Aakar Patel wrote a strong piece (Bharat Mata ki jai! Now how about some jobs for her children?) in Sunday’s edition of The Times of India. Some readers have taken exception to him citing JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar’s view of Bharat Mata in the article.
Aakar wrote: “Asked how he (Kanhaiya) visualized Bharat Mata, he replied that RSS pamphlets showed her as being fair and wearing a beautiful sari and a crown. But in his imagination, she was often dark. And he thought of her sometimes also as wearing an old sari and a torn blouse, or no blouse. Or wearing not a sari at all but the traditional garment worn by the tribal women of our country.”
Is Kanhaiya’s vision of mother and Motherland so out of the ordinary? Leaving out the price of the jacket he wears from this debate, is it not possible that his underprivileged upbringing makes him see India in a very different light to mine?
The idea of Bharat Mata has not been unquestioningly accepted by patriots down the years. Jawaharlal Nehru was definitely uneasy about it. In his autobiography (Chapter 53: India old and new), he writes: “It is curious how one cannot resist the tendency to give an anthropomorphic form to a country. Such is the force of habit and early associations. India becomes Bharat Mata, Mother India, a beautiful lady, very old but ever youthful in appearance, sad-eyed and forlorn, cruelly treated by aliens and outsiders, and calling upon her children to protect her. Some such picture rouses the emotions of hundreds of thousands and drives them to action and sacrifice. And yet India is in the main the peasant and the worker, not beautiful to look at, for poverty is not beautiful.”
Whose idea of India is this goddess, Nehru asks. Does she represent the exploited or the socially privileged exploiter?
“Does the beautiful lady of our imaginations represent the bare-bodied and bent workers in the fields and factories? Or the small group of those who have from ages past crushed the masses and exploited them, imposed cruel customs on them and made many of them even untouchable?”
His next remark calls into question the motives of hypernationalists even today: “We seek to cover truth by the creatures of our imaginations and endeavour to escape from reality to a world of dreams.”
Some people, when reminded by their children about promises of sweets and toys, point to the floor and shout, “look, lizard!”
Governments insult our intelligence when, on being reminded about promises of jobs and growth, they point to some picture on the wall.