An Indian view on history, current affairs and politics

March 27, 2023

The last refuge

In 1774, Samuel Johnson made this famous statement, “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” He wasn’t talking about patriotism in general but show of false patriotism. He was a proud British patriot and in those glory days of the mighty British empire, Patriotism was the best rallying point to get people behind one’s cause. It still is in most countries.

How about India? Is patriotic fervor the best way to get popular support in
India? You’d be sorely mistaken if you thought yes. In this age of single
agenda parties mushrooming on regional and national scene, except BJP and its affiliates, it’s hard to find a party that has a patriotic outlook in its talks, policies or actions. Curiously, display of patriotism in India invites a dictionary full of unpleasant adjectives like war monger, bigot and sure enough, communal !

Death of soldiers goes unreported while an actor’s back pain and tennis
elbow gets month long coverage. Politicians say,”People go into armed forces to die, what’s the big deal !”. Entire government machinery is mobilized to prevent a Shahrukh Khan from getting frisked at a US airport but the same government acts comatose when it comes to saving Sarabjit or Indian POWs in Pakistan since 1971. A morose government watches meekly as enemies regularly cross its borders. Maoists and terrorists butcher soldiers and citizens with inhuman brutality and the government seems scared to act. The examples are numerous and the message is amply clear, patriotism is not a refuge for anyone in India.

For an observer of Indian history and politics, this last refuge has been
changing with time. For a major part of post independence India, it was
poor. By a twisted logic poverty was glorified in movies while politicians
claimed to be the real well wisher of poor. Poverty alleviation seemed to be
rallying point for politicians. Indira Gandhi even won a parliamentary
election riding slogans of “Garibi Hatao”. The poor remained poor while
those claiming to be their well wishers prospered.

The next cycle brought caste politics in shape of dalit reservations,
Harijan laws and a mascot in form of Dr. Ambedkar effectively became the
rallying point. Several politicians and parties owe their rise to dalit
politics. Dalit identity became a refuge when anyone was under fire. A
recent example is when BSP supremo said Devyani Khobragade was harassed because she is a dalit. BSP is an example of a party that owes its existence to caste politics. Electorate was divided and crystallized into caste vote banks. Social engineering resulted in atidalit and mahadalits identities. A broken society suits the politicians nevermind the national interest.

The newage refuge is secularism. Parties seem to be falling over each other
to prove themselves more secular than others. Unfortunately as with all
previous rallying points, the obsession to own and hide behind the refuge
has ensured its meaning has been twisted beyond comprehension. The new
meaning of minority is Muslim and secularism is Muslim appeasement.
Kashmiri Pandits were a minority in Kashmir and yet they remain ignored as
they don’t fit in political definition of a minority. Same case with Sikhs,
Parsis, Buddhists, Jains, Jews and others. The lure of secular votes is such
that politicians do not mind visiting arch rival Pakistan. Terrorists are
being eulogized, freed of charges because no one wants to antagonize Muslim votes. The competitive secular politics has led to invention of imaginary saffron terror and demands of religion based reservation. This form of secularism is now threatening the entire fabric of this country and yet the politicians refuse to learn.

An even more deceptive rallying point is now appearing on the horizon that
reminds of an old Chinese adage, “In order to beat the bad, ally with the worse”.Bedridden communism has got a fresh lease of life in Aam Aadmi party. Their monotonous chants of aam admi (common man), reminds how communists name every thing after people, people’s republic, people’s army to what not. The party while masking behind common man has conveniently engaged religious extremists, supported maoists and secessionists, questioned courts and dithered away from the promise of fighting corruption.

It’s unfortunate that Indians have never been as passionate to the call of
patriotism as expected. As a society, we’ve remain as fractured as ever.As a
country we failed to rise up despite being blessed both geographically and
demographically. For long we’ve been termed a functioning anarchy. It’s time we rise up above all the narrow definitions and heed the call of development and progress to make India a superpower.