What Sunny Deol’s ‘Gadar’ Teaches Us About Nationalism  

On Sunny Deol’s birthday, we wonder if his superhit film ‘Gadar: Ek Prem Katha’ was anti-national and seditious.

4 min read
What Sunny Deol’s ‘Gadar’ Teaches Us About Nationalism  

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Gadar is the ultimate fantasy film for a ‘nationalist’. In the film, Sunny Deol’s character, Tara Singh’s most villainous father-in-law (Ashraf Ali) asks him to convert to Islam, say ‘Islam Zindabad’, followed by ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ – demands, Singh reluctantly agrees to.

Trouble begins when Ashraf Ali tells him to say ‘India Murdabad’. Sunny paaji would rather die than utter those words. And thus begins the long-drawn patriotic jingoism interspersed with panic-stricken reaction shots featuring his wife Saqeena (Amisha Patel), followed by railroad destruction and hand pump extractions padded by Sunny’s ghastly war cries.

One is not sure if Tara Singh would’ve escaped arrest had his indoctrination taken place on the JNU campus.

Was Tara Singh anti-national when he said ‘Pakistan Zindabad’? Was he being a nationalist when he refused to say ‘Indian Murdabad’? What if he had said ‘India Murdabad’?

Would that have made him anti-national, seditious, and a traitor?


Was Tara Singh of Gadar, a Nationalist?

Was Tara Singh seditious for saying ‘Pakistan Zindabad’? (Photo: YouTube/Sunny Deol Crying India vs Pakistan)

The Constitution of India does not mention, leave alone define the term ‘anti-national’. This permits the police to use its judgement in determining what constitutes anti-national activity and invoke Section 124 A (Sedition) of the Indian Penal Code.

The sedition law was introduced in 1870 by the British to suppress demands for ‘azadi’. Ironically, it has been used more frequently in free India than during colonial rule.


What Constitutes as Anti-National?

The Delhi Police charged JNU Students Union President Kanhaiya Kumar with sedition on the grounds that he participated in an event to show solidarity with a terrorist who was executed two years ago, and shouting anti-India slogans.

Students agitating for the release of the Students Union President Kanhaiya Kumar at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). (Photo: PTI)

In his nearly 23 minute-long speech, Kanhaiya Kumar was vehemently critical of the RSS and HRD minister Smriti Irani. He explicitly denies raising pro-Pakistan slogans and at one point, asks:

“Who is Kasab? Who is Afzal? Who are these people who willingly strap bombs on their bodies and kill? If we don’t ask these questions in universities, then the existence of these universities is pointless.”

Anti-National = Anti-Establishment?

The government seems to be convinced that far from justifying the existence of universities, the question amounts to ‘anti-national’ and ‘seditious’.

Amit Shah has been especially critical of the political solidarity, extended especially by Rahul Gandhi, to the dissenting students. In his blog, the BJP President listed ‘Pakistan Zindabad’, ‘Bharat Ki Barbadi Tak Jung Rahegi Jari’ and ‘Afzal Tere Khoon Se Inqalab Ayega’ among the slogans he thought objectionable and anti-India.

Who raised these slogans is still under dispute, as is the authenticity of the videos that show students belonging to the Democratic Students Union (DSU), raising ‘secessionist’ slogans. That Kanhaiya Kumar was not among them, has been established.

The videos are still being verified, but does anti-establishment equal to anti-national?


Sedition: Archaic Law vs Modern Interpretation

The archaic 19th century sedition law enshrined in the Indian Penal Code was re-interpreted by the Supreme Court in 1962. It narrowed the ambit of Section 124A, holding only those actions that had the intention or tendency to incite violence or public disorder would be considered as seditious.

Merely saying ‘Pakistan zindabad’ is not sedition. The next one [Bharat ki barbaadi ..] is problematic, but I would rather say not sedition. The section is a very serious penal section. It has provision for very clear-cut cases. ‘Afzal, hum sharminda hain, tere qatil zinda hai’ [Afzal, we are ashamed that your killers are still alive], ‘Tum kitney Afzal maroge, har ghar mein Afzal niklega’ [An Afzal will be born for every Afzal killed],
Soli Sorabjee, Former Attorney General of India in an interview to India Today

Of late, however, the definition of sedition has come to be defined through a parochial understanding of what constitutes ‘anti-national’.


Are you an Anti-National?

Nationalism is a political concept that refers to a sense of identity. It may or may not have religious overtones, but it most definitely comes with a sense of loyalty.

A nationalist is a person who ascribes to this political concept and identifies with his kind i.e. people who speak the same language, are from the same religion, caste or community.

Nationalism in India has come to be defined and enforced by the political entities in power. Currently, India is governed by a robustly nationalist party that openly espouses Hindutva.

The Congress by virtue of leading the freedom struggle is the fountainhead of Indian nationalism. It ensured that the history of Indian independence is synonymous with its mainstream leaders like Gandhi, Nehru and Patel. In doing so, the party has systematically disregarded the contributions of others like Birsa Munda, Tirupur Kumaran, Lakshmi Sahgal and countless others.

Journalists march from Press Club of India to the Supreme Court to protest Monday’s attack on media persons and JNU students by lawyers outside and inside Patiala House Courts. (Photo: PTI)

No to Pakistan, Yes to Mc Donalds

A strong, some would say warped, nationalist agenda, however, can tend to propagate institutional violence and social persecution. It’s the reason why 25-year-old Salman and five others were arrested on sedition charges for not standing up during a national anthem in Thiruvananthapuram in September 2014.

It’s also why some ‘nationalist’ audience members at an upscale cinema hall in Mumbai felt it was their moral duty to throw out a family that refused to stand up for the national anthem in November 2015.

It’s why supporting the Pakistan cricket team got 67 Kashmiri students suspended from a large private university in Meerut in March 2014.

Today’s political dispensation has come to define nationalism in a parochial, religious, anti-Pakistan context.

Which is why you’re less likely to be arrested, banished or suspended for consuming a Mc Chicken Spicy or wearing an H&M outfit.

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Topics:  Sunny Deol   JNUSU 

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