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Nationalism Is An Outdated Idea, Here’s Why I Choose To Be A Patriot Instead

By Abhay Nidhi Sharma:

People hold an Indian national flag during a protest rally against last week's militant attacks, outside the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai December 3, 2008. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Pakistan on Wednesday to cooperate "fully and transparently" in investigations into the Mumbai attacks that have upset India-Pakistan relations. REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe (INDIA) - RTR227WA
Image credit: Reuters/Punit Paranjpe.

I am one of the many Indians who are facing a dilemma today. With the rise of Bharatiya Janata Party, I was sure that saffronisation would rise. I was ready to oppose it. But the recent events at Jawaharlal Nehru University and the issue of nationalism, has caught me by surprise. I am, or rather we are (I think), are not prepared to be asked to choose sides on the issue of nationalism. But I feel compelled to analyse, what I am – a patriot, a nationalist or anti-national?

I strongly oppose slogans like “Bharat ki Barbadi Tak Jang Rahegi,” but only because I am against violence for any purpose. But I am also against any kind of action against anyone who is peacefully protesting, even if he/she is challenging the nation and its institutions. I believe that the Indian armed forces do a splendid job defending our liberties, but I can’t simply accept that actions of the Armed Forces shouldn’t be questioned, no matter what happens. If I was to be judged, at least in the current environment prevalent in India, I would be termed as ‘anti-national’.

So, that means if I hoist a Pakistani flag I would be an anti-national? If I raise questions about possible atrocities by the armed forces in the north-east, would I be an anti-national? If I oppose the double-speak when we hail Shivaji but, now suddenly, condemn Tipu Sultan, would I be an anti-national? If I condemn the promotion of the Bhakti Movement as the foundation of Indian Struggle for Independence as a totally Hindutva agenda, would I be termed as anti-national?

The fear of being tagged as anti-national has been troubling me for days now, especially since I come from a family where my great-grandfather was a Freedom Fighter. While searching for answers to my questions, I found an excellent quote:

“The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility, but the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to war.”

Exactly! That’s what’s happening in India. By brandishing the ideals of nationalism, the ruling government has fostered the creation of internal war in India. Indian citizens, like myself, have been forced to choose a side. And this time, I have chosen mine. I am a patriot and not a nationalist.

The latest attempt was the speech by Human Resource Development Minister Smt. Smriti Irani, which, for me, was the most pathetic use of the oratory skills she has been blessed with. I am extremely ashamed by the person, who stood that day in Lok Sabha and tried to gain sympathy by presenting herself as a mother and a responsible minister, but simply came out as a blind supporter of her party. Standing on the floor of the house, her job was to explain the situation, highlight any shortcomings and the future course of action, on the JNU and Rohit Vemula cases. But instead, she chose to include only two elements in her speech – political name calling and emotional appeals.

She continuously attacked politicisation of the issues throughout the speech, but herself raised the issue that K Chandrasekhar Rao, the CM of Telangana, didn’t return her call. She kept mentioning points that had nothing to do with the issue at hand, like how her government to tried to appoint a Vice-Chancellor of JNU, who was awarded Padma Shri by the previous UPA government. Instead of pointing what she has done and what she aims to do to correct the problem of growing dissent at our universities, one part of her narrative was dedicated only to highlighting UPA’s failures.

The second part of her speech was purely inflammatory. She used every possible tool in the political armoury, to further flare the already heightened emotions of the nation by raising hyper-emotional tools like Kashmir, Shivaji and Class IV and VI students and what they ought to be taught. She simply stood there as a nationalist, and not as at the HRD Minister of India, the representative of everything related to education, including students and teachers. She should have been the first one standing with the students of Film and Television Institute of India, JNU and Hyderabad University. Instead of hounding the students at JNU, she should have been there with them, actually trying to understand the situation and find ways to resolve it. She might have been able to actually help the government find the masked men, who were actually raising anti-India slogans. But instead, she only stood for herself, her party and the BJP MLA from Alwar who painted a very disgraceful picture of JNU.

Nationalism is an outdated idea. Nationality, at least in the current world, is mostly a legal bond which allows basic rights of employment, education, housing and health care in a country. Nation states are nothing more than the tools of territorial demarcation, to avoid a conflict bloodied the Earth for centuries. Even in the circles of political philosophy, nationalism is considered a ‘relic’ from bygone times. We are living in a globalised age, where collaboration between people across the geographies is what’s helping us solve problems of terrorism, poverty, etc. The evolution of human civilisation is about gradually discovering that there is more to the world than what our ancestors believed. In such a context, we should be looking for ways to connect through concepts of shared morality, rather than shared national identity.

But unfortunately, in India, we are still reluctant to take this evolutionary path. We as a nation have never asked our government to help Syrians or came out on streets when racist attacks occurred in Bangalore against Africans. We don’t even show our wholehearted solidarity with rights of the Indian LGBT community. But a few slogans against the State of India, and we are ready to accept beatings of students and journalists by lawyers, solely in the name of nationalism.

We need to look beyond our borders. We need to look beyond the slogans like ‘Saare Jahan Se Accha, Hindustan Hamara’ and work towards the slogans like ‘Vishwa Ka Kalyan Ho’. We need to shed the extreme feelings of nationalism, that arose during the Freedom Struggle and which were only required till we were slaves of another nation. The age of empires and rulers is gone. India is a free nation now and its citizens should be allowed a free flow of ideas, no matter how much they offend people, as long as they don’t call for violence. Chandran Kukathas has explained a vision which suits the New India perfectly.

India should aim to become a liberal archipelago, which consists of islands that vary greatly amongst each other but are for the most part internally culturally homogenous. Some of these islands might be quite unpleasant for other islands, but what makes the archipelago (India) liberal overall is that each community guarantees its dissenting members the right to exit.

India and Indians, if we are looking to grow, need to shed the ideals of nationalism, embrace an ideology based purely on morality, re-affirm our faith in the plurality of India and allow the ideology of non-violent protests. After all, that’s what led to our Independence. Even Rabindranath Tagore suggested it when he said about our ancestors: “But it was this moral spirit of combination which was the true basis of their greatness.” We must all believe that India is and always has been great, but only because of what it has given or gives to the world.

We need patriots – people who can work to better the morals of our citizens and in the process, create a Better World, not just a Great Nation. We need patriots who can, without fear, ask the Indian state any question they wish. We need patriots who feel proud when the State does good, feel ashamed when the State does bad and feel anger when the State oppresses. We need patriots whose driving principles are strong morals that never get swayed by race, religion, caste and nationality. We don’t need nationalists and hence, today, I proudly declare myself a patriot but not a nationalist.

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