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Google tells me that the real Napoleon Bonaparte used somewhat more vivid imagery to rhetorically raise and dismiss the question, what’s a throne? For my limited purpose this week, I’m content to use what Rod Steiger, playing him in the 1970 classic Waterloo, said. Something like, what’s a throne? It’s an overpriced piece of furniture.

This was still the early 19th century, a throne still mattered. In most of the modern world, it doesn’t even exist. Nationalism has crept back pan-nationally to some extent lately, yet the symbols of the nation-state, thrones, crowns, anthems, flags, have generally faded from our consciousness.

They haven’t gone away, though. Sportspersons take these very seriously at championships, for example. It is just that the modern nation-state is more stable and secure and the value of such symbols has become commemorative, less existential.

We can, therefore, follow this argument with a rhetorical, but relevant, question of our own: What is a flag? Would today’s Napoleon have said, hah, an over-rated piece of cloth? Probably not. But his lancers would not have gone to fight Wellington at Waterloo today holding the great banner aloft. Times change, people change and symbols change.

The reason we bring in an apparently far-out question like ‘what’s a flag’ is because that is the issue still holding up the long-drawn-out process to finally end India’s oldest, and bloodiest, insurgency, in Nagaland.

Both, the Indian state and the Nagas accept they have done terrible things to each other, that violence no longer works. The Nagas still want a flag of their own to share the Kohima skyline with the national tricolour. The Modi government isn’t willing to concede that. Negotiations have now reached a level where the government says you can have a flag for cultural and ethnic occasions. The Nagas say, that will be a bit like an NGO having its own flag.

Banking leader K.V. Kamath has a brilliant line on the art of negotiation. The best negotiation, he says, is where both sides leave the table just a little unhappy. Translated, it means, each one concedes something they would’ve preferred not to.

For Muivah’s Nagas, to sign up without the consolation of a flag, is humiliation. For the Modi government, the choice is equally tough. Just this Thursday, 31 October, it celebrated taking down the flag of Jammu and Kashmir and presented the idea as a tribute to Sardar Patel, whose birth anniversary it coincided with. How do they concede to a tribal state of just about 30 lakh people what they have taken away from one much bigger as a statement of rejuvenated Indian nationalism?

The idea of symbolism for the BJP government of Narendra Modi is a far cry from Vajpayee’s. Asked how Kashmiri separatists would negotiate if India insisted that it be within the framework of its Constitution, Vajpayee had disarmingly replied, we will talk within the parameters of humanity (insaniyat).

Modi’s BJP has moved back to a harder, inflexible, and if I may add with some caution, more abrasive, nationalism. Such nationalism can’t be ‘cool’ about its symbols. That’s why the lowering of one state’s flag is celebrated, another one demanding it is resisted, and a third one (Karnataka) still having one of its own reluctantly tolerated.

No cinema hall dares to stop playing the national anthem even after the Supreme Court withdrew its own order. People are harassed if they refuse to stand up in movie halls. It’s as if the new generation of Indians have to prove to each other once again that they aren’t just patriots but nationalists.

This BJP is much closer to its ideological founding fathers’ vision of ek vidhan, ek nishan, ek pradhan (one Constitution, one symbol and one leader) for all of India. To that extent, India has moved several steps back into its mindset of the paranoid 1960s.

If you, like me, are a child of the 1960s, and step back into that decade, imagining the India of today would be an impossibility. We had four full wars and several small ones between 1961 (Goa) and 1971 (Bangladesh). Would our generation have imagined that 1971 was the last real war India would fight for the next five decades? Would we have imagined that by this time India would have subsumed all its insurgencies and separatist political movements?

Respected scholars, most notably American Selig Harrison, were talking about an inevitable break-up of India in that “dangerous decade”. India proved them wrong, and today, it stands at the most secure juncture in its history, politically, strategically, militarily and economically, never mind the recent trouble.

I must underline that this hasn’t happened after 2014. I go back to around 2003, post Op Parakram and India’s use of coercive diplomacy as this turning point. So, this virtuous epoch of a secure India has matured over more than 15 years now. You cannot see this reversing easily. Not externally. Nor internally, unless our politics messes up our social cohesion.

