From the time of Indian independence the discourse over ‘what it means to be a patriot, what is the meaning of true nationalism, the fight for national identity has been discussed over and over again. A number of great thinkers have contributed to this discourse and to its related material. This essay is my humble attempt to decode what really matters in the debate on nationalism, in words of those, who have fought for the independence of India and warned us from losing it again. Before going ahead ,may I inform the reader that this is not going to be a stagnant essay, but one of many coming in a series of essays in future on the same topic. I have mostly confined myself with Dr. Ambedkar and Tagore’s commentary on nationalism in this essay.
While nationalism is not a new matter in Indian politics, as each party and ideology has used the subject for political influence or manipulation. In my previous article ‘Nationalism used for party interest’ I have commented on how political parties are using nationalism, which is a sacred matter for many Indian. If you have indulged with mainstream media, there are two words synonymously used, one is nationalist and the other is anti-national. In most case, media used the latter with great amount of generalization and enmity. Everyone who disagreed with your prescription of nationalism is a naxal, maoist or anti-national and in extreme measure, a terrorist. In such ethos what is the youth of India supposed to think regarding the above labeling, one either stay quiet, stay away from any controversy and be in everyone’s good books. The other option is to stand up and voice your decent, fight for the cause one may believe in, but in doing so risk ones reputation, career and even life.
The most common method used by government is to impose sedition to silence any critics of the establishment, be it in the elected government or other powerful ideological influencers. Anyhow, there is another group of youngsters other than the previously mentioned are the trolls, the ones who will do anything to bring you down mostly digitally. If one engages with them on a well meaning debate, there is the tendency to dominate the matter through sheer trolling, majoritarianism or use a ‘scapegoat’. Hardly anyone is able to hold a good argument in matters of nationalism or patriotism. As youth we are always high on energy without knowing what we mean, when we want to say, are we nationalist or a patriot. So let’s try to do that, lets discuss and disagree from each other on what is the meaning of being a patriot, but before that we must understand what is the meaning of nation.
‘’Before I go any future may I inform the reader parts of the essay has Dr.Ambedkar and Tagore’s writing, I have marked their work different from my writing.’’
-What is a nation?
The normal idea of a nation we have is, of a legal boundary, a territory, a state and its machinery used to govern its people or legal citizens, upholding certain cultures and norms, who communicate in one or few similar languages. I wish it would have been this simple to define any nation, unfortunately it’s not. We must look into history of nations and monarchy to category what we mean by any a nation.While nation is always the more important subject of discussion, the concept of state is also important. What is a state and is it only meant to govern, and who is governing us. In the past, religious institutions were consider as the most important matter when it can to moral formation of any society. Religious heads would tell people how they are meant to live and what to do with their lives. The morality and legality were both influenced by religion. With changing times, kings started to govern its citizens more, but under religious guidance, thus most kingdoms and monarchies history cannot be discussed without the influence of its priesthood. Who governs us? Is a great matter of concern in any nation.
The policy of ‘Self-governed’, initially in Europe, was very aliened to the ‘idea of nation’, and nation was interpreted as ‘people’ came up quite late. Now one must keep in mind that most European nation in 1600s and head of the state were all monarchial, though all had some concept of democracy or rule of people There were many sections still believing in the ways of monarchical principle given by god. The British crown and monarchy is an example of progressive change in the monarchal influence with democratic republic. The identity crisis which we see today in India was non-existent, least not in the masses as the idea of nation and its people was very clear.
While ethnicity and language can be part of national idea, it is not by any accounts a limiting factor.
After independence we also see such monarchical inclination even today. But in the form of religious doctrine, an existence of it is also the perverted idea of ‘Akhand Bharat’, which I request my readers to have patience before they start calling me names. There is constant demands from blind followers of certain intellectual and other groups who again and again demanded the implementation of Akhand Bharat, which partly means taking up land from Afghanistan to Myanmar and south eastwards wards to Philippines .This desire I can trace back to rightist thinking of the American and Europeans rulers who in the beginning fought for the idea of freedom. Then take away everyone else’s independence through conflict with the excuse of need for better resources.
