April 05, 2020
Home  »  Website  »  National  » Opinion  »  Javed Akhtar's Game Of Patriotism

Javed Akhtar's Game Of Patriotism

Akhtar, in trying to appease the rulers or for whatever reason, has demonstrated short sightedness in his recent actions

Javed Akhtar's Game Of Patriotism
File - PTI Photo
Javed Akhtar's Game Of Patriotism

The hardcore nationalists everywhere have the illusion that the country they reside in, is their own family estate that endows them the right to dictate:

  • who should live in the country,
  • in what manner they should conduct themselves, and
  • what kind of slogans they should shout to prove their patriotism.

It becomes a poisonous brew when this ultra-nationalism is laden with religious ideology. Now these religious nationalists can also dictate:

  • the foods to be consumed and
  • foods to be avoided, and other such nonsense.

When minorities (religious/ideological/caste etc.) refuse to tow the line, violence is unleashed to demand their subservience. The hardcore religious nationalists refuse to face the reality that their ancestors were foreign invaders, and that the land actually belongs to the indigenous people. Through one or more similar factors (religion, ethnicity, etc.), these nationalist rogues drag a big chunk of the ignorant populace with them; thus instilling fear in minorities by dictating who's eligible to live in the country. The case in point is India today, where pre- and post-election tactics and language of the right wing religious nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which catapulted it into power, has created an atmosphere of fear for religious minorities, liberals, and secularists. Natasha Kaul outlines some of the BJP misdeeds committed after coming in power.

Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti boldly proclaimed many of BJP members' philosophy infamous dictum clarifying unambiguously:

"(You must decide whether you want a government of those born of [Lord] Ram or of those born illegitimately)."

BJP won elections in May 2014, and so "sons of Ram" are ruling over "sons of bastards." In this explosive situation, the slogan "Bharat Mata ki Jai" or "long live/victory/salute/glory" to Mother (Goddess) India has become a litmus test for proving one's patriotism. As if the BJP did not have enough patriots, the self proclaimed secular/atheist/liberal poet/lyricist/screenplay writer and TV show judge Javed Akhtar found it necessary to jump into the fray to prove his patriotic credentials by shouting the slogan Bharat Mata ki Jai.

Before proceeding any further, it is necessary to shed some light on the changing anatomy of India and the words: Bharat Mata.

Changing India

India, or "Bharat Mata" to many, has lost and gained weight on different parts of its anatomy under different rulers at different times. Bharat Mata of Ashoka the Great (304–232 BCE) was not the same as that of Akbar the Great (1542-1605 CE). Physically the British rulers made Bharat Mata gain weight (though financially left Bharat Mata anorexic) but then Gandhi, with Jawaharlal Nehru's support adopted policies (which forced Jinnah to join in) to make India lose weight. Nothing is permanent; who knows what the future holds for India, it may gain weight by swallowing small neighbors as Nepal and Bhutan, or may lose weight if states such as Kashmir or in the North East India decide to secede because of the Indian government and army atrocities and oppression. Or perhaps, governments of Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan may (under pressure from capitalist class) decide to form a union making India gain economic weight. (If that happens, the governments in all three countries will become more weak via-a-vis the capitalists, thus making the wretched to suffer more.)

Eminent Historian Irfan Habib reminds us:

"Bharat Mata has nothing to do with India's ancient or medieval past. It is a European import. Notions of motherland and fatherland were talked about in Europe."

"Bharat is mentioned in ancient India. It was first used in an inscription of King Kharavela in Prakrit. But representation of the country in human form as a mother or father was unknown in ancient India or medieval India." "This was an idea that emerged in Europe with the rise of nationalism, and it was found in Britain, Russia, etc."

Habib also points out that Madar-e-Watan (Urdu for Motherland) is a European idea too.

Bharat Mata

An educational institution named Kashi Vidyapith (now Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapith) was inaugurated by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in 1921 in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India. Fifteen years later, Gandhi established Bharat Mata Mandir or Mother India Temple on Kashi Vidyapith's campus. The temple has no statues of goddesses or gods but instead has a marble map of Bharat Mata displayed on the floor that includes Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. Of course, before August 1947 there were no Pakistan or Bangladesh and it was just one country, India. The map, however, also includes Sri Lanka!

