By Farooq Wani
National emblems and symbols that provide a unique identity and cohesiveness to a country and hence are of great significance. Besides representing a nation’s varied culture and rich civilization, they serve as reminders of a people’s past glory and promote collective aspirations of all citizens. Emblems and symbols also infuse nationalism and a sense of brotherhood amongst the people and form a bridge that interlinks different faiths, beliefs and cultures.
Nationalism is often viewed in a negative sense and perceived as an unhealthy trait that promotes animosity. While hyper-nationalism is indeed a threat to mankind, national pride and unity is an indispensable prerequisite for nation building. Given the negative connotations associated with nationalism, many political scholars and commentators prefer patriotism to nationalism, since while the former is considered to be inclusive and accommodative, the latter is perceived as something that promotes exclusion and repels certain entities as ‘the other’. However, in practical terms, both are interchangeable and synonymous with some minor distinction in perception and so, without going into semantics, let’s discuss nationalism as a contributing element in nation-building.
A left-liberal thinker Prof. Lord Bhiku Parekh has argued that India needed a heavy dose of nationalism which will stimulate an internal churning as it transits to a single, big and powerful country. He was perhaps inadvertently reflecting the opinion of Netaji Subhash Bose who advocated an enlightened dictatorship for a limited period after Independence, while India was shaping up as a country. The idea was discarded, but the spirit underlying the suggestion should be acknowledged as it refers to the basic nation building bricks of discipline, unity and commitment.
As stated earlier, the major component of nationalism is culture which is represented by emblems, symbols, heritages and icons. Let it be noted that national culture predates religions, languages, regions etc. Look at Indonesia, which despite having a Muslim majority still retains symbols related to Hindu culture that flourished here before arrival of Islam. Indonesia’s national airline is called Garuda, which is the vehicle of Lord Vishnu and the epic drama Ramlila is still quite popular in that country. Similarly, a Buddhist country like Thailand has the portrait of Lord Krishna at its main airport charioting Arjuna in the epic battle of Mahabharata. Bangladesh, another Muslim country still uses Hindu names and follows Hindu customs like wearing Sarees and Bindis, their language also is Bengali not Urdu.
A word about the culture and its critics. India has multiple and unique ways of perceiving life and the Universe and pluralism of such perspectives is what Indian culture is all about. India’s national emblems, icons and symbols signify that culture, but unfortunately, they have frequently come under criticism and attack on various grounds. Since there are no logical reasons for any antagonism in many such cases, one could infer that resistance and rebellion against age-old emblems and symbols are the result of confusion or misconception regarding the same.
In the light of the undeniable link between nationalism and culture, emblems and their significance, let’s discuss the unfortunate controversy regarding the national emblem that has just been installed in the Parliament. The objections being raised against the Ashoka lions placed on top of the Central Foyer of the new Parliament building are both technical and architectural in nature.
Before going any further, let me throw-in a small caveat. In a democracy, it’s natural to expect criticism and counter-points on any and every conceivable issue. So, while one would expect that the national symbols and emblems are kept out of party-political differences, there’s no harm in debating the same because, this is how democracy survives and thrives. The objections raised mainly pertain to the way the Ashoka lions are presented in the national emblem, and even though these are in public domain, however, to examine the raging controversy in correct perspective, let’s recapitulate some of the main issues.
Opposition parties contend that the Ashoka lions in the national emblem have been portrayed as angry and aggressive, which goes against the grace and glory of the original emblem and as such is an unwarranted distortion or deviation. The history of the national emblem and the process of its adoption in the Constituent Assembly are well-known. The emblem was constructed in 250 BC to commemorate the first lesson of Gautama Buddha containing Four Noble Truths of Life.
The emblem was mounted on a base constituted by smaller sculptures including that of a horse, a lion, a bull, an elephant moving in a clockwise direction. These four animals are supposed to guard four directions – north, south, east and west and are separated by the wheel called ‘Dharma Chakra’ of Buddhism. The chakra has been adopted as the part of the national flag. The Mauryan emperor Ashoka used this emblem to spread Buddhism across and beyond India with its emphasis on non-violence and compassion.
The Constituent Assembly decided on the Sarnath Pillar as the national emblem. The members of the Assembly felt that the pillar symbolised power, courage and confidence of a free and new nation. The emblem also depicts a two-dimensional sculpture with Satyameva Jayate (Truth alone triumphs) inscribed on it in Devnagri script. On January 26, 1950, the Ashoka Lion of Sarnath became the national emblem of India and history has it that this newly adopted emblem was sculpted by renowned artist Nandalal Bose and his five students. One of them [Dinanath Bhargava] was advised by Bose to visit the Kolkata Zoo to observe the movement and mannerisms of the majestic lion. Bhargava travelled hundreds of kilometres and visited the zoo many times. Incidentally, Bhargava has also designed the initial 30 pages of the Indian Constitution.
To conclude, let us strive for consensus on certain issues and identities which are national and above party-politics. Politics in a democracy may be driven by competitive electoral contests, but this should not be at the cost of demeaning national symbols or making them the centre of unnecessary controversy. It shouldn’t be forgotten that while democracy allows dissent, it cannot be at the cost of nation building , demands unity and loyalty!
The author is Editor of Brighter Kashmir, Author, TV commentator, political analyst and columnist. Email:email@example.com
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