India is now far too strong and important for anyone to push it around, or grab any territory. This is when we Indians should have also felt that sense of security and enjoyed this well-earned comfort. On the contrary, we have brought back some familiar old insecurities again.


Also read: Modi govt is riding a tiger in Kashmir. This will only lead to more Kulgam-like violence


You will find the reason in the politics of the Modi-Shah BJP. See it this way. The critics of this government charge it, with some schadenfreude, with having internationalised the Kashmir issue. This is a fact. But today India is strong enough to take this degree of internationalisation in its stride.

Until today, three months after the 5 August changes, no nation other than the three usual suspects have asked India to reverse them. The rest pretty much concede this — if mostly in silence — as India’s internal affair.

Of course, it cannot go on like this forever. Kashmir has to see much greater normalcy much faster, its politicians and prominent people can’t remain detained for too long and the communication denial has to end. Or international pressure will rise and even friendly governments, like Trump’s for example, will find it difficult to stay aloof. And if normalcy returned, would Kashmir continue to play so strongly in the national consciousness? Or, more bluntly, will it still feed mass insecurity and thereby hyper-nationalism?

The challenge with the new situation in Kashmir isn’t that it’s been internationalised, but that it’s been internalised as never before. Trouble in Kashmir means threat from Pakistan, radical Islam, a fifth column, jihadi terror and so on. It is a straight and unbroken thread of national insecurity. With the economy declining and job losses, the need to not just retain, but strengthen this hyper-nationalist push is even stronger. From that vantage point, there isn’t much electoral percentage in saying we are so wonderfully secure. Because then, how do you run your politics without the fear of the “other”?

In the decades between 1972 and 2014, Indian nationalism had evolved into a more relaxed, secure and comfortable state of mind. We are being dragged back from those times, into fighting once again the fears we thought we had defeated 50 years ago. It is fascinating that it is precisely in this mood that two contrary games are playing out: Where the denial of a flag to one is a national celebration, and conceding one to the other looms as an inconvenient compulsion.


Also read: While Kashmir continues to grab headlines, we must not ignore the growing anxiety in Nagaland


 

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72 Comments Share Your Views

72 COMMENTS

  1. INDIA CANNOT BE PUSHED AROUND:
    Remember the case of Admiral Gorshkov later renamed as INS vikramditya (the aircraft carrier). We ended up paying $5 billion whereas it was to be a ‘gift’. What was the that story all about? Our SU-30MKI, MIG’s (called as flying coffins) all depend for spare parts and renovations from Russia and you say “we cannot be pushed around”. Why was Russia having military exercises with Pakistan then? And so on…
    When we neglect Palestinian cause in favor of Israel we are effectively “selling our sovereignty”. These are “hidden costs” of weapon system we import beside the hard cash we pay. The cost of the ‘Israeli help’ we got in the ‘middle of kargil war’. Similarly earlier for soviet union and now for Russia we pay by not taking any viewpoint on russia-in-syria /ukrain war etc. The payment in terms of sovereignty.

  2. Shekhar sir’s WORDS::
    If you, like me, are a child of the 1960s, and step back into that decade, imagining the India of today would be an impossibility. We had four full wars and several small ones between 1961 (Goa) and 1971 (Bangladesh). Would our generation have imagined that 1971 was the last real war India would fight for the next five decades? Would we have imagined that by this time India would have subsumed all its insurgencies and separatist political movements?
    Respected scholars, most notably American Selig Harrison, were talking about an inevitable break-up of India in that “dangerous decade”. India proved them wrong, and today, it stands at the most secure juncture in its history, politically, strategically, militarily and economically, never mind the recent trouble.

