Jai Shri Ram, Jai Bhavani, Jai Aai Ahom, Jai Bhim: No one slogan fits India
There can be no uniformity of cultural, religious or sub-nationalistic interests in the country. India remains a symphony of voices and slogans.
Liberal India has been applauding Mahua Moitra, the Trinamool Congress’s first time MP, for her searing maiden speech in Parliament. She made out a convincing case for early signs of fascism in the country. And while each and every word she spoke was both true and a warning to the nation, there is one statement she made in particular that is truer than everything else she said and it strikes at the very heart of India, its Constitution and its unity in diversity – that there can be no one, singular slogan for this country.
At the swearing in of the newly-elected members of Parliament, it was distressing to note that various political parties were chanting all kinds of religious and sectarian slogans when, in fact, the only chant that should have resounded and echoed around the hallowed chambers should have been ‘Jai Hind’ or ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’.
But after the echoes of Jai Shri Ram, Allahu Akbar and even Jai Bhim (in veneration of Dr BR Ambedkar, the father of the Indian Constitution), one particular slogan seems to have taken over the imagination of majoritarian India. And minorities are now being beaten up and killed in the name of Lord Ram instead of just the cow as it was before the elections.
As slogans go, ‘Jai Shri Ram’ is not even authentic or the original greeting in rural parts of northern India. It was a deliberate and misogynistic corruption of Siya Ram ki Jai by the all male Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders when they first launched the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in Ayodhya. They purposefully sliced off the name of Sita, Ram’s long-suffering consort, from this popular greeting because, of course, neither Sita (or Siya) nor the better half of the population in this country had any place in their scheme of things.
However, even as popular as this greeting may have been in north India, it was not the sole religious veneration in those parts. Even Ram bhakts resorted to Jai Bajrangbali in obeisance to Lord Hanuman, the greatest devotee of Lord Ram. But before the obsession with the temple in Ayodhya took over, these greetings were matched, if not outnumbered, by devotees of Lord Shiva – growing up, I had heard many people greet each other with chants of ‘Om Namah Shivayaha’ or Har Har Mahadev’ which was also the war cry of the non-Congress, militant freedom fighters during British rule in India.
That war cry equalled that of Allahu-Akbar of Muslims who were equally devoted to gaining freedom for India but is now more associated with Islamic terrorism than a nationalistic war cry which is both a pity and an unfortunate morphing of a perfectly reasonable veneration of Allah. Jai Bhim in recent years is chanted with equal, even religious, fervour by Ambedkarites and other Dalits across the country – it is based not on the character of one of the Pandava brothers from Mahabharata but on Dr Ambedkar’s first name Bhimrao whose middle name (which was his father’s name as is the practice in Maharashtra) was Ramji.
But no Ambedkarite, who are mostly Buddhists, will be caught dead or alive giving more importance to Jai Shri Ram than to Jai Bhim. Other Buddhists use Buddham Sharanam Gachhami as a common greeting and Sikhs often chant Waheguru ka Khalsa, Waheguru ki Fateh with as much fervour as Hindu Gujaratis do ‘Jai Shri Krishna’, given that Lord Krishna had established his kingdom in Dwarka in Gujarat. So Mahua Moitra was right when she said that one glove does not fit all in this country.
But moving away from religious greetings, even sub-nationalistic greetings create their own issues in this country. Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray would always end his speeches with ‘Jai Maharashtra’ though the favourite war cry of Shiv Sainiks always has been ‘Jai Bhavani, Jai Shivaji’. The party is founded in the name of the Maratha warrior king Chhatrapathi Shivaji Maharaj (though it never followed his unifying and secular ethos) and legend has it that Shivaji’s sword, known as the Sword of Bhavani (now in British custody), was blessed by Goddess Bhavani.
At the peak of the Shiv Sena’s militant powers, Shiv Sainiks used this cry, which was part religious, part sub-nationalistic, to target Muslims. But according to some Thackeray supporters when, during the Emergency, Indira Gandhi was considering banning the Shiv Sena, her primary objection was to ‘Jai Maharashtra’ rising out of the fear that states south of the Vindhyas might be prone to secession. By then, M. Karunanidhi of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam had already designed a separate flag for Tamil Nadu and sought central permission to fly it from government buildings - as the Congress government in Karnataka did some decades later in 2013, weeks before state Assembly elections.
Mrs Gandhi knocked down that subnationalistic attempt decisively though the BJP-led government in 2013 kept silent on similar sub-nationalism by Karnataka.
However, according to Thackeray’s unsubstantiated claims, he had told Mrs Gandhi then that his ‘Jai Maharashtra’ was always preceded by ‘Jai Hind’ (which it was) and, in any case, he had coined the term after the Bangladesh War when Bengalis frequently evoked the ‘Joy Bangla’ slogan.
The cry, Vande Mataram, which originated from Bengal was less popular in its home state and though Thackeray used it politically against Muslims, he was never quite as fascinated by it to replace his more resonant and evocative ‘Jai Bhavani, Jai Shivaji’ with Vande Mataram.
So, every experience in this country only goes to show there can be no uniformity of cultural, religious or sub-nationalistic interests – or of any one slogan. People must be free to chant any mantra of their liking, religious or subnationalistic, so long as it does not hurt anyone or violate any constitutional norms.