SubscriberWrites: Nationalism in India needs to be re-examined. No single rallying point for sustained national unity

SubscriberWrites: Nationalism in India needs to be re-examined. No single rallying point for sustained national unity

When there is a one-sided demand, vested interests raise the spectre of cultural Nationalism, writes Col KL Viswanathan.

School children carrying Indian flags

Representational image | PTI/ Shailendra Bhojak

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The celebrated author Frederick Forsyth produced many best sellers, just because the readers were unable to discern, in his stories, where fact began and fiction ended and vice versa. It is so in real life too; the power of human cooperation depends on a delicate balance between truth and fiction. Be it the rituals of hunter gatherer tribes, the Holy texts, mythology, historical narratives, they all have a mix of truth and fiction, just as in a Forsyth novel and people are left in a state of delusion to be exploited by vested interests.

Nationalism is widely defined as identification with one’s own nation and support for its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations. With all its history and progressive development all languages have limitations. For instance, Nationalism also holds that each nation should govern itself, free from outside interference, preferably through self-determination, holding that a Nation is a natural and ideal basis for a polity. Even the idea of a Nation is ill defined in many ways leading to different types on Nationalism. In an environment of extensive diversity in culture, ethnicity, geography, language, religion and politics it is extremely difficult to find only a single rallying point for sustained National unity.

Around seventy millennia ago, there were at least six different human species roaming the Earth. They had very little impact on ecology compared with the other animal species. Today, we the homo sapiens, are the only survivors ruling the Earth. All other human species were ethnically “cleansed” by the homo sapiens. Humans have evolved since then.

Nationalism is a modern movement. In the first fifteen centuries of the common era, people did not give their loyalty to the nation-state but to other, different forms of political organization: the city-state, the feudal fief and its lord, the dynastic state, the religious group, or the sect. The nation-state was nonexistent during the greater part of history, and for a very long time it was not even regarded as an ideal concept.

During the eighteenth century, writers and poets began to emphasize cultural nationalism by emphasizing on the mother tongue and elevating it to a literary language, and delved deep into the national past. Thus, they laid down the basis for the political claims for national statehood soon to be raised by the people in whom they had kindled the spirit.

Probably the American and French revolutions could have the first powerful expositions of Nationalism. It then spread to the new Latin American countries, then onto Europe, Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa. The nineteenth century is known as the age of Nationalism in Europe. But the Nationalism in the different continents actually had different characteristics, though all of them proposed the excellence of own Nation state as the ultimate to the exclusion of rest of the world. At various times Nationalism rallied behind commonality of religion, language, ethnicity, culture et al, within the boundaries of the polity. The evolution of Nationalism in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa followed different paths. In a way Hitler’s Germany was the extreme of Nationalistic idea with brutal ethnic cleansing for years. After WWII, the fervor of ethnic Nationalism declined. But the datum for extreme Nationalism remained the Third Reich and unobtrusively anything and everything about Nationalism is unfortunately compared with Hitler’s Germany.

In effect Nationalism is not absolute and like all else is relative.

Globalisation has taken the sheen off Nationalism, but the root still flourishes. According to Ralph Gert Schöllhammer, (WSJ, 22 May 2022), despite the supranational ambitions of the EU and its most ardent supporters, national interests still dominate the political calculations of member states. Brexit is a case in point.

In the light of the foregoing, it is interesting to examine what is really happening in India. In the wake of economic “sanctions” by the West as a consequence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine the Indian Government has remained “neutral” and reiterated time and again in international fora, despite pressures from various sources, that it will follow a path which is beneficial to India and Indians. Is this an “ugly” head of Nationalism.

Some may say it is, while obviously it is not so. The “controversy” of Nationalistic designs by political dispensations and the Indian media stems from the existing mixed culture that exists in India as a result of foreign occupation and rule over the developing Indian polity for centuries and the non-homogenous “progress” on all fronts in the society. Independence gave the Indian polity an assortment of cultural ideas and

Tailpiece: Vested interests have muddled the idea of Nationalism as if Hitler’s Third Reich is the defining Nationalism. As local culture has to accommodate imported culture, so must alien culture mesh with local culture. When there is a one-sided demand, vested interests raise the spectre of cultural Nationalism. Let us stop crying “wolf” and address cultural accommodation by ALL sections of the society.

These pieces are being published as they have been received – they have not been edited/fact-checked by ThePrint.

Also read: SubscriberWrites: India needs to return to patriotism rather than chest-thumping nationalism