    MY WORDS::
    May be, the 1960’s were the most tumultuous like it is said that in 1965 war Indian women gave away their gold ornaments to fight the war (essentially we were poor– did not have enough to eat (pre-green revolution days), were short of weapons, etc). But to say that since 1971 India was not fighting a war. I do not agree with it. Civil wars in Kashmir and Punjab were the most fierce and went on for decades. That is why as a child of 80’s I saw these mini-civil wars in 80’s-90’s as not less than full wars (only it varied in strategy). Just count the number of people who died in regular war and in these insurgencies. Also, this phase was equally “big low points in Indian history” in terms of security. (like Narasimha Rao and other weak central govts). Now even after these fully blown insurgencies ended there remained bomb blasts (Mumbai blasts, many hundreds of train basts and armed raids (parliament attack, Mumbai raids etc) that Pakistan conducted on daily basis. On top of it, it blamed them on non-state actors–proving innocence. This is what has been stopped by Modi govt after 2014. After 2014, attacks have been military in nature (pulwama, uri, pathankot etc) –nearly no civilian attack. Even for military attacks, it has given a befitting reply which was earlier not considered worth it (or our politicians feared escalation). general thought was that soldiers are to die during conflict. They get paid for exactly this. For decades what the politicians have been giving the Indian public was condolences. Where was the result on the ground? what these bombings and raids do is: it essentially disturbs our society, puts a kind of fear psychosis in citizen’s minds. A society disturbed on this scale has ‘discontent’ in its hearts. Essential normalcy in society is disrupted–which is essential for its normal growth and development or evolution.

    We have proved Selig Harrison wrong until now but who knows the future. A nation faces challenges daily just as we face in our daily life. For example, US faces illegal migration, drug cartels even when it is a superpower……

    shekhar sir’s WORDS:
    India is now far too strong and important for anyone to push it around.

    MY WORDS:
    If we do not have a strong govt at the center china will open its bases very near our coastline like in Sri Lanka. In the immediate neighbourhood, Nepal is already gone out of Indian orbit (influence). With a weak govt, India will loose its influence in its immediate neighborhood. China already has established control over the south china sea , maybe it can think of a few more islands in Indian ocean. Does these bases not impose security threat to india especially when we have fought a regular war with it. Our weapon purchases constantly end up in a deadlock due to corruption scandals. When we have all the money to pay for them. Our indigenous weapon programs fail to produce results for as long as 30 years and we go on a begging spree for “combat jet engine” knowing fully well about previous technology denials by the west and US.

  3. Middle East countries throw out their illegal inhabitants on a regular basis and in that lot, there are lot of Bangladeshis are there. But Bangladesh government stays silent because they know the rest will also be chucked out. Myanmar threw out half of them in one go and there were no sound. India should do the same. No country, such as India which has millions of poor, can afford to take extra burden.

  4. I read the title of this article a few days ago, and since then have been cheesed off with it. I haven’t been able to figure out what it means – – India is actually most secure… In what way, boss? THE PRINT guys have a compulsion to look “upright and dignified” and yet not rub the Modi gang the wrong way. It tangentially reminds me of the title of a book of poems, “kitni naavon mein kitni baar”. At some point you have to call a spade a spade, boss!

    • Immigrants makes a country grow. The US is a prime example. EU is more stingy and the same skin color made no difference there. Focus on productivity and growth. Cut 93 holidays in the nation in to half. Migrant labor will do twice what the Desi Bhai will do for an identical job. Skip wasting time on crap like NRC and CAB. Migrants are a drop in the ocean of 1.35 Billion people.

  5. The world is in a transitional phase between globalism and sovereign nations. India has no friends, but no country can afford to have it on the other side. So we have oddities like Modi being awarded the highest Russian civilian honour. China, Russia and Iran are on the side that day-by-day is winning the new world order. Pakistan has thrown in its lot with them. A day will come when a garbage dump with nukes that stands for something as repellent as Hindutvuism can be globally sanctioned under Responsibility to Protect. Most Indians will be better off with a confederal structure. In 1947, India’s GDP per capita was slightly higher than Singapore’s. Now Singapore’s is thirty times that of India. The increasingly ugly Bharat that is India is not doing it’s people any favours. And it’s not just Modi or the RSS or the BJP. The failure is built into the constitution, forcing any number of quasi-nations or native identities into a giant fake-nation state built around the identity of Hindutvuism, a fake religion pretending to be Hinduism.

  6. National flag: a great symbol of nationalism and patriotism is actually just an over-rated piece of design that’s worn as slippers, bikinis and underwear in secure and truly liberal democracies. 🇦🇺🇨🇦🇺🇸🇬🇧🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿

  7. Show me a middle income country whose national symbols or territory is in doubt. Thus there is no dichomoy between nationalism and economy. For jornalist’s career there may be. Like in 90s growth happened without infra as base was small. In 2000 infra was needed and it also drove growth. This is next step…whats more people are asking for it… how many places served butter paneer in Madras or dosa in Haryana. You cannot stop this sub wave or tributary of globalization.

