Nationalism is my birth right

Rajeev Kumar Nagotra
Iqbal Lahori might have regretted later, but once in a moment of unadulterated love for his motherland, India, he had written, “Kuchh baat hai ki hasti mit-ti nahin humari, sadiyon raha hai dushman daur-e-zamaan humara”. The lifeline of India has been its culture, its spirituality, and by direct inference, its way of life. The honorable Supreme Court of India has identified this way of life as Hinduism. The agility and flexibility of the indigenous Hindu thought in its myriad formats is the secret of India’s survival and resilience even when beset by extremely unfavorable times in the past. The invaders and occupiers came to India and went back. They plundered this land, caused genocides and took away with them what they lacked – number system, wealth and natural resources. However, the Indian did not care much for he knew his real asset was the way he conducts his life. And, that it was too subtle, profound and eternal to be snatched away by any aggressor. The foreigners who chose to stay put did so because of the sheer appeal of the way of life on this piece of land. In the large welcoming cauldron of Hinduism every new thought found acceptance and every new tradition received reverence. The foreign inputs from time to time only added colours to the social fabric of India and could not violate the sanctity and strength of the fundamental thread of life here. Of course, this longevity has not come cheap. The Indian, and I mean Indian of every religion, language, colour, caste and region, has given it whatever it took to keep his nation, his identity and his way of life from becoming extinct. He had to sometimes endure the invasions, sometimes live with the occupiers, sometimes reason with them and sometimes, fight back militarily. He managed to last. It is to this spirit of our people to survive and arise that Iqbal offers adulation in his verses.
Unequivocally, nationalism has been at the very roots of our socio-political character from day one. However, today we need to revisit and understand this term afresh in order to appreciate its need and role in the modern context. Nationalism is not only about (a) the pro-India slogans and (b) honoring the National Anthem and the Vande Matram. There is a lot of symbolism associated with these factors but there is more to it than this. The term nationalism has evolved with time in the Indian sub-continent. Between 7th and 16th centuries, it represented the Hindu rulers’ response to the Muslim invaders. Between 1857 and 1947, it represented the combined response of Indians from the north, south, east and west of the country to the British rule. And, by the time India had got its freedom, the term “nationalism” had assumed an entirely different connotation. It had begun to imply an agreement or an understanding arrived at between the different sections of the diverse Indian society to live thenceforth together as a sovereign, secular and united country and strive for its upliftment. Despite the division of the country along the religious lines, India still had quite a mosaic in as far as its social demography was concerned. There were about 33 million Muslims, over 8 million Christians and 6 million Sikhs who had chosen India as their home at the time of partition. This was an agreement promising equality, justice and freedom as a minimum to all these sections of the society alongside the Hindus. In this unique context, the term nationalism is a very healthy, modern and progressive sentiment.
Moreover, this interpretation of the term is significantly different from the narrow version of a chauvinistic right wing identity held by the western scholars. In a recent article in the New York Times, the Canadian author Stephen Marche says that patriotism is for losers. By the way, patriotism is a much gentler version of nationalism even by the western standards. He adds that the real glories of a country (read his country) are its hospitals and its public schools. I wonder if he would treat Israel and Germany as losers too. These are the countries that can boast of much better schools, universities, hospitals, roads, scientific research and an enviable defense structure, all existing and evolving in spite of their famously extreme patriotism. Marche’s argument is seriously misplaced for it is out of the love for one’s country that one builds best institutions and creates the best living/working conditions.
India’s interpretation of nationalism exhorts its citizens to work towards the security, growth and development of the country and also towards their collective solidarity. Ironically, PM Modi’s slogan of “Sabka saath, sabka vikas” (collective efforts, inclusive growth) is the essence of this sentiment nurtured originally by the pre-1947 Indian National Congress party. Only time will tell whether he succeeds actually in taking the nation in that direction. Nonetheless, the modern generations would do well to remember that India owes its independence to this notion of nationalism and that it stands for inclusiveness and solidarity. In this sense alone, nationalism is our birth right as well as our fundamental duty. In this sense alone, if a person or a group challenges the solidarity of India and/or threatens its inclusive character, he should be called anti-national and must be treated as an enemy of the state. In this sense alone, the term nationalism is not a taboo. Instead, it represents our natural and foremost emotion towards our motherland. And, one can never have too much of it!
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