(Perhaps because Sri Lanka, an island country not far from the southern tip of India, is associated with the mythical Lord Ram. The Hindu epic Ramayana states Lord Ram's wife Sita was kidnapped by Ravana, King of Lanka. It also mentions Rama's Bridge or Rama Setu, known as Adam's Bridge, which was supposedly built by Ram and his brother Laxman with the help of monkey god Hanumana and his vanara sena, i.e., army of monkeys.)

Keeping in mind the number of countries represented on the map, accuracy demands the name to be changed to "Mother South Asia." The temple is now dilapidated: it lacks public toilets and people dump garbage there that is removed annually on the 14th of August (Pakistan Independence Day) to make it presentable for the ceremonies on Indian Independence Day, August 15.

Around 1905, a Hindu nationalist Aurobindo Ghosh (1872-1950) was asked by a young patriot K. M. Munshi (1887-1971), a Gujarat lawyer/writer, "How can one become patriotic?" Trying to make Munshi feel at ease, Aurobindo drew his attention to India's map on the wall and explained:

"Do you see this map? It is not a map, but the portrait of Bharat-mata [Mother India]: its cities and mountains, rivers and jungles form her physical body. All her children are her nerves, large and small. …. Concentrate on Bharat [India] as a living mother, worship her with the nine-fold bhakti [devotion]."

But in August 1947, Bharat Mata sadly gave up her rights to a couple of parts to Allah's worshipers.

Bharat Mata ki jai

During the freedom movement, India was personified into the goddess Bharat Mata. The "long live/victory/salute/glory" or "jai" is a common slogan for nations, countries, gods, goddesses, and God. "Bharat Mata ki Jai" became a slogan for many people in their struggle against the British colonial rule. As usual, religious symbols of the majority community are always dreaded by minorities. For Muslims, there is yet another problem: the Muslim scripture Qur'an (41:37) commands Muslims to prostrate to Allah only. So for them to prostrate or worship the Bharat Mata goddess was nothing less than committing blasphemy.

It is not just Muslims who have a problem with this slogan. The former Attorney General of India Soli J. Sorabjee, in recent article "Nationalism Can't be Manufactured by Recitating Verses" reminds us of the Indian Supreme Court case in Bijoe Emmanuel v. State of Kerala, back in 1985, that issued a ruling the students associated with the sect Jehovah's Witnesses can avoid singing the national anthem; they just have to stand quietly during the playing of the anthem. Then he quotes British author George Bernard Shaw: "patriotism is a pernicious, psychopathic form of idiocy."

Even Dalits (oppressed Hindus outside the four castes) are being advised by Dalit academic/writer/activist Kancha Ilaiah to refrain from saying this slogan and instead to say" Bheem Bhoomi Ki Jai as a slogan of their nationalism."

(Bheem refers to the Dalit leader B. R. Ambedkar and Bhoomi means land. Ambedkar fought for Dalit rights but was blackmailed by Gandhi who went on a fast in order to stop the Dalits from forming a separate bloc from the Hindus. Gandhi patronizingly named them "Harijans" or "People of God" and was not in the favor of eliminating caste system. In 2014, the Indian government issued a directive to all states to avoid usage of the word "Harijan." Ambedkar, who was very critical of Hinduism, converted to Buddhism in 1956 and converted about 500,000 supporters too.)

Asaduddin Owaisi

On March 3, 2016, the Hindu fascist group RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) chief Mohan Bhagwat said:

"Now the time has come when we have to tell the new generation to chant ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai' (hail mother India). It should be real, spontaneous and part of all-round development of the youth."

Asaduddin Owaisi, a leader of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen or AIMIM, a three-time parliamentarian from Hyderabad in Telangana State, on March 13 proclaimed at a rally in Maharashtra:

"Mohan Bhagwat I will not chant that slogan. What will you do? I won't say it even if you put a knife to my throat."

"Nowhere in the Constitution does it say that one should say Bharat Mata ki Jai."

Javed Akhtar's plunge

In the prevailing Indian political environment, where an individual's remarks can easily be the cause for arousing hate or worse, for an entire sect/religion/caste/nationality, it is eminently prudent for individuals to fore-think the results of their banter/actions. However, it is precisely in this fragile environment that these people feel pressured to exhibit ultra qualities of the people in power, without regard for whom they may inflict damage.

