‘People must feel this is my country. This is my motherland. You are an Indian first. In other countries, you respect their restrictions. In India, you do not want any restrictions? ‘. These questions were raised by the Supreme Court bench while pronouncing an interim order on November 2016 which made compulsory for cinema halls across the country to play the national anthem before the screening of films.
An amusing fact is that the said order was not issued on anybody approaching the apex court to make the national anthem compulsory in theatres. The Supreme Court then delivered the verdict with far reaching consequences while hearing a writ petition filed by Shyam Narayan Chouksey against misusing the national anthem and the national flag for commercial uses. Reacting to the SC verdict, we had written in this column thus: "Patriotism is not a meaningless display of jubilation; but a willingness of dedication towards one’s own country and citizens out of civic sense. The love and respect that exude from a citizen towards the sacred heritage and symbols of mother land is what we call patriotism. Nobody can forcefully impose that on anyone. The Supreme Court ruling is an unreasonable imposition." As we had been apprehensive then, Sangh Parivar forces, the advocates of aggressive nationalism, were using this verdict as a tool for imposing their hate politics. Their patriotic policing in cinema halls even led to violence. When Kodungallur Film Society filed a review petition in the Supreme Court over its verdict, the Sangh Parivar activists led a march to the residence of film director Kamal who heads the organisation. Rampant hate campaign was carried out against him across Kerala. Unfortunately, in the then atmosphere of aggressive nationalism, the Supreme Court verdict in effect lent ammunition to its champions. .
SC's interim order of 30 November 2016 naturally invited criticism from advocates of democracy. As such the latest order of 9 January amending it, has offered some relief. The order from the bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra leaves it to the option of theatre owners whether to play national anthem or not. This can be seen as a coming down from the earlier verdict. All the same, the apex court has not entirely quashed the earlier verdict that endorsed the conservative and narrow concepts of patriotism. It is reasonable to leave it to the discretion of theatre owners to decide whether national anthem is to be played or not. However, in a climate of Sangh parivar mobs taking things into their hands and imposing their will on theatres, it is doubtful whether theatre owners will be prepared to do away with playing of the anthem. That will mean the Supreme Court order opening yet another door for the Hindutva vigilantes to enforce their policing. Through this order, they may be able to launch a new action plan to identify the theatres that do not play the anthem and to look for their owners to bully them.
And how long the latest Supreme Court verdict can sustain also has to be considered. For, the Central government has formed a 12-member inter-ministerial panel to take a final take regarding events and occasions for singing the national anthem, and ways of honouring it. The scope of the committee will also include the question whether the scope of the provision requiring show of respect to the anthem has to be widened. The committee formed on 5 December has to submit its final report within six months and the SC verdict will hold good until then. As and when the committee report is made, new rules and regulations on the subject may come into force. Given the tone and tendencies of the current government in such matters, there is a probability for frenzied nationalism to be given legal validity. If so, that will lend more strength to those forces who oppose or criticise such a brand of nationalism to pursue their trade mark politics of violence.