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Scaling the Patriotic Heights ?

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 By Dr. Satish C. Aikant

So now we have a new landmark in Mussoorie – a 106 feet flagpole atop which the Indian tricolour will flutter soon. It is waiting to be inaugurated by some VIP neta ji. The idea behind this massive vertical staff is to evoke a strong surge of patriotism among those who pass by. However it has not gone down well with several local residents who think it quite unnecessary and a waste of public funds. The entrenched structure is at Jhula Ghar in the central part of the town.

The name ‘Jhula Ghar’ may intrigue younger visitors who may be unaware that this place once was a busy hub for children who enjoyed playing on swings, slides and seesaws. What a world of childhood innocence and memories! That world was rudely shattered and torn down, leaving behind no remnants, when some years ago the civic authorities decided to turn the place into a commercial complex. Three ancient trees of deodar, oak and horse chestnut, were cut down in what can only called an act of environmental brutality. What one witnesses now is the incongruity of the gigantic flagpole surrounded by a space emblematic of urban disorder and decline. There are hardly any open spaces or parks in Mussoorie where children can play and common folk including senior citizens could walk about and relax. All public spaces have been appropriated and sacrificed to commercial interests, thanks to our city fathers past and present.

The revised Flag Code of India has eased restrictions to allow civilians to display the national flag. One wonders why we need yet another tall flagpole at Jhula Ghar when our national flag is routinely unfurled at several government as well as private establishments. Is that going to make citizens of Mussoorie and visitors more patriotic? Well, if height of a flagpole is the measure of one’s patriotism let there be more of such tall poles all along the length of the Mall Road so that one is perpetually in a patriotic mode. Why, we could even have a tall flagpole at Kincraig so that the visitors entering the town from either side are injected with suitable doses of patriotic elixir. In fact our neighboring city of Dehradun – the ‘smart city in making’- could catch this idea and compete for a taller pole so that the Doon residents are not left behind in the race for flaunting their patriotism. Now that Gairsain has been declared the summer capital of our state it may be worthwhile to fly the tricolour on a really tall pole in Gairsain so that our netas shuttling between Dehradun and Gairsen will have plentiful supply of patriotism in all seasons.

We are living in times obsessed with the idea of the Big, perhaps finding ourselves incapable of dealing with and enjoying life in small measures. E. F. Schumacher published his book called Small is Beautiful in 1973, but it retains its relevance for our times. The author critiques the idea of the ‘big’ in the spheres of business and technology which challenged the contemporary obsession with what he described as ‘gigantism.’ He questions the very fundamentals of economy focused on markets and profitability and the shibboleth of economic growth as the central preoccupation of political economy. He argues that only people-centred economics could enable environmental and human sustainability. This commonsense economic concept could well be extended to other spheres of life to advocate and celebrate the fascination for the small. The Big is almost always overbearing and impersonal whereas the small is endowed with belongingness and homeliness. It is the former propensity which builds much hype around speed and size. So we are told that we must have a bullet train. The very name reverberates with violence. Imagine a ‘bullet’ ripping through an otherwise ordered and peaceful landscape! Is it really worth the money and effort that will go to bring it about when ordinary railway services are suffering from gross mismanagement and with little regard for the passengers’ safety?

We hear of a megaproject of running a cable car between Mussoorie and Dehradun. Is it not more sensible to work on an alternative motorway linking the two cities to ease the traffic congestion on the only road we have, which is prone to landslides during heavy rains that often results in obstructing the vehicular traffic for hours and sometimes for days? The proposed Ropeway is a serious bone of contention since its terminal station in Musssoorie is the spot known as Chifankot at the Library end from where more than eighty families of the poor will have to be evicted to make way for this ill- conceived project. The hutments or the houses the poor people have built may be unauthorized, but they have been living there with their families for several years. To pull down their shelters and throw them out in this time of rains and pandemic is inhuman to say the least. It is no secret that such ‘unauthorized’ encroachments happen with the active connivance of our local netas and corrupt officials. It is they who must be held accountable in the first place. And why are the projects that threaten the ecology of a fragile region undertaken without taking the views of the public at large? It is also the indication of what the authorities which govern us think their priorities are.

A cable car is not merely a mode of transport. It is also an idea that is committed to promoting a culture of speed, hurry and luxury. Life is all about getting into the right gear; not too slow, not too fast. While we walk or drive we have an interface with surrounding landscape and people and savour a cultural experience which is most certainly undermined by speed.

To return to the earlier point we know that the tricolour is a visual representation and framing of our patriotism and national identity. It stands for the ideals of freedom, democracy and equality. Its symbolic function is to construct our national and cultural mythologies. Above all it is our unique and irreplaceable possession that gives us our self-perception of Indianness. Both our national song and national anthem convey to us the richness of our cultural diversity and civilizational unity.

The site of our national flag is sacrosanct where we make sovereign claims of nationhood and citizenship. Those who swear by it should not use it as an advertising space to ‘sell’ patriotism as a big brand, much like a commodity.

(The writer is former Professor and Head of the Department of English, H.N.B. Garhwal University)