In the celebration of 75 years of Independence, one must look back at the rich discourse around mindless nationalistic ideals and sober patriotic beliefs.
A nationalistic procession carried out in the neighbourhood to celebrate the festivity of independence in a modest, sober, loving, and thoughtful way symbolising magnanimity and inclusiveness of the nation suddenly turned into an unruly angry mob passing by Subedar Puneet’s house. They were hurling abuses and anti-national slogans against him because the ‘eyes’ could not spot the ordered ‘flag’ unfurled on the rooftop while all along it was on his chest. It reminds us of Rabindranath Tagore, who probably ascertained the horrors of Nationalism and wrote that “We must give a warning that this idea of nationalism is prevalent evil that is sweeping over the present world and eating it into its moral vitality”.
The scenario as described above may be a fictional work of artistic liberty but the message behind it is certainly not. The idea of throttling down nationalism on its people is as real as the sun rising from the east. Nationalism in its different forms has over the time become a tool to proceed to a majoritarian notion, of any kind be it caste, religion, or race, to topple the idea of ‘liberal democracies’ in the garb of reform. In other words, the sentiments are exploited in the name of loyalties to foster an illiberal regime which runs counter to “Internationalism” and is loved by populist leaders. This modus operandi of coerced or forced nationalism for political gains therefore also vindicates George Orwell’s quote “Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception.”. At this stage one must also not forget about Subedar Puneet’s love and loyalty for the nation: how is it different from negative nationalism? Is it patriotism? Are they not the same?
Nationalism and patriotism are popular catch phrases often used together and interchangeably today but they are not same and a deconstruction of both, especially in these testing times is quintessential. Nationalism and patriotism in themselves are dynamic umbrella concept(s) which can be understood only with contextualisation. It is also important to note that they differ in their popular usage in different parts of the world and even in different phases while in the same country. The attribute may change with time; however, the principal thread largely remains the same. They are two distinct loyalties simply put as love for our own country, but the miniscule difference is that while patriotism is positive affirmation and embraces the flaws of the nation, nationalism is rather aggressive, insecure and fosters a feeling of superiority over others.
“Nationalism and patriotism are popular catch phrases often used together and interchangeably today but they are not same and a deconstruction of both, especially in these testing times is quintessential.
Nationalism is premised on the idea of a “nation state”, while patriotism places reliance on the society and the emergence of a nation. Nationalism is a feeling that one’s country is superior to another in all respects, while patriotism is merely a feeling of admiration for a way of life. Generally, the idea of nationalism becomes negative with irrational blaming and the spread of hatred among people. It is safe to say that patriotism is based on affection and nationalism is rooted in rivalry and resentment. It has been observed that most nationalists assume that their country is better than any other, whereas patriots believe that their country is one of the best and can be improved.
The tool of coerced nationalism and its deployment by populists around the world, which ironically never feels coerced, is also a ready-made and ‘simple solution’ for complex issues which promises to be country’s virtue and, in the end, also serves as an easy escape from governmental failure in name of people’s allegiance for the country. The phenomenon of coerced nationalism also translates into toxic nationalism when it becomes more of hero-worshippism as the world has seen in the past and is encountering even now.
In India, Tagore was evidently against nationalism as he believed that the notion of internationalism which must prevail over all mankind, and which must be founded on the human ethics of simplicity, beauty and unanimity with others at the level of both, individuals and nations. In his criticism of nationalism, Tagore has been influenced by the incidence of cruelty, and indignity perpetrated by the Western nations against what he called the philosophy of “No-Nations”. In this regard, he explicitly challenged those manifestations of the non-violent movement for independence which had the effect of generating hatred against the British.
We must also note that the notion of Nationalism in its current form has moved from being “emancipatory” to “conservative”. The symbols of conservativeness are readily seen in the modern day Indian political landscape. In the midst of equating a religious majority into a political majority, today India is flirting with illiberal constitutional democratic values through conservativism. In India, fanatic nationalists make an attempt to equate democracy and majoritarianism i.e., the pursuance of a permanent unbeatable majority which would place large groups in power forever to achieve the idea that, “The philosophy based upon a broad agreement that the majority should set the goals of Indian state.” The government therefore seems to translate a religious majority into a political majority and gain electoral benefits with Hindu or negative Nationalism.
“Nationalism is a feeling that one’s country is superior to another in all respects, while patriotism is merely a feeling of admiration for a way of life.
In the celebration of 75 years of Independence one must look back at the rich discourse around mindless nationalistic ideals and sober patriotic beliefs for our country. It is time to reflect and understand that coerced nationalism does more harm to Subedar Puneet and many more like him, who are honest, dedicated, taxpaying and patriotic individuals, rather than gain. It is time to not fall prey for forced nationalistic paraphernalia used by populist leaders only for electoral gains. The inclusiveness of liberal democratic spirit of India is at the verge of a great fall from which a retreat would be a monumental task for us as a nation. The eradication of intent of questioning is final virtue of coerced nationalism, the intent of questioning is manifestation of patriotism.
“The phenomenon of coerced nationalism also translates into toxic nationalism when it becomes more of hero-worshippism as the world has seen in the past and is encountering even now.
The Indian flag or the patriotism associated with it is integral to our own being and it is time we resist its appropriation by fringe, reclaim it. So, if you don’t spot a tiranga on the rooftop, try looking in the heart for it and redeem yourself; Redeem our India.
(The author would like to express gratitude towards Gautam Kumar for his insights in curating this article. Major excerpts of this article are taken from the author’s own research paper published by National Law University, Delhi available here.)