There is a public debate going on in the country on patriotism and its definitions. Anyone who does not agree with the views of the majority is being branded as a traitor. Anyone who does point out flaws in the state and its decisions is being attacked in an inhumane manner. People often forget the fact that the state is composed of individuals, individuals who are human and are susceptible to mistakes. There is widespread propaganda of militant patriotic principles that stand against the core principles of democracy. The right to dissent is being challenged by people claiming to be the white knights of patriotism.
We are forgetting that when Gandhi, or Bhagat Singh or any other revolutionary stood up against the state they were also committing sedition. How can we call a fight for freedom and democratic rights of a class of people sedition. The Supreme Court of India itself, in a judgement, had explained that fighting against the state in a peaceful manner cannot be punished and that there is nothing anti-constitutional about it. It becomes a crime when there is violence or an intention to cause violence is behind it.
This brings us to patriotism. Most of us get a shot of patriotism during a cricket match, or when soldiers are martyred, or whenever the subject of Kashmir comes up. But should we limit our patriotism to these topics only? Shouldn’t other topics which concern the development of the nation also be brought up?
The people of this nation are still struggling with poverty, discrimination and other social evils which make everyday life unbearable. I am ashamed of the fact that casteism and religious intolerance still runs deep in our country. Ashamed of the fact that social status is determined not on the basis of merit but on the basis of the caste or religion which one is born into. Individuals born into certain sections of the society are born with a shield that protects them from their deeds and they are respected despite their moral turpitude. These issues remain hurdles in the path of our nation’s development. Isn’t it our duty as patriots to struggle for the eradication of these evils?
Instead, what are we focussing on? A few students allegedly raise slogans which are ‘anti-India’ in nature and this issue is being presented as a threat to the country. Knock! Knock! Anyone remember the murder of our Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) terrorists? Some organisations in Tamil Nadu are advocating for the release of the culprits. Banners are put up supporting the LTTE. Even the birthday of its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran is celebrated openly. Some organisations announced the commemoration of the death anniversary of Naturam Godse, the murderer who deprived India of its beloved son Gandhi. National leaders have asked certain sections of the society to leave the country. And no one is branding these actions as anti-national?
So, why is this minor issue of some sloganeering by some miscreants being brought under the scanner? Is India’s democracy so weak that it will fall apart by some sloganeering? The recent Jat and Patel agitations caused widespread violence and even death. There was no call to brand this violence as anti-national or anti-constitutional when it clearly was. On the other hand, a peaceful protest, even though the slogans were highly condemnable, is being treated with such importance and urgency.
India is and forever will be a democratic country and free speech and critical thinking are integral to its social development. We as Indians should be proud of the freedom of speech and critical thinking that we enjoy and childish acts of anti-national sloganeering shouldn’t be used as a tool to suppress our freedom of speech. Any idea should be open to criticism. Any form of peaceful protest should be allowed and any mistake committed by the state or its leaders should be rectified if that is the will of the people.
The fact that the nation is not a person or a symbol to be objectified should not be forgotten as the nation is the collective conscience of the people living in the nation. It is their voice that should be given prime importance. And the constitution should be the book that is referred to when decisions are to be made about the nation as a whole. Other ideas should be confined to the personal sphere and should not interfere with the principles of the constitution.
Patriotism is a virtue and it should not be denigrated by using it to serve personal or political ends. I am reminded of the famous quote by Charles De Gaulle: “Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.”