Akhtar, in trying to appease the rulers or for whatever reason, has demonstrated short sightedness in his recent actions. When people in spotlight vehemently hurl edicts, there is a danger of initiating a tidal wave of terror for others unfortunate enough to be in the minority.

On March 15, India's Rajya Sabha member (president nominated) Akhtar in his farewell speech (9:26-11:05 & 12:31-13:08), without naming Owaisi, sarcastically criticized him and cited him as someone who had refused to chant Bharat Mata ki Jai because nowhere in the constitution such a thing was required of citizens. Akhtar then cynically noted that neither is there in the constitution a requirement to wear sherwani (long coat) and topi (South Asian Muslim cap), Owaisi's regular attire. Akhtar also eluded to the communalism of those in power. Then very theatrically Akhtar displayed his uber-patriotism; he raised and dropped his right hand three times as he chanted "Bharat Mata ki Jai," saying:

"I'm not interested in knowing whether it's my duty or not to say Bharat Mata ki jai, … it's my right. And I'm saying, "Bharat Mata ki Jai, Bharat Mata ki Jai, Bharat Mata ki Jai. … I condemn their words and thoughts … With same harshness, I also condemn one more [very old] slogan which is often shouted in Indian cities, ‘Musalman ke do sthan / qabristan ya Pakistan.' [For Muslims, two places merely / graveyard or Pakistan, [clearly]."

"… Probably, some of my friends may get unhappy with me over this, but I genuinely believe that in this government there are many able people too; who are doing very good work and can do it. But they have a great responsibility that this so called fringe [which is getting bigger everyday], which consists of not just common leaders, but has MLAs, MPs, minister of states, and sometimes also ministers. They should be kept under control."

When Akhtar was invoking "Bharat Mata," he should have also chanted: "Bangladesh Bharat Mata ki Jai" and "Pakistan Bharat Mata ki Jai" thrice because, though truncated, they are depicted as parts of Bharat Mata too – however, probably without moving his hand because sometimes too much patriotism at this age, can prove costly due to visits to physiotherapists. Akhtar should calm down and think logically before getting too nationalistic.

Actress/activist Shabana Azmi, Akhtar's wife, tried to be witty: "Will Owaisi say Bharat Ammi Ki Jai if he has problem saying Bharat Mata Ki Jai?"

(Ammi is an Urdu word for mother. Urdu gradually became associated with Muslims and Hindi with Hindus; both are sister languages and their mixture Hindustani is commonly used by most people throughout South Asia and elsewhere, including in Bollywood films.)

Later in an interview to Scroll, Owaisi declared he had no problem with others saying "Bharat Mata ki Jai" but he himself is comfortable with "Jai Hind [Victory/Salute/Long live India] or Hindustan Zindabad [Long Live India]."

Some Muslims in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh disagreed with Owaisi, and wrote Bharat Mata ki Jai with their blood. (Fear or ultra patriotism?)

On March 16, Waris Pathan, a Muslim MLA (Member Legislative Assembly) of Maharashtra State Assembly, Owaisi's party was suspended after he refused to say "Bharat Mata ki Jai." A member of BJP (equivalent to Republican Party in US) was willing to let it go, if Pathan would apologize but the liberal Congress Party (equivalent to Democratic Party in US) members demanded a suspension. BJP and other parties rushed to join in. Pathan clarified that he was "willing to say Jai Hind." But, it did not matter.

The Maharashtra based thuggish party Shiv Sena MLA Gulabrao Patil barked,

"Is desh mein rehna hai, kutton, toh Vande Mataram bolna hoga."

("If you want to stay in this country, dogs, you will have to say Vande Mataram ["I praise thee, Mother"]."

The same day actor Anupam Kher, (leader of the Bollywood nationalist herd) who thinks India is a tolerant country, tweeted:

"The only definition of NATIONALISM for Bharatwasis [Indians] should be "Bharat Mata Ki Jai". Rest all are escape routes.)"

(In Pakistan, the film actor Shaan leads the nationalists there. He is not in favor of Pakistani artists working in Indian films. When shows of Pakistani artists are cancelled in India due to threats from Shiv Sena, he praises the partition of India into India and Pakistan.)

On March 17, Shiv Sena's mouthpiece Saamana demanded the citizenship be repealed of all refusing to say "Bharat Mata ki Jai."