  8. supremacist and revivalist tendencies are at the root of a deep sense of inferiority complex . a feeling of an unjustified sense of having been wronged , and insecurity. And Rss and bjp and especially Modi , a narcissist are the symbols . what else to expect ? The author who in his early childhood attended the shaka knows it better than anybody.

    • I couldn’t agree more with what you’ve written.

      But it’s also a civil war in Hinduism: who gets to speak in its name?

      The so-called LLs (Left Loonies) – basically open-minded people with all their defects – or the RRs (Religious Rightists) with their ideas of a closed India.

      The RRs are trying to shut the mouths of the LLs, who should come out in numbers and take the fight to the RRs.

  9. Modi is a true nationalist. In Bangkok he talks about Article 370 while Delhi citizens are choking to death.

    I’m sure Amit Shah is also out of Delhi.

  10. For the first time after Sardar Patel, we have a pair of leaders who know something about nation building. Modi and Shah know that a nation has to be built on a strong foundation that requires tough decisions. In 1947, we had leaders (read Nehru) who did not have the courage of conviction to take hard decisions, they compromised on the foundational principles of India – and we are seeing the consequences to this day. Modi and Shah have an opportunity now to correct the historical blunders of 1947 and set India on a better course. News merchants like Gupta are no nation builders and know nothing about nation building.

        • Mr. Dev. It’s clear that you’re not related to the two famous Devs (one whose first name was Dev and the second who brought us the World Cup), otherwise you’d not keep on being o obsessed with the Congress.

          Please learn something from your famous name sakes.

          • If any political party requires learning, it’s the Congress. If sycophants require learning, it’s the Congress sycophants.

      • True to character, lefty loonies like you know nothing about nation building. Let me enlighten you with a few examples. Nation building includes – securing your borders on your own (not running to UN), not blindly trusting any other country when it comes to your security and maintaining a military that can defend your borders (not running down your own military into ground until a neighbor defeats you and grabs your land), ensuring integrity of the country through a single secular law (not separating different communities into their own silos), dismantling the administrative structures built by the British to control us and replace them with a decentralized structure that responds to people), not destroying your own civilization and culture in the name of an imported ideology called Marxism, not promoting court historians who can invent a history that suits your politics with utter disregard for truth, not being a megalomaniacal moron and not turning the country into a second rate communist economy. But then I don’t expect a leftist like you to have the mental faculties to understand what nation building means.

        • RJ made my day by spouting nonsense about nation building.

          Left. Right. Left. Right. You understand nothing else. As a recent study showed Indians have a smaller brain size compared to others. You confirm it.

        • “imported ideology called Marxism”… true the origin of Marxism is not desi but what about nationalism? go read history and you’ll learn that the notion of a nation-state is essentially European!

        • You don’t seem to get that India does not have ONE composite culture. Almost every state has it’s own culture and language (sometimes more than one). What’s wrong in taking pride in that?!
          The first requirement of nation building is a united and happy populace. Not one divided across religious and ethnic lines so that the party in power can get votes!!

          • India will go Kaput based on the extremism and non productivity of northern India and its language. More Hindi, deeper it goes in to the hole, The first rule, when in a hole, is not to dig any more.,

      • Neither did the urban Naxal kingpin S Gupta define nationalism before gassing “hypernationalism” all around like a 3rd rate pimp of breaking India forces. If chanting tukde tukde is an acceptable form of FoE , then obviously showing overt pride in national anthem / symbols will appear as hyper for u lumpens. It all depends where you draw your normal. If your Minima of nationalism is contiguous to what constitutes as sedition in any other liber democracies else where, then you will scream hyper nationalism when some chant Bharat Mata ki Jai or wear national pride on their sleeves.You guys, basically vectors of anti Indic values but guised sophisticatedly to fool around are trying to be clever by half by actutally gassing bromides but blaming others.

    • For the first time after Sardar Patel, we have a pair of leaders who have undone what Sardar had done for Kashmir!

