Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat
The Indian Supreme Court has passed orders that have, for example, resulted in the closure of several swathes of industry, or changed the direction of policy in a way substantially different from what was intended by the government of the day. Recently, the Supreme Court ordered that the National Anthem should be played before every performance in every cinema hall, and of course, that the entire audience should stand at attention while it was being played. In a particular instance, a moviegoer was beaten up by others in the hall for not standing up while the anthem was being played.
It later transpired that he was physically challenged and hence could not stand up on his own, which was why he had remained seated. Since the order was passed, this columnist has been to only a single movie, whereas previously he used to see them more often. At that show, the hall was almost empty when the National Anthem suddenly began to be played. Only after a few seconds did the realisation of what was happening set in, so that this columnist sprung to his feet.
During those few seconds spent still sitting inadvertently on the chair when the anthem began, had the theatre been fuller, some moviegoers may have resorted to violence in the mistaken assumption that disrespect was being shown to the national anthem. Individuals who make no secret of their patriotic fervour are getting more plentiful these days, and are often in an aggressive mood towards those they regard as insufficiently committed to public demonstrations of undying love for the nation. There are, of course, those who have doubts about the efficacy of this order of the Supreme Court. Why, they ask, single out only movie theatres for mandatory playing of the National Anthem before the start? Why not in the field of sports as well?
Why not play the National Anthem before every football or cricket match, so that the entire stadium rises in unison and warms the hearts of the more patriotic of the spectators present ? Why not begin every day at school with the National Anthem? Of course, subsequent judgments may extend the now famous “Cinema Order” to sports and schools as well, so that every day and in numerous venues, citizen gets a chance to prove his or her patriotic fervour by standing at attention when the National Anthem gets played. While order to play the anthem in cinema theatres is designed to infuse patriotism within theatre-going public, another recent order of SC is meant to ensure that drunken driving gets curbed. This is being done through making it illegal for liquor to be procured within 500 metres of a highway. As a consequence of this decision, it is estimated that about six million jobs will be affected, and many of which may never come back. Those working in shops and hotels will be most affected.
In Gurgaon, for example, the Cyber Hub is 21st century in design, even while the ( state managed) roads outside the swanky buildings have more potholes than smooth services. Those in authority who would like to see a teetotal 21st century and who are lobbying to enforce the prohibition of alcohol across the are happy at the Supreme Court order. However, the many restaurants in the area are in crisis, and most are in danger of shutting down. And of course, there are the usual critics who ask why the order applies only to highways. Are there no drunken drivers on smaller roads, indeed, on country dirt tracks? Then why not ban liquor within 500 metres of these as well? And what if a drunken driver walks 500 metres and buys liquor before getting back to his vehicle? Would it not be better to impose a ban for 5000 metres, so that it would be almost impossible to walk to a liquor vend from the road? And of course, if any alcohol is consumed at that distance, by the time the drinker gets back to the vehicle, effects would have been sharply reduced by exertion involved in walking five kilometres back.
Others warn that some drivers carry alcohol in bottles with them, and so are unaffected by the ban. A suggestion made is to prescribe jail time, perhaps even life imprisonment, for all drivers of vehicles who are found with liquor on their person. There have been numerous studies to the effect that the environment is better served by a vegetarian diet. Out of consideration for the need to slow down global warming, the newly elected Uttar Pradesh government has decreed that all illegal meat shops must shut down. In effect, this means almost all shops, as the laws in India are so numerous and complex that almost every establishment (whether selling meat, fish, milk or vegetables) is technically “illegal”. The UP police have shut down such establishments with a zeal not usually visible in that force.
In a short while, the sale of liquor may also be banned, just as it has been in next door Bihar. The problem is that merely banning alcohol may not prevent its consumption. Only, the sale and profits will flow to mafias rather than to the exchequer, even while lives will be lost because of consumption of bootleg liquor. In case of Uttar Pradesh, state needs at least Rs 100,000 crores of investment in industry over the next eighteen years, with foreign countries having to meet part of the outlay. Problem is that in almost all these countries, meat is a staple dish, and investors will worry about coming to a state where even the suspicion that meat is being transported results in acts of violence. Reality is that all, repeat all, developed countries have given freedom to their citizens to eat what foods they prefer, wear what dress they like, and adopt lifestyle of their choice. In 21st century, such freedoms are even more desired by people.
However, in India the trend is in favour of the government and the courts ordering the citizen to adopt the habits that the authorities believe are essential to make the citizen a model. Almost every sphere of the life of a citizen is subject to such regulation. It will be interesting to see whether such a net of regulations and such a prescriptive system can generate the mindset and the initiative needed for rapid growth. SC of India must be congratulated for seeking to enhance patriotism and stop drunken driving, among other things. Hopefully the two path breaking decisions of the Court mentioned above will result in a country freed of the evil of drunk driving and an absence of patriotism. Time will tell.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.