Narendra Modi sees himself not only as Prime Minister but also the architect of what he terms as ‘New India’, and this dream of his is more of a nightmare. In 2002, the reactionary former Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi (of the Shiv Sena) was convinced that the circular building of Indian Parliament was cursed, as his predecessor ( G M Balayogi) had died in a chopper crash, India lost its Vice President (Krishan Kant) when Parliament was in session, terrorists attacked and killed several security men manning the gates of the Parliament complex.
Joshi then consulted Vaastu specialist and lawyer Ashwani Kumar Bansal, who wandered around the Parliament building for two days and gave a sealed memo to him, saying: “It's the circular building that ails nation’s polity”. Bansal said that the round shape was evocative of a zero and had the mystical power to destroy anything that interacts with it. Bansal's report, commissioned and reviewed in all its seriousness, was never acted upon, the fear being that it would invite derision from the Left and Anglican liberals who term Vaastu Shastra a pseudoscience. Modi as now resuscitated the idea of forming ‘New India’ by wiping out the history and grandeur of the country’s colonial past. He has ensured that the future generations never remember India under British rule.
Modi's first step toward this is now unfolding as the grand Central Vista project which is inching closer to completion as we are about to witness the 73rd Republic Day celebrations. The 40,000 square metres of green area has been increased in the Central Avenue, the red gravel on either side of Rajpath has been replaced with red sandstone tiles, 422 benches for tourists, a 16 km walkway -- all of which are part of refurbishment exercise but exhibit a ruthless desire to erase colonial history. Not only are the physical structures being altered and tampered with, but the symbols are also being replaced.
The 50-year- old eternal flame of Amar Jawan Jyoti stands extinguished, symbolised by an inverted bayonet and a soldier’s helmet, which have been kept aside as vestigial symbols. The three defence service chiefs and all visiting dignitaries have always paid their respect at Amar Jawan Jyoti on all important national festival days. The government has justified its act by saying that the eternal flame has not got extinguished but has been ‘merged’ with the flame at the newly built National War Memorial and has got its due which was ignored all these years.
Voices of protests were raised and sentiments were hurt, with several historians expressing their shock and dismay. But all of them remain nothing more than helpless spectators as history is being rewritten. Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said: “This government has no respect for democratic traditions and established conventions whether in Parliament or out of it”. ‘New India’ it seems is all about snuffing out history.
Another sign of Modi’s ‘New India’ this Republic Day (January 26) would be the elimination of the Christian hymn ‘Abide With Me’ -- one of the favourites of Mahatma Gandhi that exemplified the scores played by the Indian Navy band during the Beating the Retreat ceremony every year . The Modi government wants to get rid of what it terms as a “colonial” song and replace it with the Indian “Aiye Mere Watan ke Logon'. The jury is still out whether there was need to replace the hymn with the Hindi song but the twiterrati is highly polarised on the issue.
‘Abide With Me’ was a prayer written by Scottish Anglican Henry Francis Lyte in 1847, often sung in churches across the world now. It now stands removed from the Indian Republic Day celebrations.
Beating the Retreat is a military ceremony dating back to 17th century England and was first used to recall the nearby patrolling units to their castle. So, is the Modi government on its way to expunge Beating the Retreat altogether? Think about this. Note that the musical instruments played by the Navy band and their uniform have nothing ‘Hindutva’ about them. Somewhere the entire exercise seems a subterfuge to replace the real patriots. Will the Republic Day celebrations and Independence Day (August 15) functions be completely overhauled to give them a ‘New India’ look? Only time will tell.
The writer is a Delhi-based freelance journalist. The views are personal.