This way Indian constitution was framed, and it is my belief that this was desired to be avoided by our fore-fathers. Now some supremacist also claim some wrongs of the constitution must be made right.
The kind of nationalism we are propagating right now is the one which claims rights of nation, which is bigger than rights of individual, which may install sound good but is followed by abusing and exploiting the individual. People are generally fine when their rights are protected, while others exploited in the name of nation, but develop a problem only when the same exploitation happens to them. Such situation or doctrine entertains the majoritarian view, as the question remains what is the nation? And are we talking about the people here or the few in power with monarchical style rule.
-Dr. Ambedkar and his understanding of people’s nationalism.
While discussing nationhood or nationalism many tend to only focus on militaristic leaders or political analyst and try to theorize the value of nationalism in today’s political discourse. But the one name which should be included in all Indian political discourse is Dr B.R.Ambedkar for the simple fact, that today we need his scholarly understanding on a variety of subject be it politics or science, infrastructural development, social justice etc. On nationalism too, Dr.Ambedkar have placed a very balanced and well calculated description of what nationalism should be at all times concerned with its people well being and prosperity through safeguarding their rights and investing in their social, political and economical development and not merely on symbolic value.
An important statement made by Dr.Ambedkar in parliament was “India was independent before, but now will India maintain its independence. It lost its freedom due to infidelity of its own, will we consider creed above nation or below’’. (The following extract is taken from ‘Dr.Ambedkar’s idea of nationalism’ by Rashmin C Bhatt’s writing )
The Above statement was made right after giving India its constitution, why does Dr Ambedkar try to warn us regarding maintaining Indian independence. ‘I would like to consider Dr. Ambedkar’s work which was always more concerned with human wellbeing, be it Indian or foreign all his work was humanitarian in nature, which was motivated by his lifelong experience as a lower caste, ‘Mahar’. Even in adulthood he had to face discrimination due to his caste status. To Ambedkar freedom of a nation was as important as freedom to all of its social classes, if one class ruled over the other that cannot be considered as true freedom, which would even weaken Indian independence. Through his work he was accused by his contemporary that he cared more for his career and communities rights only and not for the greater right of freedom for India, as he hardly participated in much of the national movement. Though one must understand the social situation in which Dr .Ambedkar was working in and his experience was well enough to concise him that even if India would gain freedom from the British rule it would not be free of its caste based social political system, which does not allow most of its citizens the right to life with dignity and liberty. Thus he did everything possible to make Indians ready for a free nation be it to develop schools and colleges or even draft the Constitution of India’.
What is nationalism according to Dr. Ambedkar, for him it is an ideology based on devotion to love one’s own country by birth or choice. Nationalism is a complex sense of attitude in favor of certain actions for establishing or achieving some sort of political sovereignty. Right use of nationalism is much important for social and political unity. But the question always remains who will lay down the bases for nationalist unity and what will it be based on, language, race, religion, cultural practices or the worst caste.
The usual understanding of a nation is its flag, anthem, history (mostly based on warfare or kingdoms) or some kind of superiority of culture. The point raised by Dr.Ambedkar is, for all classes feel a sense of unity, must strive for the ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity, not merely by claims but by establishing institutions based on such values and safeguard by constitution and judiciary. The people must feel that they all have equal share in the national wealth, powers and opportunities, they not be deprived of any social benefits due to any cultural or other differences. Such a society would be ideal in Dr.Ambedkar’s say as it works toward uniting and national identity comprises all, into nationhood or national feeling of consciousness.
Ambedkar’s understanding of a nation and its people was very clear and through, welfare of all living people will make us into a true free liberal society.
-What is nationalism and patriotism? What’s the difference?
Our general understanding of nationalism is quite simple, people do not like to complicate the matter too much, one must remember that most people do not have the time nor the energy to indulge in daily discussion on the topic. Many want to perform only good deeds which are confirmed by the law of the land and cultural accepted, and avoid any misdeed social or legal crime, which may harm one’s nation. Nationalism and patriotism is much different than what most think.
