SC Order on National Anthem: Has the Deification of the Nation become the Nationalisation of God?

Written by Dilip Simeon | Published on: December 1, 2016

The exercise of wisdom is the fundamental requirement of judges, even though this is a quality that may only be perceived, not measured.

"The disinterestedly wise ought to desire the holding together of all being" (Bhagwadgita, III 25)

Jan Gan Man
 
"...When the national anthem is played it is imperative for everyone to show honour and respect. It would instil a sense of committed patriotism and nationalism…Time has come for people to realise that the national anthem is a symbol of constitutional patriotism… people must feel they live in a nation and this wallowing individually perceived notion of freedom must go…people must feel this is my country, my motherland. [emphasis added] ...

 
"From the aforesaid, it is clear as crystal that it is the sacred obligation of every citizen to abide by the ideals engrafted in the Constitution. And one such ideal is to show respect for the National Anthem and the National Flag. Be it stated, a time has come, the citizens of the country must realize that they live in a nation and are duty bound to show respect to National Anthem which is the symbol of the Constitutional Patriotism and inherent national quality. It does not allow any different notion or the perception of individual rights, that have individually thought of have no space. The idea is constitutionally impermissible"
 
-- From the SC order on the national anthem dated Nov 30, 2016
 
We Indian citizens are hereby informed that notions of 'individually perceived' rights of the individual have no space and the very idea is tantamount to 'wallowing', and is 'impermissible'. (How else can the rights of an individual be perceived otherwise than by an individual?). Moreover we are told what we must feel; that our obligation to abide by constitutional ideals is 'sacred'. Whatever the expectations the learned judges who passed this order hold of us, there are also expectations that we citizens hold of our judges. Primary amongst these is that they remain restrained in their speech; and are seen to be aware of the philosophical ramifications of judicial utterances. Many citizens including the highest political leaders may not be so aware and often speak in haste. But when it comes to judges, we expect that they will be cautious and restrained: the exercise of wisdom is the fundamental requirement of judges, even though this is a quality that may only be perceived, not measured. 
 
Also read: Sabyasachi Bhattacharya - Antinomies of Nationalism and  Rabindranath Tagore 
 
'Sacred' is a word that adheres to religion. Are we required by law to a) be religious, and b) shift allegiance from Almighty God to the Nation? Should not the wise amongst us educate citizens as to the complex and indefinable aspect of nationalism, which seems to have emerged as the modern form of prayer? Would the learned judges deem Rabindranath Tagore, the very man who composed the national anthem, to be a nationalist?
Here's what Tagore said of nationalism: With the growth of nationalism, man has become the greatest menace to man. Therefore the continual presence of panic goads that very nationalism into ever-increasing menace. Here is Tagore's 4-part essay on Nationalism (1917). Among the many scholarly debates about nationalism, aside from the aforesaid remarks by Tagore, is the one initiated by BR Ambedkar in his Thoughts on Pakistan (1940, 1945. See in particular, Chapter 2). 
 
Be that as it may, there are some who hold (and I am among them) that the nation-state has become a god-substitute for a godless age. Insofar as the Eternal Creator could scarcely be imagined to seek a dwelling place in a sliver of ground on an insignificant planet, nationalism is a dishonest form of atheism. Religious persons worship God, not nations. The deification of the Nation has turned into the nationalisation of God, and we cannot be forced into a blind acceptance of this substitution. This is not about affinity - love for one's culture or home is natural (although not inevitable). Love for the nation, howsoever defined, ought not to be, and cannot be transformed by diktat into enforced affinity. You cannot dictate my feelings, for the simple reason that love and friendship must be spontaneous to be real. If you order me to feel some emotion under pain of punishment, how can you be sure that my expressions are genuine? As Gandhi said in Hind Swaraj (p 60), 'what is granted under fear can be retained only as long as the fear lasts.'

Constitutional patriotism requires the citizen to be law-abiding and faithful to the norms of the constitution. It does not oblige us to accept unjust laws - were this the case there would have been no national movement in India. The constitution protects religious freedom, but it does not require us to be religious in any way - I am free to be an atheist or agnostic. Nor can it be reduced to such shallow forms of adherence as standing to attention. Sometimes it is not the criticism of specific judgements but the speech of the Bench that undermines the status of the Court. I am sorry to say this judgement is evocative not of wisdom but thoughtlessness. So help me God.

(From Dilip Simeon's Blog).