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Almost three decades later, as Kashmir reels under greater state repression and any view critiquing the Indian state’s position on Kashmir is branded “anti-national” and is considered seditious, we revisit this discussion to understand the making of the ideal Indian patriot.

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Tejaswini Niranjana, 1994


The focal point of national integration has been the celebration of a new middle class and the claiming of the nation by this new middle class, argues Tejaswini Niranjana in her article: “Integrating Whose Nation? Tourists and Terrorists in \'Roja\'”. She argues that a series of exclusions (of dalits, of Muslims) the state produces as “natural,” feeds into the agenda of Hindutva.




“(The) film that evokes from its audience not whistles and comments on the heroine but displays of \'nationalistic\' fervour. The response is enabled in part by identifying the nation with the heroine, who is then alternately motherland and lover/devoted wife.  It is also enabled by the imaging of the really modern (read secular) as the truly Indian, an imaging which presents the middle class Indian male not as someone we want to emulate but someone who is us.




“Rishi usually appears only in jeans and shirt or sweater. On the other hand, the Kashmiri militants always appear in clothes marked as ethnically Muslim; their ethnicity reveals them as anti-modern (therefore anti-national or anti-Indian), intolerant and fundamentalist, while Hindu ethnicity as displayed by the chief protagonists is merely part of the complexity of being Indian.




“The romantic song-sequence—snow-capped mountains, placid lake, green fields-functions as a double allusion: an allusion to loss, evoking previous Hindi films set in Kashmir (the industry now being deprived of a locale that could be used in any film to create instant magic); and indicating to the middle-class tourists from other parts of India that they can no longer visit Kashmir, a place of ravishing natural beauty-as the camera insistently points out—that should be rightfully \'ours\' but has now been made inaccessible by the activity of anti-nationals.”



“Roja pleads with the minister who is inspecting the army in Kashmir: My husband is not a big man, but ‘Bharat ki praja to hai’ and we need security. The middle class, in claiming its complete identification with the nation, has to demonstrate that demands made on the state are not met. The new class has to show its self-reliance instead, for the state apparatus is outworn, out of date, however large and impressive it may seem. This middle class imperative to detach itself from the state to mark its coming to maturity can also be seen as a rejection of the Nehruvian state which had been compelled to write into its policies a vision of democracy and egalitarian socialism…”

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V Chakravarthy and M S S Pandian, 1994



Responding to Niranjana’s argument about the middle class desire in Roja, which is premised on the middle classes rejecting the state, Venkatesh Chakravarthy and M S S Pandian argue that in fact the inefficiency of the state in the film actually marks its silent and powerful ability. In fact, the ultimate victors in Roja are Hindu-patriarchal culture and the state with which the desires of the male protagonist, Rishi align.


“(We are never told or Liaquat is never allowed to say within the film why he and his men desire azadi or freedom, it is is a crucial enigma which is silenced in the film.) Therefore, the consequence of the nightmare is shared by Wasim Khan, Liaquat and Roja whose desires, if fulfilled, would have meant the subversion of the state (in the case of Wasim Khan and Liaquat) as well as patriarchy (in the case of Roja).”



“Indeed, it is the other side of this overlap between state and patriarchy which is the fulfilment of the Hindu middle class male desire signified in the film by the restoration of the nuclear family, This is exactly why the film privileges the discourse of Rishi Kumar over the discourses of others. In short, the film perceives the threat to the state as a threat to the Hindu-middle-class-nuclear-family.




“...Power restored to the family is the return of power to the state. This crucial displacement of the state onto the family is what sanitises the state in the film as a protective father while masking its real violent face.”



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S V Srinivas, 1994



S V Srinivas adds to the discussion by arguing that Roja, reacts to the decline of the Nehruvian state and in fact strengthens the repressive arm of the state.


“Roja interpellates the \'common man’, upper-caste-middle-class male really, to protect \'national interest\' by fighting terrorism. The correspondences between family and nation (Chakravarthy and Pandian) serve to \'bring home\' larger problems like terrorism by turning abstract concepts like national security into immediately recognisable ones like family well-being.




What is new about this film is the blatant equation of the Muslim with terrorism. If anything, Indian film-makers have gone to ridiculous lengths to say \'Hindu-Muslim (or Hindu-Sikh) Bhai- Bhai\' and blame the foreign hand\'s agents, generally maniacal individuals, for the trouble. In Roja the foreign hand is very much in the background but more visible is an identifiable ethnic-religious community actively engaging in terrorism…”




“As pointed out by Chakravarthi and Pandian, the ideological battle is lost by the terrorists when the director seals the lips of Liaquat beyond a few outbursts on ‘aazadi,’ while Rishi mouths familiar expletives against violence, foreign hands, innocent victims and negotiating tables.”




“Film cliches serve to force a resolution of the crisis (Kashmiri nationalism, separatism, fundamentalism) threatening the nation\'s being.”




