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From Priyanka Chopra to Doordarshan, patriotism today is a show of love for Indian military

Over the last few years, Indian nationalism and Bollywood have redefined who the ‘enemy’ is — the citizen who protests and calls out injustice.

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There is no better day than 15 August to wear patriotism on our sleeves. Today marks the 72nd anniversary of our Independence, and many Indians seem to be at pains to redefine what patriotism and nationalism means to them – and everyone else. Some insist the two are not the same. Others use it interchangeably.

At an event in Los Angeles last week, Bollywood actor and Quantico star Priyanka Chopra used the patriotism shield to defend her tweet on Balakot air strikes that a Pakistani woman described as ‘encouraging nuclear war against Pakistan’. “War is not something I am really fond of but I am patriotic…,” Chopra said in response. She is walking a tightrope by articulating two different positions — that of being anti-war while being supportive of the military’s actions in Balakot.

But a closer examination reveals the dominant patriotism template in India today – patriotism cannot be imagined without the Indian soldier. Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar Tuesday released Doordarshan’s new song called Watan to mark India’s Independence Day. The video was predominantly a paean to the Indian military.

Of late, nationalism has been conflated with love for the government (Prime Minister Narendra Modi in particular), for the military, and hatred for the sworn-enemy called Pakistan. Any talk about oppression of marginalised communities or injustice to anyone is labelled as an anti-national sentiment aimed at tarnishing India’s image.


Also read: Bharat Mata Ki Jai: Not patriots, Indians now want to be patriotism police


Bollywood and the ‘other’

Bollywood is the best barometer to detect this change in the national mood.

In the 2006 movie Rang De Basanti, R. Madhavan’s character, an air force pilot, says, “Koi bhi desh perfect nahi hota hai, use perfect banana padta hai.”

In Swades (2004), Shah Rukh Khan plays a NASA scientist who comes to India for a short duration but is unable to leave after realising that his poverty-stricken village needs him more than NASA does. Patriotism was the guiding factor, but the film’s protagonist had the ability to acknowledge his privilege, identify the problems that his community faced, and use his skills to fix those.

Several other movies like Chak De IndiaNaya DaurPeepli LivePan Singh Tomar, and Manthan used patriotic themes and depicted an India that was flawed, had problems, but the protagonists found ways to overcome those, serving either their immediate societies or the nation at large.

Whether it was the corrupt defence minister, unjust police officer, inefficient judiciary, or lax sports authorities – the hate-worthy ‘other’ was often located within India. Pakistan would still serve as the punching bag every time a ‘war’ needed to be fought, but by and large, Indian films focused on socio-economic challenges. There was little doubt who the villain was.


Also read: There’s no patriotism without guns and glory in India now – new I-Day song shows just that


The new enemy in cinema

But over the last few years, the ‘enemy’ now is also the Indian citizen who calls out injustice – and s/he must be sent to Pakistan, the other enemy.

One of Noam Chomsky’s five filters of manufacturing consent is the creation of the enemy – which seems to have been adopted by the Hindi film industry. For instance, in Uri: The Surgical Strike, it is the Indian Army hitting back at Pakistan for its attack on an Indian army base. In the 2017 thriller The Ghazi Attack, which is based on the sinking of PNS Ghazi in 1971, a character lays out the rules of the war in clear terms: “Wars are won not by dying but by killing your enemy.”

Paresh Rawal’s character in Uri, which many believe has been modelled on National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, says, “Yeh naya Hindustan hai, yeh ghar mein ghusega bhi, aur maarega bhi.”

While the character is clearly talking about Pakistan and India’s cross-border strikes, it is difficult to hear it and not be reminded of the news reports and the viral videos of incidents of lynching on Indian streets. In this Naya Hindustan, reporting about protests and lockdown in Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 is can make you an anti-national. To speak about economic slowdown, unemployment, communalism, increase in gender-based violence and caste discrimination is ‘anti-India’.


Also read: This day 50 years ago, an incident along India-Pakistan border proved Partition’s futility


Indo-Pak Express derailed

Sports and cinema are often seen as bridges between warring nations. But those spaces are now being used to polarise and create hatred.

Indian tennis player Rohan Bopanna and his Pakistani partner Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi, better known as the ‘Indo-Pak Express’, reached the doubles final of the US Open in 2010 to go down fighting to the Bryan Brothers. At the Arthur-Ashe stadium in New York, there were just as many Indian and Pakistani flags as there were US flags; and at the practice session, more than half the arena was full of Indians and Pakistanis. While receiving their trophy, one of the Bryan brothers said that the Bopanna-Qureshi duo was doing a lot for the world peace. The two played their matches wearing T-shirts that said, “Stop War Start Tennis”.

Nine years later, the Indian Davis Cup players have expressed their reservations about playing in Pakistan after the abrogation of Article 370 and after Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan drew a comparison between Modi and Hitler. The Indo-Pak Express seems to have derailed in more ways than one.

In the song ‘Democracy’, Leonard Cohen sang, “I’m sentimental, if you know what I mean, I love the country but I can’t stand the scene.”

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12 COMMENTS

  1. LOL – Author needs to quote Chomsky on Patriotism. Seriously, when will these Autors know that woolly-headed “when land is not broken to boundaries” stuff is really very dead?

  2. The author of this article is probably not aware that just when Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee was in Pakistan, trying to build bridges with it, Pakistani soldiers were busy occupying Indian territory in Kargil. This is just one example. So there is absolutely wrong is assuming Pakistan as our enemy number one. Anything else will be just fooling ourselves.

  3. There were other movies as well in the so called new era bollywood such as Article 15, Shubhmangal Savdhan, Lakshmi, Mardani, Linga where the villian is located within India which is often some regressive social practices. So conveniently forgot about these movies ? or aren’t those patriotic in your definition ? Also forgot to add ‘Raazi’ to this list ? Or since its made by liberal icon Gulzar, it is ‘good’ patriotic film, but Uri is a ‘bad’ patriotic film ?

  4. Suffocating and sad, not to mention stupid. It reminds me of the old quote “Be careful when you follow the masses. Sometimes the M is silent”.

  5. When I say I am patriotic, it doesnt mean that I am not peaceloving. Of course, I do not wanted myself to be part of other peace loving group, where the peace is there only in the name. So Pakistanis understand only thing. If you are patriotic, you are going to start nuclear war. This is called extremist ideology and Pakistan is fully into it.

  6. Those who want to report on Kashmir due to human right issue ,had kept quiet when Chinese change demography in xingxang. Due to this behavior this type people lost their credibility.

  7. Bollywood used to have a social conscience. I remember being deeply moved by Ankur, Shabana Azmi’s first film. Somewhere, in the shift to multiplexes and tubs of pop corn and ice cream, something has been lost.

  8. In a country that has fought four wars, faced a long externally enabled insurgency and had multiple large scale terror attacks if there still are people who think the enemy is hard to define then i don’t know whether to laugh or cry. It was idiotic of Indians to wear those t-shirts in 2010 less than two years after the mumbai attacks when the accused were not even investigated. This luxury of sermons on peace at the expense of dead indians at CST in mumbai or the CRPF jawans in Pulwama is something we cannot afford. Also, no one in india thinks the country is ‘perfect’ but the fact remains that warts and all it is still all that we have and we will defend it.

    • Let me define the enemy for you. It is poverty, lack of education and skills, poor healthcare, lack of jobs, lack of infrastructure, no execution skills, rampant corruption, no rule of law, no justice, no respect for human rights, no roadmap for the economy and strategic incoherence.

      PM Modi is too clever and intelligent a man not to know this.

      “While we wait for life, life passes”. Make your own substitutions.

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