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  • Beating the drums of patriotism too loudly

    Posted On July 30, 2017

    By Karan Thapar

    There are times when I despair for my country. One such is when intellectuals, sporting heroes and senior ministers say the silliest things in the belief they’re making good sense and, even, expressing profound sentiments.

    Last sunday at a function in Jawaharlal Nehru University, the Vice Chancellor called for a tank to be parked on the campus to remind students of the army’s sacrifices. As he put it: “The presence of the army tank will constantly remind thousands of students who pass through this university about the great sacrifices and valour of the Indian army.”

    The first thought that occurred to me as I read this preposterous suggestion was has the man gone bonkers? No doubt the sacrifices Indian soldiers have made in the wars of 1947, ’62, ’65, ’71 and ’99 must never be forgotten but they pale in comparison to those made by the British army in the two world wars – or our own, for that matter – or those of the Soviet army, not just in the 1940s but earlier against Napoleon, for example at Borodino, but you won’t find tanks placed on the courts and quads of Oxbridge colleges or even Moscow University.

    Gautam Gambhir, a young cricketer, went one foolish step further. “Freedom of speech is important”, he expounded, “but there are certain things which are absolutely non-negotiable. One is the respect for the tricolour.” He may be a dab hand with the bat but his thinking is decidedly confused. In India the correct constitutional position is the opposite: freedom of speech is non-negotiable whilst respect for the flag is important.

    Finally, Dharmendra Pradhan, the Petroleum Minister, is reported to have said “in no other country is the army undermined in the way some people do in India.” How does he know that? How many countries has he visited? And in how many of them has he heard their citizens talk of their army? This sounds like a rhetorical flourish devoid of factual content.

    I’m prepared to excuse Gambhir not just because he’s young but also after devoting his life to cricket he probably doesn’t know better. His ignorance may be embarrassing but it’s understandable. Hereafter he should practice the adage: Cricketers should be seen and not heard.

    I’m afraid the Vice Chancellor can’t be treated similarly. He can’t be unaware that Indians love their army and are proud of it. It’s perhaps the most respected institution in the country. We don’t need tanks on our lawns to remind us. Indeed, the only time I’ve seen this was on the grounds of Government College, Lahore, during Gen. Zia’s dictatorship.

    But what should I say of the Minister? He clearly lives up to our belief that Indian politicians have a unique capacity to put both feet firmly in their mouth and yet not choke over their comments.

    Think of it: that’s an amazing talent. Pradhan has proven there’s nothing so thoughtless or incorrect a politician won’t say. Sadly, his political opponents only compete to outdo him.

    The truth all three gentlemen have either ignored or are unaware of is that patriotism is a sentiment that arises from within the heart. It’s also one we all feel. Not at the same time and not always for the same reason but when we’re moved by circumstance or sentiment. But you can’t command it and you must never try to force it. It’s only genuine when it’s spontaneous. Also, it doesn’t have to be displayed to prove it exists. And, it’s not deficient in the Indian people.

    Finally, two and a half centuries may have lapsed since he said it but Samuel Johnson was spot on when he pronounced that patriotism can be the last refuge of a scoundrel. These days we beat the drum of patriotism so often and so loudly I sometimes wonder if we’re becoming a nation of scoundrels?


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