Sushma Swaraj – Caught on the wrong foot

The chaotic situation followed by wide spread condemnation of police action on sleeping protesters at the Rmalila ground was a perfect opportunity for the principal opposition party, the BJP, to embarrass the UPA Government. However, the BJP has only itself to blame for the totally avoidable controversy over Sushma Swaraj’s dance during its 24 hours sit-in at the Rajghat. The Congress, to its utter surprise, got a much needed reprieve from a hopeless situation and lost no time in going on the offensive. Digvijay Singh, the favorite hatchet man of Congress, used the choicest words to criticize Sushma and the BJP for lowering the dignity of the memorial of the Father of the Nation. Congress spokesman Manish Tiwari was equally caustic in expressing his anger over this action. 24×7 TV news channels predictably kept the controversy alive throughout the day and repeated flashed video footage of Sushma Swaraj dancing to the popular patriotic song “Ye Desh Hai Veer Jawano Ka”.

Sushma Swaraj later hit back through Twitter to say that there is nothing wrong in singing and dancing on patriotic songs and this in no way lowers the dignity of the Rajghat. I have reproduced her Tweets at the end of this post.

Without going into the merit of the explanation offered by Sushma Swaraj, there can be no denying of the fact that this controversy was totally avoidable and has put the BJP on the defensive in a situation when it should have had the upper hand over the UPA Govt, under fire from the public and the media.

To start with, the planning itself was faulty. There was no need to organize a 24 hour sit-in (what BJP calls Satyagraha). Similar to the token fast and sit-in being organized at the same venue (Rajghat) by Anna Hazare group today (June 8, 2011),  BJP also should have planned a day long affair only keeping in view that most participants would find it difficult to remain awake throughout the night. The organizers missed to spot this weakness in the plan. As one would imagine, the day passed off without much problem and party leaders gave speeches one after another. Everything was going well till 2 am in the night when it would have become extremely difficult to prevent the majority of the participants from dozing off without any physical activity to ward off sleeping pangs. At this stage some of the young party workers would have started singing songs (patriotic). This would have energized the sleepy crowd and everyone joined in- some singing along, some clapping some just enjoying. Those who are familiar with Delhi culture (with Punjabi influence) can very well imagine that once songs start, dancing would inevitably follow. As soon as they started singing the popular (patriotic) song “Ye desh hai veer jawano ka” the youth brigade couldn’t resist the temptation of dancing to its Bhangra beats. For those of you who may not be aware – this song is from the movie “Naya Daur (1957)” and was composed by the legendary music director O.P. Nayyar. For the last several decades this song has been the favourite of all wedding bands in North India and participants of the wedding procession (Barat) dance with full vigour when the band plays this song. Obviously, the fact that this is a patriotic song, is not that relevant during a wedding procession and the reason behind the popularity of this song is its catchy beats styled on Bhangra (a popular dance form of Punjab).

Sushma Swaraj has stated that no place and no occasion is wrong for singing and dancing on patriotic songs. While this may be generally true but singing and dancing even though on patriotic songs, may be considered inappropriate on extremely solemn occasions. For example- in a condolence meeting on the death of a person, while singing of religious prayers is a common practice amongst the Hindus, however, dancing is a strict no-no. In this particular case, while it wasn’t a condolence meeting but something very similar. The objective, as announced by the BJP itself, was to express sympathy towards the persons injured during the police action in Ramlila ground and to protest against the same. Sushma Swaraj had herself tweeted earlier about the conditions of some of the persons who sustained serious injuries and were battling for life. It doesn’t require too much thinking to decide what is the appropriate behaviour on such occasion. To relate it to our own experiences, this occasion is somewhat  similar to visiting a relative or a friend in an hospital who is seriously injured and is battling for his/ her life. I have not ever seen, heard of or even read about any case when the visitors who had come to see the patient started dancing on songs – patriotic or religious or any kind.

Not just the occasion, but the place chosen for singing and dancing was also not appropriate. While Rajghat is not the grave of Mahatma Gandhi as there is no such concept in Hinduism, however it is the place where his funeral took place and later a memorial was constructed there. Without going into too much of technicalities, the appropriate behaviour when visiting Rajghat (or any similar memorial) is same as when visiting a grave, that too of a highly revered person. During the past six decades,  thousands of persons and perhaps hundreds of dignitaries from India as well as from other countries, have visited Rajghat to pay their homage to Mahatma Gandhi. Without exception, each and every visitor had demonstrated extremely solemn behaviour. The only time when there was a slight controversy was when former US President George Bush was to visit Rajghat and prior to his visit the US security agencies used a sniffer dog for routine security sanitization of the place.

Interestingly, the BJP has left it entirely on Sushma Swaraj to defend and justify her actions which is not fair. While the Congress Party and the media has singled out Suhma Swaraj, which is understandable, however, the BJP must take the responsibility of the behaviour of all its workers, including Sushma Swaraj. In other words, even if Sushma Swaraj had not participated in dancing and even if only ordinary party workers had indulged in such behaviour, it would have been equally inappropriate, especially because it was done in the presence of the entire top leadership of the BJP. From the TV footage, we can see L K Advani sitting seriously even when others were singing and dancing. Perhaps he didn’t join in because he didn’t consider it appropriate, however, it is not good enough. Being the senior most leader, he should have advised the party workers against dancing.

It is indeed a lesson to be learnt by the BJP for the future. For the time being – it has clearly lost the advantage.


Sushma Swaraj’s Tweets on Dance Controversy
(Tweeter Handle: @SushmaSwarajBJP)

“Congress party is trying to divert public attention from the main issue of corruption, black money and crackdown in Ramlila grounds.”

“Our party workers were singing and dancing on ‘Ye desh hai veer jawano ka.’ “

“I was asked to step in. I did this as an act of camaraderie for a brief moment. The media is playing that short clip again and again.”

“We are patriotic people. We will sing and dance on patriotic songs till our last breath.”

“Congress Party now says that I have not clarified as to what were we celebrating.”

“This song does not require any occasion or event to celebrate. This is a song in praise of our motherland.”

“The lyrics are ‘Yeh desh hai veer jawanon ka, albelon ka mastano ka, Is desh ka yaaro kya kahna, ye desh hai dunia ka gahna’.”

“This means, ‘this is a country of brave people, distinguished and youthful people How great is this country. It is a jewel of the world’.”

“Our party workers were singing this song to express their determination to safeguard the freedom and liberty of our country.”

“My question is: Is singing a song in praise of your motherland an insult to Mahatma Gandhi? ”

“No place and no occasion is wrong for singing and dancing in praise of our motherland.”

“My brothers and sisters, Vande matram. I am not the one to be cowed down by such people who do not appreciate our patriotic sentiments.”

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