Nationalism and Patriotism

It is the critical difference between nationalism and patriotism and misunderstanding of the definitions that still confuses many people as to whether to call themselves nationalists or patriots or both of them. The idea of “nation” or “nation-building” or “nation state” was a concept alien to the world until the struggles of people across European territories began to inspire others within and without the continent. It was during this time that the masses began to draw collective feeling of nationhood – that they belonged to an area with defined boundaries encompassing a population, majority of whom shared similar ideas and thoughts – and the ideas of equality, liberty, etc., began to take a comprehensible form. The idea of patriotism – the love for one’s own land and collective pride in its traditional and cultural values, was not foreign for the Indian subcontinent. Centuries of evolution of culture, language, art, religion, dance and architecture automatically, and passively, imbibed a sense of patriotism in the people of Indian subcontinent. This was further fueled by the dynastic rule in the subcontinent followed by the “pre-colonial” Mughal invasions, under which art and literature reached newer heights.

Protest against the JNU incident in New Delhi.

It was during the colonial rule in which the British directly interfered with the core economics and functionary of India, trying multiple routes to exploit India and its people of its riches, a strategy unlikely of the pre-colonial rule. The collective struggle against a common “enemy” lead to the rise of nationalist sentiments in India. The British brought the Western Education to India to serve the intended purpose of building local managers to serve the British administration, people aware of its know-how – this turned out to be a paradox! Access to western education brought with it the ideas of liberty, fraternity and equality – ideas which once formed the core of the French Revolution. These ideas helped create the necessary paradigm shift in the minds of people to realize the strength of unity and a common objective. Although, the admixture of past experiences of shared cultural and traditional values of the Indian subcontinent and the western notion of nationalism lead to a rise of nationalism radically different from the European type. This one was based on the belief of inclusion and accommodation of various sections of people- a trait which was absent in European-aggrandizing Nationalism. The testimony of this interim development can be the Karachi Congress Resolution of 1931 which included numerous resolutions still much relevant in the present times.

Perhaps our Constitution makers realized the situations existing then and could foresee the problems of the present times. Through a number of meetings of the Constituent Assembly and carrying out extensive and exhaustive discussions over a period of years, they framed a Constitution which could stand strong with its core values as enshrined in the Preamble, still subject to amendments in keeping with the changing times. In view of the recent turmoil on the nature and form of nationalism and patriotism to be practiced arising because of incidents like suicide of Rohith Vemula, a Ph.D. scholar and a dalit student unable to receive studentship and an event in JNU commemorating execution of Afzal Guru, 2001 Parliament terrorist attack convict which was accompanied by alleged anti-India sloganeering by the university campus students, the whole nation seems to be caught in a web of ideological battles among various factions – the opposition accusing the government at the centre of imposing its Hindutva ideology and branding the defaulters as anti-national; institutions questioning the role of television and print media in shaping popular public opinion, etc. In my opinion, the only solution to end this problem is through more and more debates and discussions, for these, as is evident from the past, form the essence of a time-tested process known as democracy.


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