ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Tank Nationalism

There is a distinct shift in the relation between the Indian nationalist imaginary and the armed forces.

Just as the white man once took upon himself the burden of civilising Indians, the present government has committed itself to the task of turning Indians into nationalists. The assumption being, of course, that Indians have been insufficiently nationalist till now. And the method identified to accomplish the mission is to inculcate reverence and fear for the armed forces. As the current Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Bipin Rawat has proclaimed, “people have to be afraid of us.” This marks a distinct shift in the relation between the Indian nationalist imaginary and the armed forces. The figure of the soldier has been transformed from that of a servant of the people, paid with public money for protecting the nation, to that of a pedagogue giving citizens lessons in nationalism.

The latest instance of military worship has been a request from the Vice Chancellor (VC) of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), M Jagadesh Kumar, to procure an Indian Army tankfor display in the campus. He plans to install it at a prominent spot to instil nationalist feelings among students and remind them “constantly” of “the great sacrifices and valour of theIndian Army.” His request was directed at union ministersV K Singh and Dharmendra Pradhan gracing the Kargil Vijay Diwas celebrations—the first ever in JNU. This proposal follows a series of ingenuous formulae meant to transform “seditious” students into patriots. About a year ago, former HumanResource Deve­lopment Minister Smriti Irani insisted on installing national flags in all central universities. She soon learnt that one such flag has been flying in JNU for a long time. Disappointed, she then floated the idea of inviting militaryofficers to lecture students on nationalism. But as luck would have it, she was soon asked to focus on textiles instead. Itgoes without saying that the present government has littleunderstanding of what universities are meant for. But thediscursive shift that has transformed soldiers into demigods is far more alarming. If pushed, it has the potential to threaten democratic institutions.

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Updated On : 24th Aug, 2017

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