‘Nationalism’ is the new buzzword dominating our political discourse. Be it social, digital or print media, the fourth pillar of India’s democracy is engaged in defining the contours of this highly weighted word. Even our defence forces have interpreted this term in the light of their undying spirit and service to India!
From an academic perspective, nationalism is a political idea that a nation-state binds the citizenry on the basis of a common shared language, history or culture. Today, this term is loosely synonymous with the majoritarian view- it took the form of Fascism during 1920s; Zionism or the quest for Jewish homeland existed since the 19th Century. However, the concept of liberal nationalism, a term more endearing than nationalism is slightly different in meaning. It refers to being objectively critical of a territory by taking keen interest in safeguarding its citizen’s interests.
Often liberalism is highlighted as a western European context and a popular notion adopted by many individuals, is that the idea of liberalism is a legacy left by the white supremacy in India. However, the present idea of nationalism is more Indian or Bharatiya in nature- it finds its presence in the Buddhist and Vedic texts.
Arthashastra, states that the quest for Dharma, loosely interpreted as self-realization, should be achieved only when an individual is economically prosperous. Purushartha, encourages discussion with moral self as opposed to the state.
Hence, the question arises, is India a liberal national state?
In the constitution, India is defined as the Republic of India, referring to the presence of rule of law and non-hereditary transfer of power. Thus, from a strictly academic perspective, India cannot be termed a Republic nation. Since time immemorial, the baton has been passed from one generation to another and almost all political parties continue to thrive on bloodlines. India is a democratic country, where citizens exercise their adult franchise to elect their political-public representatives.
However, is India a republic nation?
These are the questions we need to ponder upon.
As mentioned above, nationalism, today, is interchangeable with national patriotism where a majority view is held at a pedestal while the minority view is best left at the margins. Since India is a democratic country, the ruling government automatically enjoys certain political and executive power at the behest of the majority will of the people.
However, our Constitution also carries three words before ‘Democratic’, that is, Sovereign, Socialist and Secular. Hence, India has a moral and fundamental duty to uphold the minority interests and views and works towards striking a balance between these two groups. And this is where the role of the government gains significant importance- their job profile dictates them to maintain law and order in the state and implement policies which are not only a reflection of an existing popular demand but a policy, a way of life, which is conducive for minorities to thrive as well. (For the sake of this debate, minority is strictly limited to said ideology/opinion held by an individual)
Hence, does holding a view or ideology different from the majority create the idea of the other? No doubt, it does! However, holding a different view doesn’t entail an individual to become ‘anti-national’, as nationalism is not a putty in the hands of a majority group. Being ‘anti-government’ or ‘anti-establishment’ does not make an individual an ‘anti-national’. It simply means that their ideology or opinion is different from the mainstream.
In his books Gora, Char Adhyay and Ghare Baire, Rabindranath Tagore “unravelled the dangers of hyper-masculine aggressiveness cum hyper sexuality” and this “reflect his ‘dis-ease’ with nationalism.” He observed that, “India never had a real sense of nationalism.”
India as a young country is still raw and like the youth of any country, is more emotional than rational. However, care needs to be exercised by every citizen before we brand a ‘non-conformist’ as an ‘anti-national’. Our Constitution demands our country to build a culture of debate and discussion and by providing the words Sovereign, Socialist and Secular before Democratic, accords its citizens the right to dissent. Ideological differences and a war of words, is what differentiates India from an authoritarian regime like China and it is the responsibility of Indian citizens to uphold this distinction and live up to the foundation on which this country stands today.