We don’t want to fight,
But by Jingo! if we do,
We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men,
We’ve got the money too.
This was part of a popular song in Britain in 1878 among the aggressive nationalists who were itching for a war with Russia. ‘By Jingo’ was an exclamatory phrase, something like ‘Oh Jesus’.
The Daily News dubbed the warmongers as “Jingoes”. Many writers still prefer the word Jingoes to Jingoists. Jingoism came from it. The term also refers to chauvinists who believe in the ultimate supremacy of their nation, not necessarily those screaming for war. But we’re now talking about a warlike situation.
Etymology apart, jingoism is a worrisome thing, though there is enough sanity left in the world to fight it.
At the height of the 1991 Iraq war, I was pleasantly surprised to see a communication that editors of the Associated Press sent to their correspondents around the world. I forget the exact words, but it said something to this effect: Bush has started off this war, not the Associated Press.
Around the same time, I heard of editors of other reputed American organisations who were hitting the delete button, whenever they found adjectives like “triumphant” and “bold” that preceded “US soldiers” and saw metaphors that made war look like a game of Super Mario Bros.
In other words, what responsible American editors were telling their reporters: forget jingoism, get on with the story.
These days, I squirm in the chair when I hear “valiant” Indian army or “martyred” soldiers and the like on some channels. Often I hear worse. In the kind of news writing, I did even for the Indian papers, “our” could never take the place of “India’s”. Just as the rules of war have changed, so have the tenets of journalism. And talking to the editors of these channels about this problem would be just as useful as talking to air.
But is this a problem?
Studies in social psychology show that a sense of patriotism primarily stems from an individual’s craving for attaching himself or herself to groups – the nation being one such group. Such attachments fill them with a feeling of security and pride. Patriotism just means loyalty to a nation, but its relatively headier version, nationalism, includes hostility to other countries as well. And an even more aggressive form of nationalism has come to be known as jingoism, though we have no Jingometer to check where the former ends and the latter begins.
Patriotism and nationalism have existed ever since humans evolved from apes and put up fences around their demarcated territories in jungles; so has the madness of jingoism, though the word itself was coined only in the nineteenth century.
According to several psychologists, patriotism and nationalism are relatively normal human traits. But jingoism isn’t. All three forms exist across the globe in differing degrees. Clearly, the group that can cause human misery are the jingoists, whose hatred for others and war cries usually fail to conform to logic and reasoning.
In the present context of India-Pakistan tension, let’s get these things right:
1. Not all Indians are jingoists.
2. Not every supporter of PM Narendra Modi (“Hindu nationalist leader” as the Western media would call him) is a jingoist. Modi himself is not one. He is weighing options against Pakistan.
3. Conversely, not every jingoist is a Modi supporter.
4. Jingoists cut across all party lines
Jingoism is worse when it invades newsrooms, as you can see it on some channels almost every night.
And then we also have reverse-jingoists (from the phrase ‘jingoism in reverse’ used by the British journalist Henry Fairlie in a 1975 essay on “anti-American Americans”).
But who are India’s reverse-jingoists now? The exact opposite of jingoists? Not really, though jingoists might call them “anti-Indian Indians”. As for the India-Pakistan conflict, India now has two types of reverse-jingoists:
1. Some who are authentic peace-lovers and refuse to accept war with Pakistan as a solution.
2. Some who deride any action against Pakistan, if PM Narendra Modi is the one who is taking it because of their pathological animosity towards the man. Some of them may be supporters of either the Congress or the Left or a non-BJP party or may even be apolitical.
Like everybody who supports Modi is not a jingoist, everybody who doesn’t is also not a reverse-jingoist.
It’s the breed of anti-Modi reverse-jingoists who, along with jingoists, fall into the realm of abnormal psychology. Both groups suffer from “deficit in normal behaviour” or an “attitude disorder”, though only a small number of them may have crossed the limits, calling for psychiatric intervention.
In normal circumstances, reverse-jingoism denotes cynicism of citizens over their own country, like that of the “anti-American Americans”, many of whom I met during the Gulf war. In the case of the anti-Modi reverse-jingoists, cynicism is replaced by prejudice.
“Prejudice is an inappropriate generalisation,” say psychologists CI Howarth and WEC Gillham in The Structure of Psychology.
That’s what makes this bunch of reverse-jingoists conclude: because Modi did something in the past which they believe to be wrong, whatever he is doing now must be wrong. And that’s why Howarth and Gillham say that prejudice can be due to “inappropriate application of what we have learned” in the past.
Sadly, both jingoists and the reverse ones find it hard to believe that there are a vast number of Indians who belong to neither group
As for Pakistan, those in this middle group take stand on issues, based on logic and rationale. If some of them believe that Pakistan is not a country like any other but only a terror factory and India must act in some manner — not necessarily by going to war but with some action like the surgical strikes or diplomatic offensive — it’s based on information, rational thinking, and possible consequences. They might wholeheartedly back one action of Modi today and vehemently oppose another tomorrow.
The anti-Modi counter-jingoists want nothing to do with him. They even refuse to believe that the surgical strikes must be at least partly true, despite the stories done by Praveen Swami of The Indian Express and CNN-News18. Their questioning attitude is adorable, but when their disbelief comes from animosity toward one politician, it becomes a case of what psychologists call “loss of contact with reality”.
The doubting Thomases, the new upholders of democracy, freedom of press, freedom of speech and fair journalism would have earned themselves a great deal of public adoration, only if their indignation was not primarily guided by their fascination for the junk called Left ideology or love for the Congress dynasty or blind loathing for one man called Modi.
Forget jingoism or the antithesis of it. Both Modi’s staunch supporters and arch opponents refuse to acknowledge the fact that not all the 17.2 crore voters, who voted for the BJP — 31.3 percent vote share, excluding those who voted for other NDA allies — in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, are Hindu “fundamentalists” or “nationalists”.
It’s this larger middle group that anointed Modi as the Prime Minister in the hope of good governance and they are watching him. They watch what he is doing about Pakistan — and a host of other things — with no baggage. Modi knows it.
Author tweets @sprasadindia