The distortion is serious and should be undone. Our national emblem is not a toy that a child can reshape. It represents the meaning of India and the message of the Indian state. Our courts demonstrate this and thus promise integrity and impartiality. Through the emblem, our coins and banknotes ensure legitimacy.
Suddenly, without notice to anyone, without consulting the parliament, or the states, or public opinion, the emblem is not only modified, but then installed, in all its heavy tonnage, at the top of the new parliament building! The calm, confident, reassuring and protective lions have been replaced by a set of snarling and menacing lions!
It’s like removing the Flame of Liberty from the raised hand of the Statue of Liberty near New York and replacing it with an assault rifle. (Some in the United States will no doubt welcome such a change.)
Everything about the event was flawed. The unilateral change of the emblem. Single Religion Prayers Dedicating Religiously Impartial Indian State Ceremony. The absence from the event of the President of India, who is among other things the head of our parliament. The absence also of the Vice-President of India, who presides over the Rajya Sabha, which is an inseparable part of parliament. The absence of opposition leaders. We can easily continue.
But more than the event, it is the fact that from now on, a weathered symbol will speak to the world from a towering perch above the new parliament building that should deeply disturb every Indian. The excuses are completely unconvincing. “Artists must have their freedom.” “Only from below do the lions look enraged.” How many will see the lions from above?
Jawhar Sircar of the Trinamool Congress, MP for Rajya Sabha, was surely right when he contrasted our national symbol’s ‘majesty Ashokan lions’, who are ‘graceful’ and ‘royally confident’, to the ‘unnecessarily aggressive’ lions now unilaterally installed. . Other MPs also expressed shock and apprehension, including Jawhar Sircar’s party colleague, Mahua Moitra. Congress and Rashtriya Janata Dal leaders also expressed their views in plain language, and left-wing parties pointed out, referring to the religious ceremony accompanying the installation, that India belongs to people of religions different and also to those who cannot have a religious belief.
But the issue is beyond politics. What is at stake are the ties that hold India and the Indian people together. And the moral and educational tone of the nation is involved. Will we move forward in trust and friendship – or will we scare each other into cooperating? Will parents raise their children like menacing lions, and will bullying now be the first virtue that teachers in Indian schools strive to instill in their students?
Anyone who thinks the tampering was merely artistic or unintentional will believe anything. Or justify anything. The change from the lion that protects to the lion that threatens must have been entirely deliberate. And it’s possible that before long the modification will be defended as intentional, necessary and appropriate.
Who is the target of the lions’ warning? Those who decided on the change will no doubt tell us one day. But another question is perhaps more important: how will India’s millions of vulnerable people, and India’s neighbors large and small, interpret the modified emblem? The Indian state has nuclear weapons. It has one of the largest armies in the world. It has access to and can buy the most advanced security and defense technologies in the world, including those enhanced by artificial intelligence. The Indian state also has a formidable array of forces for maintaining internal order. When such a state changes its emblem and places a new hostile emblem on a new prestigious height, what conclusions will people draw? That he’s suddenly unsure of himself?
Do we not know, moreover, that already millions of men and women in different parts of our land – including in the far north of the country, in the northeast, in the east, in the south – feel excluded, neglected, harassed, repressed, unheard of? Will the angry lions reassure them? It is not only the religious minorities of India, or those who live in the border regions, who feel that they cannot count on the justice, freedom, equality, dignity and brotherhood that the Constitution gives them promise. Large swathes of the majority community and large sections of the population in the center, including Dalits and Adivasis, also feel unfairly treated, ignored and ignored.
You can’t scare people into cooperating or participating. They must be won with kindness and respect.
The world must be told that goodwill and friendship remain at the heart of India’s message, and that India’s strength is meant to protect itself, not threaten anyone. Prime Minister Modi will win, not lose, if his government orders a correction, and majestic, alert and calm lions return to represent India.
(Rajmohan Gandhi currently teaches at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.