23 April 2024 03:30 AM


Ashok Jahnavi Prasad | 11 DECEMBER, 2015

Shoddy Television! Let the Individual Be, Please

I started a morning indulging in a bit of arithmetic! The endeavour was to get a count of the number of years my forbears and their kins had spent in gaols during the British era waging a struggle for Indian freedom. The figure came somewhere close to 40. And at least one of them was subjected to third degree torture;he was made to sit still on an ice slab for over an hour! He was a sciatica patient!

Explanation is in order as to why I indulged in such a curious exercise. I had watched the 'debate' on the Arnab Goswami show last night on the disrespect shown to the National Anthem.

My anteceedants would suggest that my filial link would be high-and indeed I can vouch that it is! I experience goosebumps each time the National Anthem is played. I stayed abroad for almost 35 years-and even there I used to make it a point to attend the Independence Day celebrations whenever I could so that I could hear the National Anthem being played.

The logic that was presented in the debate would suggest that I would therefore be sympathetic to the treatment that was meted out to the family in the cinema when they refused to stand up when the Anthem was being played in honour of the 26/11 martyrs. But while I must confess to irritation and even anger, I just could not bring myself to have any sympathy for the irreverent hustling the family were subjected to.

I listened to the entire 'debate' with an element of dismay! Speaker after speaker resorted to their nationalism in condemning the family and giving vent to the most primitive instincts of jingoism. The composer of the anthem who was also on the panel was left feeling miffed with anguish clearly visible on his countenance.Senior Advocate Sanjay Hegde was subjected to merciless pummeling when he suggested that while he felt very strongly towards the Anthem,there was no statutory requirement for people to stand up when it was being played. To this columnist Suhel Seth countered by stating that there was no statutory requirement to love one's parents as well but it was accepted as an axiom.Arnab Goswami's researchers had done an extremely poor job by providing him with an Indore judgement requiring people to stand while the Anthem was being played ;the judgement had been comprehensively overruled by the Apex Court.

But the most objectionable component of this exercise was the contributions of people like Manisha Kayande,Rahul Easwar and the representatives of the AIMIM and NCP. Manisha Kayande ,whose name was not familiar to me until a few weeks ago, is a Shiv Sena spokesperson. She waxed and waned about the need for us to be loyal to the Constitution-we all know how much the Sena is committed to the letter and spirit of the Constitution when it lets loose its goons to make its point;in my view that is as big an affront to the idea of India as can be imagined. Rahul Easwar has made a career spouting pompous and patronizing homilies. His bugbear has always been 'liberalism' .However his pretence to scholarship came a cropper when he egregiously misquoted a Samuel Johnson aphorism and was taken to task by Hegde. As for the AIMIM and NCP representatives, their contributions were so offputting aand revolting that I almost felt like switching off the telly! I seriously question the wisdom of having these people in a 'debate'.It was clear which side the moderator was tilting towards.

The sanest voice on the panel was that of Padma Rao Sundarji whose logic was completely submerged. Easwar repeatedly derided her by calling her a liberal-she is a columnist with the Daily Pioneer ,a newspaper sympathetic to the BJP and herself claimed that she could hardly be described as a 'liberal'!

My own position was very much in sympathy with Sundarji. Sometime ago I had penned a column for the Newslaundry in which I had contended that while I conceded the right of the MP Shafiqur Rahman Burque to not extend any respect to Vande Mataram when it was being played in the Lok Sabha, I did question his wisdom in walking out while it was being played when he could just as easily have abstained from the gathering. Texas vs.Johnson was a landmark judgement by the US Supreme Court. The Court had been asked to rule on the constitutionality of burning of US flag. Justice Anthony Kennedy who wrote a concurring note in the judgement stated:

For we are presented with a clear and simple statute to be judged against a pure command of the Constitution. The outcome can be laid at no door but ours. The hard fact is that sometimes we must make decisions we do not like. We make them because they are right, right in the sense that the law and the Constitution, as we see them, compel the result. And so great is our commitment to the process that, except in the rare case, we do not pause to express distaste for the result, perhaps for fear of undermining a valued principle that dictates the decision. This is one of those rare cases.Though symbols often are what we ourselves make of them, the flag is constant in expressing beliefs Americans share, beliefs in law and peace and that freedom which sustains the human spirit. The case here today forces recognition of the costs to which those beliefs commit us. It is poignant but fundamental that the flag protects those who hold it in contempt.

Through this observation, Justice Kennedy, a Reagan appointee and who was generally considered a conservative ensured his place in the Valhalla of all time great jurists. I regard him as the most erudite of all the serving judges we have today.

While both Goswami and Hegde quibbled over different court rulings including one in Japan, as a qualified barrister, I was somewhat amazed that this landmark ruling which was very germane to the issue in question was not alluded to by anyone-including Hegde who is a Senior Advocate.

I therefore unequivocally condemn the conduct of the offending family! However as Justice Kennedy ruled,they are constitutionally entitled to the protection of the state from any heavy handed bullying! That is the way we extend the veneration our Constitution deserves!