Thursday, a group of well-wishers from Bihar, Bengal and MP took it upon themselves to rally support for her ornaments to be exhibited in the National Defence Academy museum as a symbol of sacrifice. Hope Shibani manages to hold her own against them. Because patriotism needs no showcasing. It's our patriotism. It's enough that we feel it.

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