Putting the ‘public’ back in ‘Republic’

Putting the ‘public’ back in ‘Republic’

Sickular Libtard

Mitali Saran

Anyone who actually cares for India has found the Modi era very invigorating, in the sense of crawling over broken glass in a fire, with kraits repeatedly biting your bottom. Nothing like pain to make you feel alive, eh? We stupidly took our founding ideals and our Indianness for granted—and complacency is death. Today, our elected government officially demonises not just Muslims, but all its other pet peeves—students, lefties, intellectuals, westernised elites, critics, political opponents, poha. Its campaign of slander, harassment, violence, imprisonment, exile, and exclusion targets our right to be here, our sense of belonging. So, while parades leave me cold, this year I’m glad for the occasion of January 26 to reaffirm my relationship to the Republic.

The RSS-BJP combine has disfigured love of country into a red-eyed, pop-veined Hindu nationalism, and diligently pretends that there is no difference between government and nation. If you criticise Modi, you’re a traitor trying to break India (eyeroll), because you hate Hindus (eyeroll), and/or are being paid by Pakistan/China/The West (eyeroll). The risibility of these arguments is matched only by their aggression, which clearly overcompensates for certain freedom movement-era gaps in certain ideological resumes.

For too long, we defended ourselves within the toxic terms of this pseudo-nationalism, instead of rejecting the terms outright. (Sample accusation: A real nationalist will say Bharat Mata ki Jai! Wrongheaded reply: What’s wrong with Jai Hind? Better answer: I don’t need to prove my nationalism—it’s a non-issue.) So, the sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic Republic has been on the back foot, meeting threat with timidity. Modi could escort Jair Bolsonaro around the sights: “This big round building is my man-cave where I relax and do what makes me happy. Over here is the media kennel. That heap of melting cheese is our courts. Oops watch it, you almost stepped in a pile of economy—but forget that, did I show you the kennel?”

Aggressive nationalism, fear and propaganda steers people into thinking from the point of view of the best interests of the government, dressed up as ‘the nation’, rather than from that of the people. I bet even the BJP was surprised by our lack of resistance as it mangled the economy, destroyed institutions, and turned on us.

But when the political gets seriously personal, the personal gets seriously political. Millions of people are back to thinking for citizens, and calling out the Modi government’s vision as anti-constitutional and fascist. You could fit a neighbouring country through the trust deficit. Indians are putting the ‘public’ back into ‘republic’—non-violent mass protest is, after all, our signature look against an oppressor.

And boy, does it look good! Women and students out on the streets, leading popular protests all over the country, young and old, tricolours and songs and posters and art, commitment and camaraderie—it makes my leathery old heart seize up with hope and pride.

Symbols aren’t really my thing. I would take one decent, empathetic person who’s never heard the national anthem over platoons of flag-painted bigots. But I’m delighted that kinder, better people are taking back the symbols of the Republic for detoxification. It re-infuses those symbols with meaning, and reminds people where they belong, and what belongs to them. The Republic can look after us only as much as we look after it—and the people on the streets today are determined to care for it better. We should thank Modi’s government for that.

The truth is, I’ve never been prouder of India. Happy Republic Day.