"Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind."Albert Einstein
The first remark from the ruling regime after the Income Tax office-bearers ‘surveyed’ the BBC office in Delhi and Mumbai was that the broadcasting agency is a corrupt organisation and has a mala fide intention against India.
However, as the Income Tax move comes after the government banned the two-part documentary series that critically analyses the actions of Prime Minister Modi during the 2002 Gujarat riot; it was apparent that the agency’s measures against the BBC were considered a retaliatory ploy and a crackdown on dissent by the international media, civil society, and opposition.
Nevertheless, during this skirmish of the government and opposition on the BBC issue, the critical analysis missing from Prime Time debates and opinion pieces in print media is how people in power propagate a dominant narrative camouflaged as nationalism in postcolonial India.
For instance, the government first justified blocking the BBC documentary on the pretext that it attacked the Indian sovereignty. Similarly, after the IT survey on Tuesday, the regime defended the crackdown by highlighting the BBC’s malicious intentions against India.
In both turns of events, the state and their supporters manoeuvre nationalism as an agency to legitimise the dominant group’s perspective.
In such cases, nationalism becomes a tool for entitled groups to defend power (politically, socially, culturally, and economically) by subjugating defiance and rational argument that turns the nation into an Orwellian state under which nationalism is about holding power rather than loving the nation.
Nationalism: An Obfuscated Dialogue
George Orwell, the literary critic and an influential figure in political culture – widely known for the ‘Orwellian’ adjective when describing the totalitarian doctrine, acknowledged the distinction between patriotism and nationalism in his Eurocentric seminal essay Notes on Nationalism.
Orwell, in his analogy, asserts that patriotism is a celebration and observance of a pluralist culture that benevolently rejects dominant supremacy.
In juxtaposition, nationalism is a craving for power and prestige – an act of self-deception of superiority that led to the formation of cultural hegemony in society.
Here, the hegemony constructed on the pretext of such narrow nationalism establishes a dialectic – piled on myths, symbolism and ethno-religious identities – justifying the dominant culture’s imposition over the subaltern members of the society.
Predominantly the nationalism described above remained a non-native facet of India due to its advocacy for ‘Vasudev Kutumbakam’ (the world is one family).
A philosophical teaching edifice on the values of fraternity and liberty – and a harbinger of a vibrant democracy – aligning India towards Orwell’s postulation of patriotism rather than a quasi-nationalism.
Moreover, despite being colonised for over a hundred years, India, both on the political and spiritual spectrum, had never embodied divisive forms of devotion towards the nation-state.
For instance, if we analyse two of the greatest Indian patriots Shaheed-e- Azam (the great martyr) Bhagat Singh and Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore’s schema of idealising and respecting the nation, by and large, manifest the acceptance of inclusive consciousness with sufficient space for dissent and resistance.
Bhagat Singh viewed nationalism as an embodiment of an egalitarian society in which non-conformist discourse had weightage; religion wasn’t the fundamental identity of a country; and a subversion of the exploiting system was commemorated.
Bhagat Singh’s postulation of serving the nation had been blended with an amalgamation of a revolutionary approach and critical thinking, edifice on a sociological understanding of empathy and brotherhood.
Articulating a similar argument, Nobel laureate and erudite philosopher Rabindranath Tagore viewed nationalism with a humanist approach and intellectual consciousness.
Tagore firmly believed in an East-West synthesis despite disapproving of various aspects of European civilisation. Moreover, it was Tagore who managed to convince the Congress that there are specific hymns in ‘Vande Mataram’ that praise the goddess Durga and that it would be uncalled for to impose cultural uniformity on Muslims to prove their nationalism.
Hence Bhagat Singh and Tagore’s faithfulness towards India was both critical and progressive while rooted in the primordial philosophy of Vasudev Kutumbakam.
However, in postcolonial India (especially post-2014), it appears that along with culture, symbols and tradition, the idea of nationalism is too hybridised.
Changing Ideas Of Nationalism
The building blocks of national consciousness, ie, brotherhood, critical thinking, rationality, and empathy, have been dismantled, and within the binaries of cultural hegemony, nationalism is reduced to a tool to defend crony capitalists, fundamentalists and various forms of prejudices.
The recent Hinderburg and Adani Group controversy is a foremost example of how nationalism in India is politicised and used as a counter-resistance agency to disfranchise any form of dissent that challenges the dominant ideology.
Moreover, it’s the Hinderburg rebuttal to Adani’s firm that ‘fraud cannot be obfuscated by nationalism.’ And an absurd argument to block the BBC documentary impels the author of this piece to unwrap this majoritarian ubiquitous nationalist narrative that managed to manipulate a section of society to believe that any question to people in power is an attack on a sovereign state of India.
As Orwell mentioned, nationalism is a lust for power; in postcolonial India, we can observe a similar approach when a jingoistic attitude is given impunity to defend controversial entities.
And the context of the author’s argument is not limited to BBC or Adani and Hinderburg’s issue; it goes beyond that because, in the last few years, various spurious arguments have been defended and celebrated in the name of nationalism, which by any means does not represent Indian consciousness that Bhagat Singh and Tagore envisage.
A Shield To Fortify Monkey Business, Bigotry, and Moral Policing
Since coming into power, BJP, its parental organisation RSS, and their subsidiaries VHP, Bajrang Dal, and other right wings groups have made sure to dilute the distinction between patriotism and nationalism.
In today’s India, nationalism is everywhere, from boycotting Shahrukh Khan’s movie Pathaan to supporting the irrational arguments of self-proclaimed godmen Dhirendra Krishna Shastri. From Deepika’s Bikini colour to the promotion of multimillionaire Baba Ramdev’s unproven Ayurvedic treatment for Covid-19.
Additionally, nationalism has been pitted against resistance, so any protest- from Shaheen Bagh to Farmers to student activism- that challenges the dominant ideology is labelled an attack on India.
Thereby, the question remains under what dialectic the so-called nationalists in the aforementioned examples are defending or loving the nation?
It appears from the above arguments that the discourse on nationalism has become lousy, and the majoritarian groups are trying to establish a power centre under the garb of nationalism instead of aligning with the progressive idea of Bhagat Singh’s and Tagore’s patriotism that encourages brotherhood and empathy.
Decolonisation of Nationalism
While the Prime Minister and his government are on the run to decolonise the colonial symbols, one aspect they need to focus on an urgent basis is an explanation to the Indian population whether present belligerent/narrow nationalism represents the Indian consciousness of communal harmony and faithfulness towards the motherland or the Eurocentric approach of holding power under the binaries of cultural hegemony.
Until the people in power take moral responsibility to decolonise or dismantle this hybrid idea of nationalism in postcolonial India, it will remain an obfuscated dialogue stimulating as a counter-resistance agency.
(Satkirti Sinha is a Graduate teaching assistant and a PhD research scholar in the Performing Arts department at DMU University, Leicester. His areas of expertise are Folk Culture, Dalit Theology, Performance Politics, Feminist Theory, Postcolonial Theory, and Sexual Politics. His email address is: Satkirti.Sinha.firstname.lastname@example.org. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)