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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 15 New Delhi April 2, 2016

Would Bhagat Singh have raised the Slogan ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ ?

Monday 4 April 2016

by Sandeep Pandey and Rahul Pandey

As we know, the great revolutionary Bhagat Singh was an atheist. He wrote a famous article ‘Why I am an Atheist?’ Even after he knew that he was going to be hanged by the British Government, his commitment to his principles was not shaken. Neither did he regret his action of exploding the harmless bomb in the Central Assembly at Delhi nor did he seek any apology from the British. He was hanged when he was merely 23 years of age and hence did not get a chance to play a major role in the freedom struggle of India but there can be no denying that he continues to be among the most inspiring of the freedom fighters that India produced.

Bhagat Singh believed in the objective reality and was concerned about the condition of the masses. He wanted to work for the liberation of millions from the clutches of poverty and exploitation. A lot many people, when they take up a cause, seek the help of the ‘almighty’. Belief in God gives them inner strength to live through the extremely difficult circumstances in order to be able to help the needy. A good example would be that of Mother Teresa. But for Bhagat Singh such faith was not required. He derived his strength from his inner self. He believed in the ideals of Socialism and was convinced that political change could be brought about. With his small but extremely dedicated band of volunteers he took on the might of the British and was crushed. But not his spirit, which continues to be alive in the form of numerous revolutionaries and activists working for social transformation.

As Bhagat Singh did not believe in God, he would not have believed in any symbolism. Hence he would not have felt the need to hail Bharat Mata, an incarnation of the idea of mother nation. As he did not worship any God or Goddess, there was no need for him to feel any reverence for Bharat Mata. It is unlikely that he would have ever raised the ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ slogan. In fact, his favourite slogan was ‘Inqilab Zindabad’. Does it make him any less patriotic? On the contrary, his life exemplifies that patriotism lies in one’s beliefs and actions rather than mere symbolic slogans.

The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh is doing a great disservice by promoting the idea that to prove one’s loyalty to the nation one has to say ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’. There are innumerable people who are working with full commitment to serve the society and humanity. The way of expressing their commitment to the nation may be different. For example, a doctor by serving the patients is working for the nation. Does she need to raise ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ slogan to prove her loyalty to the nation?

Owing to its historical origins, ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ conjures up an image of the Durga-like Goddess who is worshipped by several sections of Hindus. However, India’s reality is far more diverse. Many Indian citizens from religions other than Hinduism would not relate the nation with such a Goddess-like image. Even among Hindus there are several sections, especially the oppressed castes, who do not worship such an image. Some even despise it.

Then there are numerous tribal communities living in and around the vast forests and natural ecosystems all across India who display an amazing richness of cultural variety. These communities have being living here for ages, even before Hinduism took birth on this land. Most of them do not revere human-like Gods or even identify with the idea of a nation that many of us in the mainstream have. They are more likely to revere nature and specific forms of natural resources around them, such as forests, soil, rains, mountains, rivers and seas, amidst which they have been living in a symbiotic relationship.

And, there are non-believers, atheists and agnostics among us, having equal constitutional rights as all others, many of whom may not agree with the concept of ‘Bharat Mata’. With increasing influence of science and rationality in modern times, such communities are growing almost everywhere.

All these sections and communities of people are Indian citizens and have their own ways of relating with and serving the nation. They have different cultural symbols too, which are perfectly meaningful in their respective contexts. Every community has the right to follow its rituals and symbols without imposing them on others.

This is the reason why our founding fathers and mothers—who led India’s freedom struggle against the British—laid overarching importance to respecting our society’s pluralistic character. They realised that India can thrive only with a robust foundation that preserves this pluralism. All tallest leaders of our freedom movement, who had a pan-India following and who inspired the imagination of millions—Gandhi, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Ambedkar, Bose, Bhagat Singh, Tilak, Nehru, Maulana Azad, Patel, Tagore, and others—, agreed on certain common core values in spite of differences in ideology and strategy. They were not willing to compro-mise on the principles of pluralism, secularism, justice and democracy. Consequently these core values were enshrined in independent India’s Constitution and even in national symbols like the tricolour flag and slogans such as ‘Jai Hind’.

If nationalist passions get linked with religious symbolism such as ‘Bharat Mata’, then it will lead to more divisions, strife and even open murders on irrational provocations, just like the gruesome killing of Muslims in Dadri and Jharkhand on the pretext of another symbolism—‘cow protection’. Bhagat Singh had indeed warned the youth against falling prey to such narrow religious-nationalist passions. In an article written in 1924 in Kirti he had lamented that it were the communal leaders and irresponsible local press (newspapers) who together manufactured bigoted slogans and headlines that created an atmosphere in which communal killings and riots were easily fomented.

 In fact, rather than revering some symbolic idea of the mother nation it would be more important to serve the destitute women/girls in society and to uphold the dignity of women/girls around us. It is probably people who are not doing enough for society or do not treat women/girls around them as equal citizens who need to publicly display their loyalty to symbolic nationalism by raising a jingoistic slogan.

Sandeep Pandey is a social activist and Vice-President, Socialist Party (India), and Rahul Pandey is an entrepreneur and Visiting Faculty at the IIM, Lucknow.