Re-imagining Nationalism

Wikipedia defines Nationalism as a political, social, and economic system characterized by promoting the interests of a particular nation particularly with the aim of gaining and maintaining self governance, or full sovereignty, over the group’s homeland. Thus nationalism entails a feeling of oneness, and unity which is spread among the group which ‘imagines’ themselves as one community. The word imagines is in quotes because Nationalism is not something palpable and omnipresent. It is an imagination of communities, and bringing together a group people who identify with those communities. In case of India, the long period of colonial atrocities instigated this feeling of oneness and integrity among the masses, which lead to a widespread movement which we fondly call the ‘Indian Nationalist Movement’.

The term ‘nationalism’ came into trend mostly from the nineteenth and the twentieth century, as the modern nations which we see today started coming into their current geographical form. But, in the recent times we are witnessing resurgence in the use of the term. In these times of post truth, where emotions override facts and policies, nationalism has been commonly used not only by the Indian masses, but also by the world. Since the emergence of Modi and BJP in the politics of India, nationalism has become quite a touchy matter and every discussion of politics seems to be revolving around the term. India, which is as diverse as any nation can get, nationalism and the identity of being an Indian was the primary factor on which the foundation stone of this country was laid. This feeling of oneness was not so strong all throughout the history, but when Indian nationalism gained strength due to the freedom movement, the Idea of India was materialized. Thus we are a nation born out of struggle, and these factors of shared dreams (of a good life) and a sovereign nation were instrumental to transcend the multinational traits of the country into a single unified nation. Therefore accommodation of differences become very important in such cases, where an imagined community is formed and diverse groups of people are brought together under the promise of a better life. So, if the differences become a cause of conflict and hate, the Idea of India fails as we are compromising on the basic principles on which this nation called ‘India’ was formed.

In the past 3- years, we all are hearing about the repetitive use of the word nationalism and patriotism to justify and condemn various acts by different political and social agents. Whether it was the JNU incident or the placard of Gurmehar Kaur, we were all engrossed with the debates on nationalism. Among all this, there were various traits being attached to the image of a good nationalist, and a good patriot per say. Those who didn’t fall into that category were called anti-national. It’s another matter that who made these criterions. But the whole fact that how different meanings and interpretations were linked to the term nationalism, brought me into concern. Moreover, there are terms like ‘Hindu- Nationalism’ which are being used commonly. It must pester your mind that how these terms play with the original idea of what nationalism is.

Going back to the history of nationalism, its major critique was that it creates a xenophobic population (which hates people different from their own), and ostracizes many groups of the people. The fact is that nationalism, which creates differences by alienating a certain group of people of any society or country, is not nationalism in the first place. The idea of nationalism is that every citizen is equal, and has equal stakes in the sovereignty of the country. But the terms like ‘Hindu-nationalism’ which sort of denotes a larger importance to one sect of people, they are not talking of nationalism in the first place. Moreover, there’s always that idea we as a nation are superior than some other nation (like the most used example of Pakistan for instance), and thus the people of that nation are not as good as us. These kinds of screwed idea of nationalism are not inspired by patriotism; it is blatant jingoism and chauvinism. Any idea of the nation or the community which asks us to hate or dislike certain sects of the population or some other people, are flawed in the first place. They inspire hate in the society and make us all blind in the sense that we forget that we are humans first. Nationalism never talks about ostracizing or derogating certain people. It is about accepting and accommodating the differences among people so that everyone can live peacefully. It doesn’t ask us to hate any other nation. It is our own biases and prejudices which make us do that. Therefore a term like ‘Hindu Nationalism’ and its interpretation, is screwed to the very core of it; hindu nationalism is not any nationalism of sorts, it is either radicalism or alienation of our own people, who came together to form this nation. All those hate crimes which are instigated towards any group, are thus not only against the people of that group. They are against this nation, and the nationalism on which the foundation of India lies. And ‘Indian nationalism’ is inclusive and accepting of all, be it hindu, muslim, sikh, Christian, tamil, Bihari or anyone among us who we know as Indian today.

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