The Toxin of Nationalism
The nationalist machine was ratcheted with no way to talk it out of ‘revenge’
Patriotism is the notion that while I belong to and therefore love my nation, I know that it can be wrong too; even grievously, at times.
It is the notion that diverse peoples, ideas and aspirations can coalesce into a responsible image of how disparate aspirations can collectively define a wholesome identity.
Along with voting in a Government, inherent within this notion, is the responsibility of saving one’s nation from its Government-of-the-day.
This notion of nationhood is all encompassing and understands that there will be revolts within, and realizes its duty to address those revolts and their motivations rationally, without crushing them with physical force. It understands that the concept of the nation may run counter to some people's notion of nationhood.
It seeks to address those counter-narratives and to negotiate their place within the law, or even accommodate them with new legislation. It can countenance the act of burning or trampling of its flag, and still protect the perpetration of the act as no more than a rebellion that calls for resolution.
India, as a unique example of diversity, is a nation formed of many nations and cultures and has successfully negotiated a composite idea of nationhood that is by and large, acceptable to most of its constituents.
We have not been very successful in carrying this negotiation deeper, to historically marginalized sections for example, and it should be the endeavour of future generations of legislators to enable the Indian state to do so.
The cornerstone of patriotism, by virtue of its nature, is an egalitarian liberalism that can open its mind to a differing point of view, a compassionate and empathetic worldview that can understand the motivations and compulsions of a different narrative and can make intellectual space to address them, even if not entirely agree with them.
It is this space that the founding fathers of our nation strove to cultivate, by personal example and by the enactment of a Constitution that embodied those principles.
Since Independence, egalitarian liberalism as a political philosophy, has resulted in the termination of privy purses, the creation of more states of the Union, legislations to favour the differently abled and sex choices which were earlier taboo, the rights to food, minimum employment and education, legislation to open up government to the queries of citizens, gender, child and animal rights and many other liberal legislations to accommodate even the tiniest group of social outliers.
All these legislations resulted in momentous change in the lives of the affected populations, without significant social upheaval that could have negated the positive changes they wrought. Of course, such an atmosphere of egalitarian liberalism also resulted in corrupt legislation, but with little effect on the grand design of a society that our Constitution envisaged.
The reduction of social friction via emancipated legislation, cleared the path for rapid economic progress, by a populace that could now apply its energies to nation building, leading to unprecedented growth over the past two to three decades.
We did not grow because we had a muscular or all-knowing Great Leader; we grew because our energies, in the absence of social friction, could be directed towards productive pursuits.
Nationalism on the other hand, is the monochromatic notion that my nation can do no wrong, even if we rape the marginalized or shoot them dead for demanding their rights.
It is an arrogant, sadistic and barbaric idea of nationhood, incompatible with modern civilized society. Its roots arise vertically, from a perceived majoritarian entitlement to dictate culture, food, clothing, personal law, language, popular culture and even the definition of patriotism, for the rest of the populace.
Over the past five years, we have seen this majoritarian entitlement display itself in the ugliest manner, across the length and breadth of the nation. Unmindful of the consequences of disturbing social and economic equilibrium, early in this period, it manifested itself as an imposition upon beef eaters, mostly Muslims, to stop eating the meat of their choice.
So violent and mob-driven did the imposition become, that it resulted in rural folks driving away cows from their homes, changed rural economic life cycles and forced entire villages to change cropping patterns and lifestyles, to save their crops from herds of hungry, abandoned cows.
The centuries old interdependence between small businesses and the life cycle of cattle, was disturbed, with fatal consequences for those businesses. A productive milch animal turned, virtually overnight, into vermin, draining rural household budgets. Majoritarian savagery aimed at Muslims and Dalits, ended up disturbing and fatally wounding rural economies for all.
A political establishment comprising largely semi-literate politicians, lacking even the sense to consult with better educated agronomists, sociologists and other scholars, drove a perennially distressed rural economy, to utter penury.
Having tasted blood, the imposition of a beef ban was followed by more such mindless attacks on the basis of clothing, curriculum of study, caste, class, language, social interaction, gender and personal law.
Topped finally, by a startlingly ill-infomed and ignorance driven demonetization. An economy that was booming, came to a grinding halt, social tension increased on the shoulders of an exclusionary regime imposed by majoritarian bullying,
Kashmir, perceived to be a ‘Muslim state’, was singled out by a State playing to a majoritarian gallery and was delivered exemplary suffering, as ‘punishment’ for espousing the counter-narrative of freedom or azaadi, however misplaced it may have been.
Atrocities of the State, delivered by its armed agents, under orders from politicians fuelled by unresolved infantile rage, rendered a largely peaceful valley into one filled with political upheaval, which culminated in a traumatised Kashmiri youth blowing himself up in anger. It did not matter any longer whether or not a Pakistani entity was involved. The nationalist machine was ratcheted up and there was no longer a way to talk it out of ‘revenge’.
It is no wonder then, that the lunatic fringe of our nation comprises 'nationalistic' herds of intellectual pygmies and profoundly mindless simpletons, waiting to be driven into the paranoia of engulfment-by-Muslims…
Rajiv Tyagi is former fighter pilot of the Indian Air Force.