Way back in 1775, the Scottish diarist and biographer James Boswell
tells us  the prominent English litterateur Samuel Johnson uttered
these penetrating words, “patriotism is the last refuge of a
scoundrel.” Those remarks are presented without context, but in other
places in Boswell’s epochal “The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL D” it
becomes amply clear both men are referring to manipulative
sloganeering. Boswell records Johnson warning about politicians
“disseminating discontent”, and saying “to instigate the populace with
rage beyond the provocation is to suspend public happiness, if not to
destroy it. He is no lover of his country that unnecessarily disturbs
its peace.”

Fast forward to 2018 where the peace in India is permanently
disturbed, with controversies cynically manufactured to distract the
masses from tawdry everyday reality of disastrous misgovernance. Just
a few days ago, the findings of the global Environmental Performance
Index released at the World Economic Forum in Davos listed India an
incredibly bad fourth-worst in the world across ten broad categories
including air and water quality, deforestation and sanitation. But
instead of headlines about ranking 177th out of 180 countries in this
vital area, the media was dominated by the Shri Rajput Karni Sena and
its absurdly misguided protests about a Bollywood film’s supposed
threats to its caste pride.

Map the violence, and you can see those places align precisely with
those parts of the country suffering the most at this precise juncture
in history. Across much of that “cow belt”, unemployment is rising as
the economy falters. Climate change has devastated the ability to
support agriculture. A grotesquely skewed sex ratio has resulted in
millions of “missing women”, greatly exacerbating social tensions. In
such a cauldron of disaffection, incendiary appeals to the mob become
inevitable political tactics. But even then you still can’t fool all
the people all the time, as proven earlier this week in Ajmer, Alwar
and Mandalgarh in Rajasthan, where voters rather remarkably reversed
the national trend to reject politics of communal division.

                                                             Bring the
focus to Goa, which is so blessed with every natural advantage,
including a quality of life and cultural harmony which is the envy of
the rest of the world. But even here, the contemporary political cadre
constantly tries its luck with the intolerance card. The latest and
example is that of speaker of the Legislative Assembly Pramod Sawant,
who recently hectored a bemused crowd about “some Goans who still say
Viva Portugal”. A full 57 years after the Indian triranga was first
officially raised in India’s smallest state, this 45-year-old
politician is running scared from the long-departed colonial bogeyman.

If Sawant thought he could score easy points with these cheap tactics,
he was quickly proven wrong by a torrent of ridicule. On Facebook, the
young Panjim resident Rohan Govenkar echoed a consensus when he wrote,
“There are two kinds of nationalists in the country. (1) Those who
feel that Corruption, Poverty, Malnutrition, Bad Healthcare services,
inferior educational standards and filth are the biggest threats to
the rise of India. (2) Those who feel that someone chanting slogans of
‘Viva Portugal/ supporting Portugal for a football match are the
biggest threat to the rise of India. What kind of nationalist are

The sheer disgracefulness of Sawant’s comments stands out especially
because of the bonhomie and mutual regard between Narendra Modi and
Antonio Costa, as the prime ministers of India and Portugal have
accelerated to the warmest ties between any European and Asian
country. In the span of just six months last year, they hosted each
other. Costa’s rapturous reception in Goa – the land of his
forefathers – was matched in fervour by Modi’s welcome in Lisbon,
where he was fed Gujarati specialities by the large and successful
diaspora community from his state.

Narendra Modi has nothing b ut good wishes, and great plans regarding
India’s relationship with Portugal, which he describes as “deep
historical connections and strong economic and people to people ties”
and “strong partners in the international arena.” What is more, with
an overseas citizen of India at the helm of Portugal, Modi
pragmatically realizes there is no contradiction at all in being an
enthusiastic well-wisher of both great countries. This - above all
else - is the lesson for Pramod Sawant. In 2018, it is not just “some
Goans” but the prime minister and the rest of India that are all
joining in to chorus together, “Viva Portugal.”

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