Kasganj violence: Patriotism’s newfound political role

Kasganj, UP: Senior BJP leader Lalji Tandon’s most distinct childhood memory is of the times they took out ‘prabhat pheris’ with patriotic songs such as ‘Uth jaag musafir, bhor bhai’ and ‘Vijayi vishwa tiranga pyara, jhanda uncha rahe hamara’. India was still struggling under the British back then.
“Whenever a freedom fighter from our neighborhood went to jail, we would all — irrespective of caste or community — bid him farewell by singing patriotic songs with the Tricolor in our hands,” the politician recalled.
Today, Tandon bemoans how the spirit of patriotism has lost itself in a new definition of secularism. “But there is hope. Tiranga Yatras can revive the fading spirit of patriotism.”
However, even Tandon found himself at pains to justify the Kasganj violence on Republic Day, when Hindus and Muslims clashed in the aftermath of a Tiranga Yatra. “Change happens gradually, and creates ripples when moving from wrong to the right direction,” he said.
Patriotism has now replaced religion as a unifying force, with a need to bring the majority community together as its underlying motive. But mixing slogans of ‘Vande Mataram’ with ‘Jai Shri Ram’ can disrupt communal harmony, as witnessed in the state.
Ashfaq, a relative of freedom fighter Ashfaqullah Khan, is a sad man. “The Tricolor lives in our hearts,” he said. “We are defiling the sacrifices made by thousands of freedom fighters by clashing over it.” Members of the minority community feel indignant about having to prove their nationalist credentials every time Hindutva activists demand it. There has been a sudden spurt in Tiranga Yatras in the communally sensitive West UP region. Some see it as a means to alienate the Muslim community.
“Why raise anti-Pakistan slogans in Muslim dominated areas — are they Pakistanis?” asked Bareilly district magistrate Raghvendra Vikram Singh in a Facebook post he must have since grown to regret.
A police officer, however, confessed on the condition of anonymity that Singh had a point when he said people should celebrate national festivals without getting aggressive. “If they wanted to celebrate Republic Day, they could have done it in a more inclusive manner,” he said.
Meanwhile, the war of words and ideologies continues. Right-wing organizations such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad have questioned the need to seek permission for hoisting the national flag and holding Tiranga Yatras anywhere they choose. The authorities, nevertheless, have banned rallies in communally sensitive Kasganj and Aligarh for the time being.
The Tiranga was always meant to be a unifying force, not a divisive one. “The flag, as a symbol of non-violence, must also mean humility. After all, it stood for non-violence and communal amity,” Mahatma Gandhi once said, while expressing his grief over the Tricolor being used a means to foment violence.
The Kasganj clashes have stirred up the communal cauldron ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. While the BJP is said to gain politically from religious upheavals, it remains to be seen whether patriotism can also be made a poll issue. As of now, everybody from the ruling party to the Opposition seems to be competing for the ‘deshbhakt’ title.

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