Mere Paas Flag Hai

Twelve people were arrested in Kerala by the police and eight assaulted in a Tamil Nadu cinema hall by 20 fellow countrymen for not standing up when the national anthem was played.

The Supreme Court should be chuffed that already 20 disrespectors of the national anthem have been ferreted out and booked for being unpatriotic. But we hear no noises of delight from Delhi. Instead, we hear questions asked in righteous indignation. “Whether you should respect the national flag or not, should it be a matter of freedom of expression and freedom of choice? Every country feels proud of its national anthem but we pass some orders, we don’t understand why there is so much of hue and cry?”

For answers, or rather counter questions to these querulous queries and a reminder to the court of the boundaries within which it must work, we go to the eminent jurist Soli Sorabjee, honoured in 2002 with a Padma Vibhushan for his consistent championship of the freedom of thought and expression, and protection of human rights.

1) “Tell me one thing: is the acid test of patriotism and nationalism only that we stand up? Any rascal will stand up and he may not have any belief in the ideals of the Constitution or the national flag.”

2) “How will this order be implemented? Who will count? Who will see if one can’t stand up due to physical problems or some other reasons? And then, close the exit doors… what if there is an emergency? What if somebody urgently needs to go to the washroom?”

3) “There are many cranks in our country, but we have to respect their beliefs. I think the judges got carried away. … There is a Lakshman Rekha …. don’t get into fields that are beyond the judicial ken.”

Thus, over the last couple of weeks, a gripping play of ideas was developing between character number one (they are two independent human beings off-stage but they speak in one voice on-stage) and character number two. Voices from the wings added substantially to the debate. Some quoted Dr Samuel Johnson: “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”. Others said unpatriotic things like, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism”.

None of this affected the background score of our rousing national anthem which continued to gather in its sonorous, tolerant sweep the magnificence of our country from Punjab and Sindh to Dravida and Utkala, excluding only the tone deaf and the terminally cynical from its magic.

On Tuesday, the battered and booked Chennai Eight arrived on stage. One said, “We are social workers. We work for the people. We need not stand up for the national anthem to show our patriotism.” Immediately the spirit of Gandhi entered on cue, as it is wont to do (see Lage Raho Munnabhai). Standing in line with the chorus, it intoned, “A 'No' uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a 'Yes' merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.” With that, the spirit faded away.

Simultaneously, the bench, made conscious of a couple of flaws in its original order, pronounced modifications. One of them was, “If a physically challenged person or physically handicapped person goes to the cinema hall to watch a film, he need not stand up, if he is incapable to stand, but must show such conduct which is commensurate with respect for the National Anthem.”

A collective sigh of relief rose from the wings where the wheelchair-bound had been waiting to discover what magical judicial wand would enable them to stand for 52 seconds to show their great love for the Motherland.

Then suddenly, the play of ideas changed form and became the theatre of the absurd. Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi informed the apex court that the Centre would issue guidelines on how physically challenged persons should show respect to the National Anthem.

Only fiction can do full justice to this bizarre idea. Here it is.

(Secret meeting to devise said guidelines.)

Venkaiah Naidu: They should put right hand to heart.

Arun Jaitley: And if the right hand is paralysed?

Rajnath Singh: Shastras say left hand won’t do. Bow head instead.

Opposition: What if a person has a stiff neck?

Narendra Modi : They must suffer pain for patriotism.

Venkaiah Naidu : He is the messiah of the physically challenged.

Narendra Modi: Where’s my audience?

Arun Jaitley : (Whispering) This is a secret meeting.

Opposition: Audience? They have gone laughing all the way back to the bank.

Published On : 21-12-2016