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.
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 India, Naya Daur, Peepli Live, Pan 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.
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’.
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.”