Patriotism can be characterized as great love and passion for one’s nation or believe and a deep desire to protect it and also expand within ones boundaries and assimilate your values with other cultures, even stop any bad practices within one’s believes if found through discussion, while nationalism may mean, love for one’s nation and its values be it good or bad, absolute faith in one’s tradition and institution, sense of aggression towards other nations and believes if it bears to threaten my nationalism and nation. To elaborate more on nationalism I started to read on Tagore in his poetic words, in the period of independence he had elaborated his thoughts on nationalism and its dangers in his lectures, and later written into essays.
-Rabindranath Tagore’s understanding of nationalism and its ill effects.
Contradictory to Ambedkar’s scientific and systematic explanation on nationalism, Tagore had a much more artistic and complex explanation of nation, which I still struggle to describe in words. He describes India more as a‘living organism made up of races, languages with spiritual nature of man’. He dislikes the idea of nation; he says that the ‘western idea of nation makes man into soulless cold creature’. For him India is not a nation but a continuous process of creation of various races contributing to the spirit of India and now we are trying to convert this into a nation, ‘a nation is made up of political and commercial greed’. He appreciates the British as a race of people but not their imperialism nor their nationalism which makes man slave to another man.
While reading Tagore one may consider that, he is in favor of the British as he has been accused of creating ‘Jana Gana’ in tribute to King George the 5th. While this has been refuted by many, you can also read on this in my article ‘Jana Gana Mana’. Tagore is clean on his views on nationalism and also asserts why we need humanism more than nationalism in today’s world. He explains what is a nation and how it effects humanity as a whole, how dangerous is it for the Indian soul in the following para. (The following extract is from Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘essays on Nationalism’)
‘I am not against one nation in particular, but against the general idea of all nations’. What is the Nation?
‘It is the aspect of a whole people as an organized power. This organization incessantly keeps up the insistence of the population on becoming strong and efficient. But this strenuous effort after strength and efficiency drains man’s energy from his higher nature where he is self-sacrificing and creative’.
For thereby man’s power of sacrifice is diverted from his ultimate object, which is moral, to the maintenance of this organization, which is mechanical. Yet in this he feels all the satisfaction of moral exaltation and therefore becomes supremely dangerous to humanity. He feels relieved of the urging of his conscience when he can transfer his responsibility to this machine which is the creation of his intellect and not of his complete moral personality. By this device the people who loves freedom perpetuates slavery in a large portion of the world with the comfortable feeling of pride of having done its duty; men who are naturally just can be cruelly unjust both in their act and their thought, accompanied by a feeling that they are helping the world in receiving its deserts; men who are honest can blindly go on robbing others of their human rights for self-aggrandizement, all the while abusing the deprived for not deserving better treatment. We have seen in our everyday life even small organizations of business and profession produce callousness of feeling in men who are not naturally bad, and we can well imagine what a moral havoc it is causing in a world where whole peoples are furiously organizing themselves for gaining wealth and power.
‘Nationalism is a great menace’. It is the particular thing which for years has been at the bottom of India’s troubles. And in as much as we have been ruled and dominated by a nation that is strictly political in its attitude, we have tried to develop within ourselves, despite our inheritance from the past, a belief in our eventual political destiny.
Tagore’s understanding of nationalism consist of a political organization motivated through politics and the need to maintain such an organization it has to expand its territories in doing so steal others land, resources and life. The one challenge with Tagore’s explanation is, one may consider his argument merely philosophical and lacks scientific temper and realistic expectations. Though I will argue his work no matter how poetic and philosophical in nature, is very important to maintain humanism in our beliefs and practices through statehood.
What we can learn from Dr.Ambedkar and Rabindranath Tagore’s explanation on nationalism is that without humanism being at the core of one’s nationalist identity, we are only preparing to exploit our fellow countrymen and women, on the basis of race, language, caste, religion and ideology. Consistence in debate and discussion on variety of ideas among people is a must in a democracy.
Jai hind, Jai Bharat