      “Sardar Patel was the ‘architect’ of Article 370. The very first meeting between Kashmiri leaders and Indian leaders was held in Sardar Patel’s house. Negotiations continued for five months and when the outlines were finalised, the Dewan of Kashmir N. Gopalaswamy Iyenger wrote to Sardar Patel and requested him to write to Jawaharlal Nehru and inform the latter that the Dewan agreed to the clauses proposed. Iyenger wrote that Pandit Nehru would write to Sheikh Abdullah only after Sardar Patel cleared the draft in its entirety. Sardar Patel then wrote to Nehru, who was in the United States on his first state visit, that he had discussed Article 370 with other leaders. “ I was able to prevail upon them…” is what Patel wrote to Nehru.

      “But on Sardar Patel’s birth anniversary today, Prime Minister Modi and his colleagues once again purveyed the lie that Sardar Patel was opposed to Article 370 and referring the Kashmir issue to the United Nations.”

  11. If the agreement signed by Maharaja of Kashmir acceding Kashmir to India is legally binding ,why should India nogotiate with Pakistan to decide FUTURE of kashmir?It is true separatists wants independence.They are not in majority.They grew up because of indecision of previous Govts to tackle the problems in the beginning. “Nip it in the bud”.
    Is not the demand of Separatists similar to demand of LTTE? {I am only a lay man. However please explain to me.}.How is it different from “Khalistan?’

  12. Illegal immigration from Bangladesh is slowly converting our border states into Muslim majority states and then few more Kashmir will be born in the future. India is not safe at all.

      • Guptaji, West Bengal has 26 percent Muslims already due to influx from across the border. Should we wait till they reach 56 percent. By then they will make it another Bangladesh. Just ask those Hindus who used to live in Bangladesh and why they left the place they were born.

        • Hindus in general are porone to run as did the Brahmins from TN and Kashmir. In broader terms all Indians do not run for lack of space to go to as they demonstrated as slaves under British empire. Some doubtful stats claim 36,000 lap dogs clamprd down 330 million people of India. Guess you give or take a million! I do not have a long nose.!!!

    • You are correct. It is a question of arithmetic. When muslim are procreating at higher rate than hindu and if you add illegal immigration of muslim the India will have more Kashmirs in the future.

  13. Mr Boris Johnson wrote: ‘There must be something about Islam that indeed helps to explain why there was no rise of the bourgeoisie, no liberal capitalism and therefore no spread of democracy in the Muslim world’.
    He added Islam was held back by ‘fatal religious conservatism’ and the Muslim world had ‘fallen behind, the more bitterness and confusion there has been, to the point where virtually every global flash point you can think of – from Bosnia to Palestine to Iraq to Kashmir – involves some sense of Muslim grievance.’ DAILY MAIL

    • And since when is Mr. Boris the quotable expert on Islam – or on anything else for that matter? Cert, his grasp of English is better than that of his pal Donald, but they are both opportunistic bigots. So please spare us this rot.

      • Anamika: there’s a civil war going on in Hinduism: who are the true representatives. Of this grand old religion /culture.

        Keep fighting!

        • In the US, every Texan, almost every year has wanted independence and the rest of the US would grin, nod and mind their own business So will the Indians. No, Kashmir, Khalistan. Telgu, Tamil, Guj,ju land, Marata, Bengal………Just GRIN,pat them on the back and walk away. Every one is entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts. So, Ignore. Live and let live as long as their fantasy does not break India.

      • He is an expert on Muslims in his country. He knows most Muslims live on benefits handed by his people. He also knows of all the communities, Muslims produce most prisoners. Please look at their crime statistics. He knows , he is the PM. You do not like Boris or Trump because they tell the truth which is inconvenient to you people.

    • Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia,name them. there are exceptions to all rules. partly in agreement. it is not the religion per se but the people who control that religion or try to control who are at the root of institutionalised wrong interpretation of its tenets. All religions have undergone changes and revivalist tendencies and militarism of a supremacist nature are sheer socio political in nature . and we must also acknowledge the fact that India is presently being taken back by a similar narrative by a regressive , pseudo religious political discourse.

  14. The ‘throne of Hindustan‘ is too precious for both, the dynasts and those rising from cadre. And hyper nationalism is a convenient cloak to hide the lack a comprehensive and progressive vision for the country.

    When the establishment decides to adopt a partisan approach to issues of national interest, it becomes imperative to demand the introduction of the ‘PM question hour’ in Parliament to save the country from becoming a China, Russia or Hindu Saudi.

