Patriotism, according to a very basic definition, is simply a love for one’s country. On the surface, patriotism is a very important and positive part of the world that we live in. In fact, I would dare say that without patriotism and feelings of nationalism, the world would still be under imperialist colonial rule.
However, that is a reductionist view of patriotism, as with any political belief based on identity, jingoism, conservatism, and xenophobia are not close behind. There is a famous quote by Albert Einstein that says “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind (sic).” This quote of his was from an interview in 1929, and the famous “patriotism is the measles of mankind” quote attributed to him is a poorly translated version of the above.
Albert Einstein (pictured above) and his critiques of patriotism were proven painfully true when Hitler came into power.
This is not to say that Einstein looked at patriotism as an acceptable form of nationalism. In fact, in ‘My Credo (1932)’ he says, “I am against any nationalism, even in the guise of mere patriotism. Privileges based on position and property have always seemed to me unjust and pernicious, as did any exaggerated personality cult.”
What makes his statement even more powerful and relevant was that just a year later, Hitler came into power. A man who rose to his position by talking about the superiority of the majority community, who an ideal German should be, demonizing minorities, and the line of Germans are in danger.
The danger therefore with patriotism, is that it can be reduced to a personality cult, or to just the viewpoint of the majority, speaking out against oppression or simply just having a different viewpoint can land one in jail as an anti-national.
The idea of a personality cult was something Babasaheb Ambedkar also spoke about. He rightly recognized that the Indian people, due to their existing societal divides, are more susceptible to fall into the trap of blindly following a political personality.
In his last speech in the constituent assembly, Babasaheb warned that “in India, Bhakti, or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part in its politics unequaled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world. Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.”
Indian ‘patriotism’ in its current iteration under BJP rule has become the RSS idea of patriotism. Hindutva nationalism believes India to solely belong to the Hindus (read: Uppercaste Hindu men).
M.S Golwalker, RSS Sarsangchalak said, “the non-Hindu people of Hindustan must either adopt Hindu culture and language, must hold in reverence the Hindu religion… or stay in the country wholly subordinated by the Hindu nation, deserving no privileges, not even citizen(sic) rights.”
Savarkar, who pioneered Hindutva, which is now the base of BJP, RSS, and other Hindu nationalist organizations, famously said, that Hindutva did not have anything to do with Hinduism. Let the irony not be lost that the base of Hindu nationalism and Hindu patriotism comes from a man who wrote an apology letter to the British when he was incarcerated.
Those that raise their voice against the BJP and their policies are labelled anti-national.
In conclusion, keeping history and quotations aside, one needs to look at what is happening in modern India. Farmers protesting are labelled anti-national, students are labelled anti-national, comedians are anti-national, journalists are anti-national, and so on. Patriotism and nationalism in India through a decades-long effort by the ‘Sangh Parivar’ has been reduced to an exclusionary idea that fits the Indian into two binaries, a good Indian or an anti-national Indian.
To understand the direction patriotism and nationalism are going in India, it becomes imperative to look at history. Look at the roots of this idealogy which is communally dividing India in the name of nationalism, and look at the warning signs in India’s recent history and the historical growth of fascism.