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Valentine's Day blossoms in India, former protesters have change of heart

Madhavan Narayanan/ 14 Feb 18 | 08:36 AM


As India gears up to mark Valentine’s Day today, erstwhile protesters to this 'horrible import from the West'- appear to have turned neutral, and even sympathetic, to the idea of Valentine's Day. While it might take a while for the love breeze from the upscale streets of south Bombay to travel to the interiors of Madhya Pradesh, you cannot deny a new wind is blowing in India this Valentine's Day. 

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When you are not sure if something is right or not, you are in a moral dilemma. When you are not sure if you are fighting something or not, you could call it a quarrel dilemma. That is what some Hindu right-wing groups seem to be in as India prepares to celebrate Valentine's Day, which, in the thoughts of protest groups, is a horrible import from the West to corrupt the nation's youngsters. 

But winds of change are blowing, as erstwhile protesters – at least some of them -- have turned neutral, and even sympathetic, to the idea of Valentine's Day.  This has understandably caused dissensions and cracks in the ranks of those who in the past seem to have rejected the saying by American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, "All the world loves a lover".  Those who had tried to stop couples from saying it with chocolates, flowers and romantic dates in the parks, universities and shopping malls of India are having a change of heart, at least in parts.

Mumbai-headquartered Shiv Sena is now a pale yellow version of its former saffron self. It has clarified the party will not oppose Valentine's Day and pointed out that a man leading protests against the annual kootchie-kooing festival in UP had been expelled by the party. In fact, Aditya Thackeray, the latest scion of the dynastically inclined party, has asserted it is "absolutely not party line" to oppose V-Day.

Er, that is a case of no love lost between former comrades, but the average UP-ite may not be able to tell the difference between a former Sena man and a current one. The Sunday before the big day, the breakaway Shiv Sena faction conducted a lathi-puja, a reverential worship of the stick, so it could wield that against lovers.  It seems to have a blessing from the Yogi Adityanath-led state authorities if a university circular is any indication. Lucknow University declared in a circular that students should not be roaming around the campus on Valentine's Day.  That’s hardly encouraging for young men and women wanting to date in familiar environs, right?

Meanwhile, the Bajrang Dal told restaurants and pubs in Hyderabad not to entertain V-day outings, just in case someone had doubts that the hardline organisation had undergone an emotional change. Not to be left behind, fringe groups with fancy names such as Bharat Sena and Shakti Sena have not changed their hearts against the festival of hearts and were planning  protests in public places including beaches, cinema halls and even temples to stop V-Day love from blooming. Greeting cards were heading for tearing-up ceremonies, on the last count.

So where does that leave us? More than a bit confused, yes, but consider the idea that Shiv Sena's higher authorities also found some loving company in Pravin Togadia of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), who has in the past been counted with V-Day baiters. "If there are no marriages, the world won't progress. Young men and women have the right to love," he said in an apparent change of heart.

What gives? 

One explanation could be that right-wing parties now have to win support from young Millennials weaned on MTV and Tinder and parents are not exactly opposed anymore to boys and girls choosing their partners, except in pockets where inter-religious or inter-caste marriages are frowned upon, (some with dangerous "love jihad" tags attached).

Aditya Thackeray is himself a cool young man and the breeze blowing from across his city’s romantically inclined Napean Sea Road is bound to have eased some of the militant cultural assertions a few miles down at Shivaji Park, Shiv Sena's home patch.

Togadia's words seem to suggest that he wants more marriages (Read: kids). Given the extreme right-wing Hindu narrative that wants more Hindu kids to fight an alleged high growth in the Muslim population, it might just be that Togadia likes the idea of V-Day love resulting in some breeding to shape agreeable demographics. You never know.

Politically speaking, Togadia is not exactly on good terms with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling dispensation, and this might well be his googly to outwit some rivals within the saffron brigade.

"I have passed on the message that our daughters and sisters also have the right to love," he said this week in what might well be described as an earth-shaking announcement from one who in the past has been accused of spreading hate, not love.

It might also help that Asaram Bapu, the controversial godman who wanted Valentine's Day to be celebrated as one for the worship of parents rather than sweethearts, is still in jail facing a rape trial as an accused. That is not exactly a commanding moral position from where you could ask young Indians to stop celebrating a day meant for lovers. Yet, there was an event last Sunday at Biyawara in Madhya Pradesh by those inspired by his words to mark the worship of parents in an anti-Western ceremony.

It might take a while for the love breeze from the upscale streets of south Bombay to travel to the interiors of Madhya Pradesh, but you cannot deny a new wind is blowing in India this Valentine's Day. 

(The author is a senior journalist and editor who has worked for Reuters, Business Standard and Hindustan Times. He is currently an independent media entrepreneur, consultant and columnist. He is listed among the top 200 Indian influencers on Twitter. He tweets as @madversity)

Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal. They do not reflect the view/s of Business Standard.

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