    • When a man is challenged in some way, you can not bother them. The present PM can not think on his feet, respond spontaneously for a press conference and do dialogue when he likes and prefers monologues as in Man ki Baat. So then, you want to fire him from his post??? He can not listen to others either because no PM can have a so qualified PMO!!!

  15. शेखर जी , घुमा कर बात आपके मुंह से अच्छी नहीं लगती, घबराइए मत, सच बोलो, मोदी शाह आपकी जान नहीं ले सकते. थोड़े से फेवर नहीं मिलेंगे, जाने दीजिए. आपकी उम्र भी हो गई. अब तो सच बोलो.

  16. Trifurcation of J and K was a correct step. However, Kashmir valley may have to be given more autonomy, perhaps a Bhutan like status. Talks of getting P O K may lead to a nuclear war.

  17. Yes, it is true it is not just Shekhar Gupta even myself and surely many more are thinking on somewhat on theses lines of late if not for the last 5 yrs of this BJP regime and the feeling is growing by the day. It is laughable that we need the level of hyper nationalism and patriotism now after 70 yrs perhaps would not have been seen even during freedom struggle days among Indians in bondage times in the british raj !. Call for unity, baharat mata jai….dropping names ….Gandhi,Patel,Ambedkar….Gautam Budh…have virtually become so frequent and routine in public discourse and Ironically it is during these times more and more people have started feeling a sense of alienation not seen during last 70 yrs.Earlier mostly cong party was in power but even those who would not vote for them or voted selectively often that included me from majority community would never feel the sense of alienation which is felt now by people who do not vote for BJP not just the minority community. We used to have 15th Aug, 26th jan celebrations…Army,security force etc all …then we forget and get into our routine for rest of the yr. But now it appears 15th Aug, 26th jan …the overwhelming presence and visuals of army on TV CHs make you feel these celebrations go on for the entire yr! Our civilian state virtually looks like more an Army state now !If one closely scrutinizes the talks of unity, nationalism…by the Modi-Shah duo one can discern the divisiveness in their utterings—the words and the sentences they speak the way they try to differentiate between those of their ideologies, us and them etc. creating just the opposite effect , the clear signs of alienation setting in is there even among majority community people not to talk of minorities. If the duo and their ilk’s continue like this not just Nagaland ,Kashmir …but even states like Bengal,TN…. will start seeking separate flags soon.

  18. Flag is no doubt sympolic. Soldiers no longer fight battles with Standard bearers in the front. If someone burns Indian flag or stampades on it, our pride is hurt. Otherwise, nothing happens to the country. But, people’s sentiments cannot be ignored, especially when conceding Naga demand can retrigger J & K issue. The central government has got the tiger by the tail.

  19. This article is quite weak in its arguments. As regards Nagas, the talks are on for a very long time and the issue of Naga sovereignty, constitution and flag are not something that are demanded and rejected now. By following Shekhar’s argument, forget BJP, would Congress allow Nagas to have a flag and a constitution? So let us not blame Modi Shah duo for Naga issue which incidentally is now coming to an end amicably, as per the latest reports. As regards Kashmir, Modi Shah might have just ended the Art 370 in one shot but it was over the years under Congress starting right from Nehru, Art 370 is getting diluted year by year. If J&K had worked as a model state with Art 370 (without Azadi, Kashmir Banega Pakistan, terrorism etc), one could have modeled our relation with all the North Eastern states and Sikkim on it. But it seems there is no way to go other than full integration, leave apart BJP and RSS agenda. As regards Indians feeling insecure and talk of hyper-nationalism by Modi is just a usual pseudo sickular stand. The main issue is of terrorism emanating from Pakistan and affecting us. One has to take national and international stand against it and do everything to protect us from it. This cannot be called hyper-nationalism; it is not for war against any country or taking territories of another but just to be become strong enough to defend what we are left with.

    • What Shekhar is saying isn’t totally weak. He suggests that the best negotiation is one where both sides leave the table just a little unhappy. So conceding to a separate flag along with an Indian flag isn’t that much of a concession and that would establish lasting peace.

  20. It is not an issue of flag but keeping different identity than other citizens. It is creating state within state which should not be allowed. Happy with present dispensation on this count.

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