The film slickly packages state propaganda and "helps to legitimise army activities such as search operations, the interrogation of \'terrorists\' and the shooting of them". Roja calls for more rather than less armed intervention of the state. It criticises the "softness” of the regime in its handling of terrorism and projects the army as a true friend of the patriotic people. The upper caste middle class, as in other spheres of activity, is now mature and willing enough to do its bit in helping the state mils peacemaking activities. It is now up to the government of India to invite the tenders and take the nation into the 21st Century.”


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Rustom Bharucha, 1994



Rustom Bharucha argues that Roja needs to be seen in the larger context to understand how it manufactures consent and helps the state circumvent the Kashmir crisis. He argues that the lure (and the lies) of nationalism are mediated and disguised through layers of cultural expression which have been consolidated through a manufacture of consent engineered by the agencies of the state in the market and the media.




“Far from being a freak box-office hit, the film has been made possible through the larger \'consent\' of the media culture surrounding it. In turn, it has contributed to this culture substantially by inscribing (and thereby, reinforcing) the official scenario on Kashmir with an illusion of reconciliation. Ultimately, Kashmir is \'ours’, the sovereignty of its people a secondary issue to the territorial integrity of the state within the larger framework of the nation.




“More than one enthusiast of Roja has undermined the danger of its representation of the \'enemy\': "There are no black and whites in the film, but varying shades of grey. Mani Ratnam does not paint the militants as totally evil, but merely as deviants in a society gone wrong" This, according to a review, is "where the genius of Roja lies." Precisely: the \'genius\' of propaganda, which makes you believe that Ratnam is sympathetic to these \'deviants\', who incidentally are not \'militants\' but \'terrorists.\' (In the Tamil version of the film, the use of the word \'theveravathi\' (\'terrorist\'), is specifically distinguished from \'porali\', (\'militant\')—a distinction that has become particularly conspicuous since Rajiv Gandhi\'s assassination.)





“In a strategically altered mode, Ratnam is \'selling\' the hottest brand of nationalism and to make it not just palatable but desirable, he is setting the mood not only with sharp cuts and a rousing soundtrack but through the juxtaposition of negative images of the \'enemy\'— some hyperactive \'terrorists\' beating the hero up; one absolutely still, a man lost in prayer. This is the central sequence in Roja that borders, to my mind, on fascism, echoing the feverish pitch of the opening sequence of the film in which we (in the audience) enter the frame of action along with the rifle-wielding militia accompanied by Alsatian dogs straining on the leash in hot pursuit of Wasim Khan.”





If there is one aspect in Roja\'s narrative that has been consistently misread, it is the \'sympathy factor which has diluted the \'enemy image of the \'terrorists without altering its essential violence and threat...”




“Of course, the menace of the \'terrorists\' is not conveyed through violence alone but through the more ambiguous sign of prayers. Are there any \'greys\' to be found in the synthesised calls to prayer on the soundtrack which resemble the wails of banshees? Is there any \'balance\' in the disorienting angle of the shot depicting Muslims praying—a shot that is deliberately inserted in a sequence of images representing ‘Kashmir’ when it reappears in the middle of the film? The other shots (almost like quotations) accompanying this image are the army drill and an explosion. Prayer is interspersed between maintenance of order and its disruption. Why does Islam have to be quoted so emphatically and equated with disturbance?”




“There is more that can be read in Roja, but a sufficient context has been provided, I believe, to examine how the official position on Kashmir is being validated in the larger endorsement of the film. Not only is the hype surrounding the film directly related to public relations and big business, it is more disturbingly orchestrated to enhance an integrationist image of Kashmir for which the government has awarded the film by waiving its entertainment tax. More than the rave reviews which have gushed about Roja the more disturbing critiques are those which have self righteously vindicated the \'patriotic\' premises of the film with a specious objectivity.”


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Tejaswini Niranjana, 1994



Tejaswini Niranjana responds to Venkatesh Chakravarthy and M S S Pandian’s critique and takes issue with their presentation of her argument and with their analysis of the film. She says Chakravarthy and Pandian’s arguments on the Hindu patriarchal culture de-emphasise the state’s other far more powerful seductions which offer glamour, righteousness, cosmopolitan modernity as well as national pride.


“I did not suggest that the state in Roja is "defeated"; I was trying to point out that it is "rejected" (by a newly articulate middle class). In making this argument, I had in mind the post-colonial Nehruvian state and its welfarism, which, it seems to me, is being significantly challenged-and undermined-by the creation of new middle class/upper caste spaces. I would contend that the rejection of this form of the state is being repeatedly enacted in a host of TV serials and commercial films and in popular fiction. These cultural practices, among others, are engaged in the fabrication of new subjectivities and the production of new symbolic order.



“I emphasise the newness in order to indicate that a different kind of nation is now being imagined, a nation not necessarily congruent with the sovereign state of the 1950s, a nation in which the assertion of true Indianness is not at odds with the erosion of economic/political autonomy.



“As I have tried to show in my analysis of Roja, certain kinds of ethnic markers (Rishi and Roja\'s wedding rituals, Roja going to the temple in Kashmir) are presented as normative, while others (the militants\' clothes, Liaqat\' s constant praying) are signs of illegitimate otherness. So while there is an ethnicity that is seamless with modernity, there are other ethnicities that are seen to subvert the project of the modern and must therefore be rendered powerless or invisible. This is what I was getting at in asserting that Rishi\'s nationalism is not anti-western but anti-Muslim. Perhaps I should put it differently: the new nationalism is pro-western and is thus, by definition, anti-Muslim.


