It was really heartening to listen to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Mann Ki Baat’ last Sunday where he referred to India’s rich music heritage. Days before, at the launch of the Pandit Jasraj Cultural Foundation, he suggested that in today’s era of globalisation, Indian music should also make its global identity and create an impact internationally.
Sadly, endeavours to make Indian music globally popular have been misconstrued and also opposed by some people. A few days ago, a group of musicians and singers, at the initiative of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), had approached Union Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia with a different kind of request. Their plea was to encourage airlines operating in our country and managers of airports here to play Indian music in aircrafts and also at the airports. Curiously, while the question of imposing any particular music simply didn’t arise, this request came in for criticism in sections of mainly English media. This criticism of a democratically raised demand is indicative of a needless inferiority complex on the one hand and a strong colonial mindset on the other. What is wrong in demanding preference for Indian music in India? If not here, should this be demanded in Brazil or Tanzania? Sadly, even after 75 years of Independence, this colonial mindset refuses to go away. The divide-and-rule strategy of the British has made many of us habitually pro-fragmentation and we don’t even realise the same.
Twin controversies manufactured by motivated sections of media in India and abroad provide a case in point: firstly, the merging of Amar Jawan Jyoti into the eternal flame now lit up at the National War Memorial; secondly, needless criticism from some quarters about the proposed statue of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose under a canopy near India Gate.
Let’s start with Amar Jawan Jyoti. Tragically, previous regimes deliberately discriminated in multiple ways simply to ensure that only a particular ideology or a family and persons close to them were decorated. This was absolutely against the very grain of democracy and yet nobody took exception. India had witnessed many prime ministers. But before 2014, except for Nehru Jayanti, recognised as Bal Diwas, Indira Gandhi Jayanti recognised as National Integration Day, and Rajiv Gandhi Jayanti as Sadbhavana Divas, anniversaries of other PMs were ignored.
Rejecting this pattern of recognising only select chapters of our glorious history, PM Modi created a National War Memorial and recognised all martyrs—and not just a select few—who made the supreme sacrifice while protecting the motherland. It was but natural that the Eternal Flame is lit and continues forever unextinguished at this place as a mark of respect and gratitude. Obviously then, the government decided to merge the flame at India Gate with that of the National War Memorial. One can’t forget that India Gate was created to honour the memory of 90,000 British India troops lost in various operations, notably the First World War, between 1914 and 1921. The memorial bears the names of 13,000 people, including a few commanders and troops from the United Kingdom. The India Gate’s foundation stone was placed in 1921, and it was dedicated in 1931. As a result, this monument could never become a National War Memorial dedicated to all troops who died before or after India’s Independence. For record’s sake, India lost almost 87,000 men in the Second World War as members of the British Army. The Amar Jawan Jyoti with the Eternal Flame was built in 1972 under the arch of the India Gate monument to honour fallen Indian soldiers, sailors, and airmen from the 1971 war, despite the fact that it has no names etched on it pertaining to the same. And what about the 1962 or 1965 wars? Are post-Independence wars inferior to those fought under British rule?
Let it be remembered that the BJP had pledged to establish a National War Memorial in the run-up to the 2014 elections. Later, the Memorial was finally dedicated to the country by the prime minister on 25 February 2019, after decades of protest from veterans and military historians. Since then, all commemorative and ceremonial events honouring India’s fallen military men have been held at the National War Memorial, which has names of every single Indian soldier, sailor and airman who made the supreme sacrifice in the line of duty inscribed on it. Sadly, forces of status-quo-ism with prejudiced minds failed to understand the importance of democratisation of national honours and recognition.
About the Netaji statue decision, columnists from abroad, with a perverse mindset and preconceived notions, have tried to paint Subhas Chandra Bose as someone who had sought support from the enemies of the British in World War 2. Many of those raking up Netaji’s German connection ironically are seen as supportive of several dictatorial governments including that of Pakistan. Regardless of the fact that Netaji’s family members had to remain under surveillance even during the Nehru regime, today neither the so-called liberals nor Congressmen can dare oppose the idea of installing Bose’s statue at India Gate. Sadly, no one from the opposition or like-minded sections of intellectuals graciously and wholeheartedly welcomed the decision on the Netaji statue.
Unfortunately, the shadow of colonialism is so dark and deep that the spirit of democratisation as the basis of several decisions of the government is ignored, at times wantonly. As a result, most senior journalists did not come forward to join issue with an associate editor of Financial Times over his irrational objection to the Netaji statue. Even 75 years after Independence, the virus of inferiority is afflicting our confidence, preventing us from asserting and telling the world that we won’t dance to the tune of global giants.
President, ICCR, and BJP Rajya Sabha MP