Written by Piyasree Dasgupta Jan 29, 2015
In that order or slightly modified depending on your choice of wake-up drink, that's Republic Day in three words for a great section of middle-class Indians. Depending on the status of your relationship with your quilt, your most patriotic gesture oscillates between sitting-up on the bed with a smug half-smile on your face when the national anthem plays in a parade to singing the words from under the blanket. However, if you have company, you mostly stand up and score a patriotism brownie point or two to prop your ego that takes a daily beating from the boss, the auto-wallah who turns you down and the wifi at home which takes full advantage of being in a democracy and stops working whenever it wants to.
But something wonderful happened this year. This couch-potato patriotism found new fodder for sustenance. And it manifested itself in trolling the vice president.
The victim - vice president Hamid Ansari - his grave unpatriotic sin? He followed protocol and didn't salute the national flag when it was being hoisted on Rajpath on Republic Day. This picture from the archives of the Press Information Bureau of India shows that Ansari, who is into his second term as the country's Vice President and has served at the position for seven years, has never saluted the national flag in his tenure during a Republic Day parade. You might notice, following protocol, no one else did too.
As we noted in this article, Section VI of the Flag Code of India says, "During the ceremony of hoisting or lowering the flag, or when the flag is passing in a parade or in a review, all persons present should face the Flag and stand at attention. Those present in uniform should render the appropriate salute."
However, there was so much venom lobbed at his way - which included calling the vice president who happens to be Muslim 'anti-India', 'jihadi-sympathiser' and 'traitor' - that his office had to clarify that he was not out of line this time, or any other time. Now take a deep breath and consider this - the Vice President of India had to come out and clarify that he didn't salute the national flag because he was not supposed to.
That should have stopped the barrage of hatred directed against him. But sadly it didn't, because people quickly pointed that Prime Minister Modi and a couple of his ministers on the dais were saluting. So Ansari had no right to follow protocol and instead should have followed what the PM did.
In the country's new zest for spot-an-anti-Indian, Hamid Ansari is a sinner.
It didn't matter that Home Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj were not saluting either. It didn't matter that Kiran Bedi was standing at attention while a security personnel held a umbrella over her head. It didn't matter that thousands of people who had turned up to watch the spectacle and stood at attention to the national anthem - as we do - didn't salute either.
And suddenly lazy patriotism went from being a harmless, convenient exercise in feel-good to a grotesque, vicious exercise that feeds your self-worth by putting down someone else's.
Who are these incensed patriotic middle-class Indians who were reviled beyond imagination at the temerity of Ansari in not saluting the flag on the said day?
We roll up our car windows the moment a sooty woman and a baby with phlegm-smudged face turn up at the traffic signal. We toss out the packet of chips on the road and the deeply religious ones throw plastic packets full of pooja leftovers into clogged rivers and seas greying from pollution. We howl at our domestic help if she doesn't turn up two consecutive days in a week - mind you, we get our weekly offs but they are expected to come seven days a week. We carry two spoonfuls of noodles back in doggy bags from restaurants but we wouldn't drive an extra signal to drop it off for street kids. Oh and if we have fed a street kid, we make sure that we have taken a snap and posted it on Twitter. That's us.
There are many ways to show our love for our country. But we say, "Look at the petrol prices shooting up, school fees going up, onions costing more, and oh my god, a film ticket is also 200 bucks. Upar se yeh tax, woh tax. Who looks after us that we will look after others?" It's much easier to rant and spot betrayers-in-chief in the country's Muslim vice president.
Our love and patriotism when it comes to India remains confined to the few inches of a cloth that make the national flag. And we cling on to it as if our only responsibility to the country rests within the boundaries of that fabric.
The problem with our generation is, we have been encouraged to know patriotism as a feeling - one that makes you feel special in an indistinguishable herd, one that makes you teary watching films like Chak De India and one that makes you beam when you read about 'Indian-origin' anyone. We tell ourselves that we have ticked all the boxes we're told makes for a patriot.
If we are pushed our defence is that we are like that because we have too much to handle in our own lives anyway. But we are up in arms at every imagined slight without bothering to verify if it indeed was one or just our biases talking. I wonder how many of those who pilloried Ansari in tweets and Facebook statuses had the grace to admit they leaped before checking. After all one can never be accused of being too patriotic!
Chak de India! We can spot a un-patriot from a television's length. And counter logic with bile.