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Arun Kumar Patnaik, 1994



In his article, “Idealistic Equations”, Arun Kumar Patnaik responds to Niranjana’s rejoinder to Chakravarthy and Pandian, claiming that Niranjana’s arguments overlook how ideological seductions are useful in shrouding the mystery of a coercive state power because she images the state as a rejected entity. He argues that Niranjana’s error lies in equating an imaginary process with a real process.


“Niranjana enquires into the ideological processes with deep idealist premises. She equates an idea with its subject matter, a rejection of a form of the Indian state with that of its essence(s) and an instrumental use of nationalism with nationalism itself. These are errors of a fundamental type.”




“She suggests that the old nationalism has given way to a new nationalism which is ‘pro-western and is thus, by definition, anti-Muslim’. But this assumption falls apart in relation to the ideological and political practices of the Nehruvian nationalism which was in a sense pro-western but not anti-Muslim




“Niranjana argues that the Indian state or the anti-Mandal Hindu middle classes refer to an idea of the Indian nation which in its new incarnations is actually devoid of any content with respect to economic nationalism or political sovereignty. This is her model of new nationalism. However, such uses of the nationalist spirit do not make up nationalism itself.




“Niranjana commits another error of a fundamental type. She suggests that one finds in the dominant ideologies of today a rejection of the Indian state... On the one hand, she rightly identifies the liberalisation ideology as the rejection of a form of the state. On the other hand, as a reaction to her critics, she claims that in the contemporary dominant narratives the Indian state itself is rejected. Such a thesis is plainly inconsistent. As a result, she misses out completely how the recent retreat of the state as a development agent simultaneously endorses the coercive machineries of the state meant to guard the market forces.”



“Niranjana equates the imagined state power and its imaginary rejection with the actual state and its real rejection, she fails to relate to the dual character of the ruling ideas of our times: for example, pro-liberalisation middle classes in their disavowal of the state actually endorse its coercive roles in the name of \'national pride and national security\'. They endorse its pro-market policies in the name of \'glamour and righteousness\' associated with the imperial modernity.”


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Tejaswini Niranjana, 1994



Tejaswini Niranjana responds to Arun Kumar Patnaik’s criticism in an article, “Gravity of the State.” She argues that what Patnaik perceives as error is in fact a deliberate choice of an analytical procedure in which the sets of distinction made by Patnaik are not seen as viable.


“It is a procedure that, to my mind, draws centrally from the rethinking of Marxist theories of ideology. A basic premise of my analysis is the imperative to historicise, to not simply see the state, the nation, nationalism or \'the masses\' as unchanging entities. Instead I see them as being rapidly reconstituted and re-figured .in these limes of widespread and pervasive political and economic changes.”




“Instead of demolishing my argument, as Patnaik seems to think it does, this \'duality\' actually strengthens my contention that the state is changing and we must look for its \'effects\' in the most unexpected places. A new India is being fashioned today, and the state (imaged in its old sovereign form) is not the sole agent of the changes that are being wrought. In fact, the conjuncture of globalisation and nationalism is transforming both the state and its representations. Do we, then, have a basis for saying that the young men watching Roja in Devi Theatre in Hyderabad, for example, are deluded and/or are \'using\' nationalism when they shout \'Jai Sri Ram\' or \'Pakistan Murdabad\' ? How are they to be distinguished from \'the masses\' who possess the true \'spirit of nationalism\'? Why do we need to say that the ruling parties and their ideologues use this \'spirit\'? When chief election commissioner Seshan endorses Roja as a film every patriotic Indian must see, or when the BJP\'s L K Advani confesses how moved he was by the scene of Roja\'s hero saving the burning Indian flag, are they simply using nationalism or are they expressing their belief in a very powerful version of it? How is it that \'our\' nationalism is always, to use Patnaik\'s words, a "genuine belief" and someone else\'s is "mere talk"? Perhaps there are different nationalisms; to call one good and another bad may not tell us very much about their effects.”



“The formation of the \'Indian\' in the 1950s was not explicitly dependent on an anti-Muslim discourse, because - as I have argued - the citizen subject was coded, among other things, as Hindu. Today, in the context of globalisation, the hidden markings of the Indian citizen-subject arc being revealed, and claimed without embarrassment by the upper-caste Hindu middle class. This lack of embarrassment can go unremarked upon in a post-cold war \'new world order in which Muslims are being relentlessly demonised. The display of the markers of \'difference\' - here, difference as privilege - is clearly part of the agenda of liberalisation and globalisation. Perhaps we need to reflect on how that which we think of as \'good\' (Nehruvian or left-liberal) nationalism - underpinned by a notion of who is the secular, Indian citizen-is being inflected today into middle class neo-nationalism. To dismiss the latter as "uses of the nationalist spirit" and not the real thing would be to obscure the crucial ideological shifts that are taking place."


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