ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Redefining Nationalism

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The EPW Engage reading list “What Does It Take to Build a Nation? A Curated List on Nationalism” (15 August 2018) is timely, if only for the kind of “nationalism” currently being peddled as the new normal. Today, we have ideologies that bank upon a construct derived from the religion of the majority that defines nationalism and, by inclusion, patriotism in terms of devotion to a “mother.” India is now the “motherland” that needs to be worshiped. This kind of patriotism is being defined with no alternatives offered, no hope held out, and no freedom even to find alternatives. When asked to explain the origins of this kind of nationalism, a news anchor (a well-known face of such rabid and poisonous ideology) replied, “It’s your Nehru and Gandhi who subscribed to this ideology at specific instances,” and went on to reference dates and places. In other words, this kind of patriotism was being sought to be legitimised. However, if, say, citizens exhibit all the outward trappings of this new kind of patriotism and yet engage in criminal acts, would they still be defined as patriotic?

In Kerala, during the floods that devastated large parts of the state with as many as 300 persons dead or missing, natives—Hindus, Muslims and Christians—came together as one to provide relief to one and all in a manner that is being singled out for its professionalism and speed, unmatched till date by any other response to tragedies in other states in India. Some of those who helped with relief work lost their lives and, in all probability, would not have subscribed to the patriotism and nationalism being peddled today. Are they any less patriotic or nationalistic?

Thus, we need to redefine nationalism as a thought process that helps the nation move forward, by working towards empowering the minorities, especially Dalits and women; preventing the spread of revanchist ideas that hark back to an imagined utopian nation state; and working for the collective good, thereby spreading the message of inclusiveness and oneness. These are the kinds of interventions necessary to redefine patriotism and, by inclusion, nationalism.

India is now being threatened by centrifugal forces that will tug at the fragile threads of federalism and secularism, which ultimately give rise to various kinds of power struggles that may sow the seeds of separatism.

Rosen John

Web comment

Updated On : 7th Sep, 2018

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