My father will never forget 15th August, 1947. That was the day India threw off the clunky chains of the British Empire, and also the day the principal of his boarding school announced a week’s holiday. He got freedom and even more freedom! There was, in addition, a wonderful incentive for him to sing his wussy school song because one word in the song had changed: ‘Empire’s gates’ became ‘India’s gates.’ And yes, he and his schoolmates shouted that part out and stomped their feet!
My mother always remembered her first Independence Day celebrations with giggles. Her family moved to Sierra Leone, West Africa when the partition trauma began. A year or two later, her father organised an Independence Day celebration for the Indian community. The lyrics of India’s national anthem were circulated in advance, and my mum and her siblings had to memorise them the night before. The next morning, very few of the adults had done their homework, the lazy things! The aunties were the biggest offenders, and they gossiped their way through the speeches which made my bossy grandfather hiss frequently like an angry goose. Not that my mum blamed the aunties because she said the speeches were long, pompous and drop dead boring.
After my parents got married, they celebrated Independence Day at home by hoisting a flag on the terrace. Nobody knew that only government institutions were allowed to hoist the national flag those days, but please do not tell the BJP my parents broke the law decades ago or else they will probably arrest my dad. They enjoy arresting people on any old pretext—like children going, ‘Wheee, we’ve become so powerful, let’s arrest people for fun!’
After the BJP destroyed every single institution in the nation apart from Parent Teacher Associations (don’t worry, they’ll get there), they’re creating new laws to lock us up. Starting with their pet hate: India’s minorities. The Triple Talaq bill is more anti-male than pro-women because of its totally unnecessary jail clause. With the passing of the spine-chilling Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the Centre and States have the power to call any individual a terrorist without an FIR, charge sheet or trial. Their property can be seized too, and I’m certain that that devious Con Artist Formerly Known As Baba Ramdev is salivating at the thought: more land for him, woo hoo! Even the BJP’s loudest cheerleaders in India Inc are now whimpering because of the 3-year jail provision in the new Corporate Social Responsibility law. A sobering ‘And then they came for me’ moment for them. Not that I’m sobbing into my hanky for people who are indifferent to the miseries of fellow citizens.
If the BJP actually cared about making the nation as pure as Ganga jal, it would have looked within. In the 2019 Lok Sabha, 116 BJP MPs have criminal charges against them (one is even an alleged terrorist out on bail).Those numbers have increased after they identified MPs with criminal charges from other parties and coerced them into joining the BJP. Shouldn’t their existing criminals and their newly acquired ones be in jail? Sadly, that won’t happen because the President of India has signed yet another creepy bill: amendments to the Right to Information act. This was the only tool citizens had to question those in power, and now they will be blissfully unaccountable. So while we had Start Up India and other things that sounded vaguely positive in 2014, the BJP kicked off Shut Up India in 2019.
Perhaps President Kovind has forgotten that in 2005 he was part of a Parliamentary committee that examined the RTI and agreed that making RTI Commissioners equal to Election Commissioners was essential for the Commission’s independence and autonomy? Perhaps we need to give his memory a helpful little jog? Let’s try appealing to him again. We will be doing him a favour too: after all, nobody likes the idea of going down in history as Mr. Rubber Stamp.
Back to Independence Day celebrations: though we got a holiday, it was mandatory to attend the flag hoisting ceremony at school. As we sang lyrics like ‘Shaheed hai watan ke jo, unhe ke hum nishaan hai’, we thought of MK Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad, Sarojini Naidu, Annie Besant, Subhash Chandra Bose, Bhagat Singh and yes, Jinnah too. So many more names came to mind, but none of them were from the BJP’s parent organisation, the RSS. It’s shocking that the RSS did not participate in the freedom struggle. In fact, the RSS did not hoist the national flag at its headquarters for 52 long years. And then they call us anti-national. Cheeky!
While the RSS resisted, the rest of us dutifully spilled generous quantities of popcorn as we stood up for the national anthem in theatres. In the good old days, nobody attacked physically challenged people who couldn’t get up. Actually, no one attacked anybody who didn’t stand. We were in the cinema hall for entertainment, not to play that nasty ‘I’m a better nationalist than you are’ game. If we have turned into a nation of violent people since 2014, you know which party to thank.
I’m now wary of crowded places in India because even well-heeled people can turn into lynch mobs. In 2016, I was almost punched in the face by a large woman while in a never-ending bank queue for daring to criticise demonetisation. Throw facts at BJP supporters in response to their outrage, and you get no answers, just more outrage. It’s like interacting with BJP ministers at press conferences. They snarl when inconvenient facts are raised (Nirmala Sitharaman and GVLN Rao do the snarl best). The Dear Leader would walk out of interviews when questioned, and stick pins into voodoo dolls of journalists in private. He absolutely refuses to answer questions both in India and abroad. In the only press conference he attended as PM, he stayed as quiet as a frightened mouse and let his Man Friday take the questions. Now that the economy has nose-dived, the Finance Ministry has followed his example: while they will give weekly briefings to the media, only a statement will be read and no questions will be answered. They kindly added that pesky journalists who have questions can email them. Godot will probably arrive before their answers do!
But back to Independence Day celebrations. After I left home, I still participated in the flag hoisting ceremony because most building societies flouted the law too, like my parents. Everyone did, apart from the RSS—how very odd. I learnt never to bring in Independence Day the night before because at 7 am on D-Day, booming mike checks would begin. At 9 am the harsh cries of our resident Cacofonix would bore holes into our ear drums, She’d scream her way through every patriotic song in alphabetical order till people stuffed samosas in her mouth to shut her up. Ah well. India was never perfect. But India was never this bad for such a prolonged stretch of time either.
If the declared Emergency from 1975 to 1977 was bad, this undeclared one is infinitely worse. Could we, perhaps, fight for our freedom again? I promise not to let my building society’s Cacofonix sing our new patriotic songs. Please?