Recently, the BJP's National Executive meeting passed a resolution:

"Our Constitution describes India as Bharat also; refusal to chant victory to Bharat tantamounts to disrespect to our Constitution itself."

For Maharashtra Chief Devendra Fadnavis (BJP), anyone refusing to chant the slogan should not have any right to stay here.

Baba Ramdev's patriotism flowed out in indignant violent threatening fear-inducing language: "we can behead lakhs [hundreds of thousands]."

Atheist/secular/liberal Akhtar

Akhtar is of Muslim background, but is an atheist as he declared it on a TV show.

One wonders why would an atheist who wants secularism in India, chant victory to Bharat Mata, which is personified as a Hindu goddess?

Logic demands that any self-proclaimed atheist would avoid connections with religious symbols unless forced at gun point or has an ulterior motive. This video shows Akhtar reciting names of Hindu Lord Krishna in an ecstatic state on Krishna's birthday celebration. Akhtar looks more like a mad devotee of Krishna than a secular/atheist person.

On that TV show Akhtar urged, very appropriately, that his Hindu listeners avoid copying the Taliban, Al Qaeda, etc. and let the film makers have freedom in portraying religious issues and the Hindu gods and goddesses as they wanted to – as they had indeed done boldly in the past. He gave an example of a scene from 1975 film Sholay (co-written with Salim Khan) where Dharmedra hides behind the statue of Lord Shiva and commands Hema Malini to marry him. Akhtar informed the audience that if that movie were to be made today, he wouldn't write that scene because of changed circumstances. He talked about the 1954 film Daag in which a drunk Dilip Kumar curses God 1:26:40-1:27:20), despite of which it was a "super hit."

Akhtar wants freedom in writing and presenting things on celluloid the way other filmmakers want; nothing wrong in that. But on the other hand, Akhtar can't tolerate Owaisi's right to refuse to chant the slogan of "Bharat Mata!"


This is not the first time Akhtar has taken an unreasonable path to charm the ruling class with his love for his Bharat Mata. A couple of years ago, India lost the Asia Cup cricket match to Pakistan. A group of 67 Kashmiri students studying at Sharda University in Uttar Pradesh cheered the Pakistani team. They were suspended briefly. Akhtar emitted his patriotism March 10, and tweeted:

Why the suspension of those 67 Kashmiri students who cheered Pakistan is revoked. They should be rusticated and sent back to Kashmir

A tweet criticized Akhtar's hypocrisy:

"Go get a life man..on one hand u say kashmir is integral part of India & on other hand you want to send them back. Shame"

Akhtar retort actually became more unreasonable:

"Shame on you that you are standing by those who were celebrating Indian team's defeat. They are traitors."

(In that case, most Indians residing abroad who wave Indian flags and cheer Indian teams in foreign countries should be deported back to India. In this case, precious foreign exchange of over $60 billion, would be lost by the needy Indian government.)

Patriotism and fascism

Has Akhtar lost his mind? How can he label those Kashmiri students as traitors? Their only fault was to cheer the Pakistani team who played better and won? This is dangerous nationalism coming from a writer who is a self-proclaimed secular, atheist, and liberal. One shudders at the thought of Akhtar in a position of power! You can clearly expect much worse. Akhtar should remember one thing: for many people who lack power and have themselves faced injustices or whose relatives/friends/acquaintances have suffered such fate, small actions to express independence are just survival tactics to express their helplessness. These people are not harmful – all harm done on a major scale to the country (corruption, killings, wars, offshore accounts, inequalities, etc.) is done by the elite class.

Even if we assume that loud praise of the Kashmiri students for the Pakistani winners was out of anger or hate for India, one cannot blame these youths. In one of her articles, author/activist Arundhati Roy depicted the condition in which Kashmiri youths were "raised in a playground of army camps, check-points, and bunkers, with screams from torture chambers for a sound track. (Kashmir: The Case for Freedom by Tariq Ali, Hilal Bhatt, Angana p. Chatterji, Habbah Khatun, Pankaj Mishra, and Arundhati Roy, 2011, p.61.)

