Nationalists versus Anti-nationals
by G B Reddy on 17 May 2017 2 Comments

The controversy over nationalists and patriots on one side and anti-nationals and traitors on the other side is viciously raging with no end in sight. Recently, the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) was the epicenter of an intellectual tsunami, with eminent academics, activists, and even politicians, expressing themselves in favour of unrestrained freedom of expression, to the point of even supporting seditious statements and attacks on the territorial integrity of the nation. The Liberals and Leftist ideologues were at their eloquent best, and the virus of anti-nationalism made pernicious inroads in other Central Universities, most notably Jadavpur University in West Bengal and the capital’s Delhi University.


Nationalism has spawned an army of critics who invoke different interpretations of nationalism during Delhi-centric air conditioned room debates, from the famous pacifist Bertrand Russell’s critique of nationalism “for diminishing the individual’s capacity to judge his or her fatherland’s foreign policy” to Albert Einstein’s “Nationalism is an infantile disease …. It is the measles of mankind.” It is easy to criticise with no alternative in sight or proposed!


In the liberal political tradition, many argue that nationalism is inherently divisive because it highlights perceived differences between people. The idea is potentially oppressive because it submerges individual identity within a national whole, and gives elites or political leaders’ potential opportunities to manipulate or control the masses. Also, ‘nationalism’ is a dangerous force and a cause of conflict and war between nation-states inspired by jingoism or chauvinism.


The critics highlight the onslaught of globalisation and open market economy as heralding the withering away of the concept of nation-state and nationalism. They may dub analysts like me as ‘eccentric’ who predict the resurgence of nationalism in many parts of the world.


Such experts fail to recognise that the ravages of globalisation have made national identity more important than ever before. Many of the forces that made a one-world future appealing over a decade ago - global investment, migration, travel, and communications - now make the planet seem crowded and cruel.


Ipso facto, global capital flows have brought rapacious profits to multinational corporations. There is widespread disillusion among people and anger against political and business elites, particularly after disappointing economic growth. In Western Europe, anger is piling up against high levels of immigration. In Russia, there is lingering humiliation over the collapse of the Soviet Union and nostalgia for great-power status. In China, it is the quest to regain the “Middle Kingdom” status and setting aside unfair treaties imposed on them.


Global and regional frameworks are under assault amid a renewed obsession with national identity. As a result, nationalism came back with a “Big Bang” in 2015. From Europe to Asia to America, politicians who base their appeal on the idea that they are standing up for their own peoples and countries are growing in power and influence. Nationalist parties have made big gains in elections to the European Parliament, with France’s National Front and Britain’s United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) making inroads.


Nationalism provides a sense of identity - kinship - with the nation, either ethnic or civic. It is defined as “an image of a social order, which involves the people as a sovereign elite and a community of equals”. It develops differently in different national communities under different historical circumstances. Most important, the behavior of leadership groups or élites involved in the mobilisation of an ethnic or national group is crucial to final outcomes.


Among the many different types of nationalism - Risorgimento; Integral; Civic; Ethnic; Religious; Territorial; Pan; and Leftist - modern India opted for “Civic nationalism”, known as liberal nationalism compatible with liberal values of freedom, tolerance, equality, and individual rights. It defines the nation as an association of people who identify themselves as belonging to the nation, who have equal and shared political rights, and allegiance to similar political procedures.


According to the principles of civic nationalism, the nation is not based on common ethnic ancestry, but is a political entity whose core identity is not ethnicity. Membership of the civic nation is considered voluntary.


Modern Indian society is based on “contract” - the Constitution prefaced by “We the People” - where social relations are determined by rational contracts pursued by individuals to advance their interests, sinking ethnic, caste and communal cultural differences.


The modernist interpretation of nationalism and nation-building perceives that nationalism arises and flourishes in modern societies based on a central supreme authority capable of maintaining unity, integrity and security; an industrial economy capable of self-sustainability of the society; and a group of centralised languages understood by a community of people.


After 70 years of self-rule, none can deny that modern India is “under siege from within”, abetted by external actors. There is fear of loss of unity, integrity and security. I believe that unity, integrity and security of the nation are far more important than the academic “mumbo jumbo.” After all, shared group feeling holds a nation together. For the majority to lead meaningful lives, nationalism that involves national identity is vital. Even liberal democratic polities need national identity to function properly.


National pride is borne out of historic heritage and lineage along with national thought and culture. The means employed are national symbols, anthems, myths, flags and narratives which are assiduously constructed and adopted.


That brings us to the issue of patriotism, nationalism and national pride; all inextricably interrelated. To divorce patriotism from nationalism or pride is a heinous fraud. Ultimately, patriotism involves social conditioning and personal behaviours that support a state’s decisions and actions. Those who attempt to divorce nationalism from national pride and patriotism can surely be drubbed as anti-nationals and traitors however liberal they may claim to be. According to an eminent scholar, “he that has lost his patriotic spirit has lost himself and the whole world about himself.”


In the ultimate, nations exist to ensure peace, progress, prosperity, harmony and security of their citizens against domestic and external influences expressed in terms of social, economic, political, technological and physical security. And, the world is becoming more hawkish and more threatening. Thus, it has become imperative to inculcate the real spirit and sense of nationalism, patriotism and pride among the people to consolidate the unity and integrity of pluralist India. Those who raise contra slogans need to be reined in appropriately, whatever their claims to being liberal-left intellectuals, particularly those enjoying themselves at tax payer cost. 

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