Beneath the word: What nationalism should actually mean to Indians

By Ajay Kumar

What is nationalism but an extension of one's ego cast on the egos of others? Nationalism is taking the ego of one person and demanding that all egos comply in order to meet the identity. It comes from the idea of an "ideal citizen" and it expects every person to fall in line. Those that don't are anti-national but nationalism does not give us a solution on what is to be done with them. Patriotism is very different though.

Beneath the word: What nationalism should actually mean to Indians

Understanding nationalism. AFP

Patriotism is looking at things the way they are and resolving to fix them. Nationalism is trying to make everything else look the way a certain sector sees it. India does not have a nationalist constitution, thank heavens for that but what we do have is a patriotic one and the evidence of it stares us in the face.

India never had to crush a violent communist insurgency. Our Communists contested and contest elections. Separatist parties in Jammu and Kashmir contest elections as well. There is no armed Dalit revolution staring us in the face and quite frankly there probably never will be. The Maoists who continue to wage war against India are slowly finding out that they are fighting a losing battle. The rights of the Adivasis they claim to represent will be better won at the ballot box than through the barrel of a Kalashnikov.

By allowing people to air their grievances and showing them that there was a legitimate means to resolve them within the framework of our country, we secured our future. Pakistan did not do this and they fell into utter chaos. Burma did not do this and they fall into utter chaos. Bangladesh did not do this and they also fell into utter chaos. Nepal with the Madhesi revolt it is witnessing right now the problems with doing this, and they have like India been sensible and decided that accommodation was far better than confrontation.

For a country like ours to stay together, we have to reject the idea that we are nation. We are instead a diverse family united by common citizenship sharing a space we call India. From the kmountain peaks in Kashmir to the multi-coloured sands of the cape at Kanyakumari, India is one big diverse family that chooses every morning to live with each other. It makes life easier if a weaver from the South could sell his silk sarees in the North, and it makes life easier for a young person in the North East , if he can get a job in Delhi. It makes sense to have a Central government that handles things that makes this system possible and it makes even more sense to have a state government to take care of day to day issues. Our Constitution is structured in a manner that no one authority can ever possess all power, this way, everyone has a space.

Looking at India makes it apparent that there is no no Indian Nation, but there is an Indian Republic and there can be no space for nationalism of any kind in a republic. We live together not cause we have to , but we do so cause we consent to and it helps us with achieving true Swaraj.

Swaraj means many things, but at its core it means "Self-Rule", the right of an individual to determine their own destiny. Our country can only stay together so long as each person has the freedom to do so and the moment we tell someone they do no have this right, we begin to see the tears in our fabric. Swaraj means letting the Maulvi in Uttar Pradesh, grow his beard three feet long and sacrifice animals at Bakrid, while also letting the Jain monk sit down and fast himself to death with a view of attaining liberation. Each person must experience Swaraj and that is the purpose of our Constitution that seeks to guarantee each person the right to achieve it. Our daily realities though make is aware of this fact that we are better off achieving Swaraj together than achieving it ourselves.

India is not a monolith nation, in fact it never was. There were always many nations united by one common idea. The idea that living together was better than living apart. That mutual cooperation was in all our interests and it was only through this cooperation that we could all attain Swaraj. India will always be many nations united under one Republic, there will be Tamils, Bengalis, Marathas, Malyalees, Konkani's etc. They will all have one thing in common though, their citizenship which makes them all equal in front of each other.

Swaraj is my birth right so you can take your nationalism and put it where the sun doth not shine. I have my patriotism and that's good enough for me. It's good enough for the one billion odd diverse members of my family who each have their own ridiculous ideas on how the world should work. My patriotism lets me take no issue with them pursuing their own interests, for the unity of India is the fact that none of us can survive without the other. Let them be against the death penalty for the most heinous of terrorists, such is their right. Let them call out the discrimination they feel, that is their right. But so long as their means is the ballot box, it is a re-affirmation of the idea that we are a republic.

India stays together not because it is our divine destiny, we stay together, because it is the best way forward and it's time the government understood that. If we are to have a "Nationalism" that this government claims we must, then let it be the kind that lifts our poor out of poverty, that builds and provides sanitation to all, the kind that guarantees health care to each citizen and the one that makes sure that there will be no hurdles in attaining individual self-realisation.

Let it not be the kind where a human resources minister denounces the beliefs of India's most marginalised on the floor of the House of the People, let us not be the kind, where those who differ with their government are asked to move to another country and most of all, let us not be the kind where a government in a rush to cover its mistakes, has sacrificed its moral authority.

Let our nationalism be the kind that takes this country forward, each one billion odd of us, instead of trying to turn us into a historical ideal that only the government recognises and the common people resent.

The author is an advocate at the Bombay High Court. Vies are personal.

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Updated Date: Feb 28, 2016 16:32:20 IST

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