Author/novelist Pankaj Mishra aptly described the tragic condition of Kashmir thus:

"With more than eighty thousand people dead in an anti-India insurgency backed by Pakistan, the killing fields of Kashmir dwarfs those of Palestine and Tibet. In addition to the everyday regime of arbitrary arrests, curfews, raids, and checkpoints enforced by nearly 700,000 Indian soldiers, the valley's four million Muslims are exposed to extra judicial execution, rape, and torture, with such barbaric variations as live electric wires inserted into penises."

In one of his twitter entries, Akhtar writes:

"Since Pak[istan] says they will keep in touch with Hurriyat we [the Indians] earn the right to give all the "moral" support to Biloch [sic, Baloch, people of Balochistan province] separatists. Don't we?

Akhtar just doesn't get it. Of course, Pakistan is crushing the Balochi nationalism which is to be condemned; but, so too is the Indian suppression of Kashmiri people's aspirations for freedom to be denounced. If Akhtar really feels pain for the Baloch people, he shouldn't wait for Pakistan to do something in Kashmir, and then he (or his India) finds an excuse to give tit for tat by helping the Baloch. They need help and international recognition from all quarters, so Akhtar should write about their plight without delay.

(Both Kashmir and Balochistan are off the radar maps of the Western news media because the West needs both India and Pakistan for economic and geopolitical reasons, and so they don't give a shit as to how many Kashmiris/Balochis are killed, raped, tortured. Neither is the Indian media interested in highlighting the Kashmir tragedy, nor is Pakistani media interested in the Balochistan tragedy.

When David Barsamian of Alternative Radio tried to draw world attention to Kashmir, he was deported from the airport terminal in Delhi. The Guardian's Declan Walsh met the same fate from the Pakistani authorities for his article "Pakistan's Secret Dirty War")

Akhtar should stop making an ass of himself and instead learn something from Nobel Laureate economist Amartya Sen who avoided discussing the Kashmir issue in his book, The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity by declaring: "I am not taking up that thorny question here" because "the Kashmir issue certainly demands political attention on its own." Not that Sen is unaware of the Indian atrocities in Kashmir but perhaps he is not brave enough to discuss it; but then, at least he is not a hypocrite who raises the issue and then blames the victims.

Let's take the example of a Hindu family in Pakistan whose female family member is kidnapped by a Muslim, then married and converted to Islam (happens often) or a Christian charged of blasphemy whose life is in danger says "fuck Pakistan," what does it mean? Nothing. It's just anger vented at their own helplessness and at unconcerned leaders. Neither that Christian nor the Hindu is going to blow up mountains in Pakistan or divert the flow of River Indus. Even if they want to, they won't do it because Pakistan is the only place they can live, unlike the rich people from many backgrounds who have multiple visas or green cards to leave Pakistan for foreign countries when things get tough in theirs. Christians and Hindus make up only 4% of Pakistan's population and are at the lowest rung of the economic class.

Or let us assume that if in India, a Dalit whose village has been burnt down by the upper caste goons says "fuck India," is that phrase going to hurt India in any manner? No. And mind you, you would never find his name in the Panama Papers list.

Too much nationalism/patriotism is a well paved expressway that can easily lead to fascistan, which is always dangerous for mental health and can result in the creation of mini-Mussolinis.

This idiocy of nationalism has warped many celebrity minds. Recently, during the cricket match between Bangladesh and India Amitabh Bachchan (always on right side of power) tweeted like a frog in the well:

"With all due respects, it would be really worthy of an Indian commentator to speak more about our players than others all the time."

Cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle drew Bachchan's and others' attention to the international nature of the telecast and the need for an objective, balanced portrayal of events." Bhogle became a casualty; the Indian Premier League (IPL) terminated his contract. Bachchan has 20 million followers on Twitter.

Akhtar has fame and money; he doesn't need to prove anything – least of all the idiocy called "patriotism." But as he'll be out of the limelight of mainstream media and the eyes of people of the powerland, he fears being ignored and that leads people like Akhtar to look for a place in the lap of power. Writer Jawed Naqvi is right on target when he says "fascism needs and woos liberals like him [Javed Akhtar].”"

Have Akhtar (and all those hardcore religious nationalists) ever thought of asking the Adivasi (South Asia's aboriginal population) what do they, as original inhabitants of South Asia, think of this patriotic rubbish?

B. R. Gowani can be reached at brgowani[at]hotmail[dot]com

Next Story >>
Google + Linkedin Whatsapp

The Latest Issue

Outlook Videos