Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Lion Head of Sarnath, the national symbol of India, in the under-construction Parliament House. This gave birth to a huge controversy that the design of the lion head has been heavily tampered with. The difference between the lions of the lion head on the upper part of the pillar at Sarnath and the lions of the new Parliament complex is clearly visible. Seeing real lions, you see two differing expressions at the same time - first, one can feel the intrinsic power of lions. Then, the taut veins of lions are suggestive of their massive strength. Apart from this, one can also see a slight smile on their faces.
The harmony of these two expressions is symbolic of the ambition of the budding Indian nation. For any nation, its national symbol is a symbol that defines that nation. The Indian nation, breaking free of the clutches of the British Raj in 1947, was born with the dream of a sovereign and independent nation. It was to demonstrate its power on the world stage, but this power itself was humble and gentle, not aggressive. Incidentally, even a great emperor like Ashoka had given preference to such harmony in his vast empire, whose exact replica also carried the tradition of the Indian nation. When it was decided to get a National Emblem designed to depict the manuscript of the Constitution, Nehru Ji entrusted the responsibility to the great artist of the time, Nandlal Bose. Nandlal Bose was then the Principal of Kala Bhavan of Shantiniketan, established by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. But Nandlal Bose handed over this responsibility to Dinanath Bhargava, a student of Kala Bhavan. Bhargava carried out this responsibility with utmost sincerity as he had spent months studying the gestures of lions in the famous zoo of Calcutta before making the replica of Sarnath Singh’s head.
Now since the BJP-RSS has a problem with the freedom struggle, the symbols emanating from it will remain on its target. It should be noted that the Sangh has started hoisting our National Flag in its offices barely 20 years back because common Indians have a deep association with the ‘Tricolour’. It is not possible for them (BJP-RSS) to change these symbols of India, but it is definitely possible for them to distort these symbols. The recent efforts to do away with the requirement of Khadi cloth for the ‘Tricolour’ flag should also be seen in this context.
There is a deep-rooted problem in the basic understanding of the nation by the RSS-BJP. Violence is central to their ideology, so they try to generalize aggression. Even in the context of the National Emblem, they have given priority to hollow aggression rather than the calmness and gentleness of the lion head of Sarnath. In their defense, they argue that these new lions are just like real lions and that a real lion roars and not smiles. This argument is indicative of the poor thought because no self-respecting nation can be an exact replica of an animal, but tries to create a new meaning by taking the symbol of a particular animal.
This lion head was taken from Sarnath near Varanasi where Gautam Buddha had delivered his first sermon. It is obvious that the Buddha himself is a symbol of peace and non-violence, and an ancient emperor like Ashoka coined a definition of self-confidence and dignity, based on strength and gentleness, at the Buddha’s first teaching site. But first, the violence-centered thinking of the communal forces takes them away from the ideal of peace and non-violence. Secondly, their aggression is hollow and ostentatious with a complete lack of self-confidence and dignity.
Therefore, this conspiracy to distort the National Emblem should be seen as a combined effort to change the basic concept of the Indian nation. A conspiracy is being hatched to transform the Indian nation, born out of Gandhi’s ideals, changing its symbols, values and definitions into a violent and aggressive communal nation. Over the past several decades, after depicting Hindu religion, its Gods and Goddesses as aggressive and violent, the National Symbols are now being targeted. This is not just a natural difference found between the two models, but it is a maladaptive attempt to make a communal transformation of the Indian nation.
(The author is Assistant Professor of History at Deshbandhu College, University of Delhi and Convener of National Andolan Front, an organization dedicated to the freedom struggle)