Can India Move Towards a ‘Civic Nationalism’ Sans Discrimination?

By nurturing a climate of tolerance & debate, our institutions can help foster a healthy nationalistic spirit.

Published
Opinion
4 min read
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The concept of a ‘nudge’, presented by Nobel winner Richard H Thaler, is a relatively subtle policy shift that encourages people to make a decision. It is about making it easier for people to make a certain choice that is in their broad self-interest.

It is interesting to see how Thaler’s novel change-management concept is being taken forward at such a mega scale in the public life of India. That nationalism could be a tool to ‘nudge’ people for a targeted behavioural pattern is a fresh and interesting revelation.

Let us see how this idea of nationalism in recent times has received traction with a strong intent for mass persuasion and influence in the matters of governance and political action.

How Family Planning Is Related To Nation-Building

Demonetisation was defended as ‘Action Against Nation’s Looters’.

‘Make in India’, ‘Digital India’, ‘Start-Up India’, ‘Stand-Up India’ schemes were conceived to unlock India’s entrepreneurial potential of ‘New India’. Economic reforms like GST, ‘One Nation, One Tax, One Market’, power sector reform as ‘One Nation One Grid’ (now, Gas, Water grid added), payment system as ‘One Nation One Card’, tracking vehicles on road as ‘One Nation One Tag’, have been espoused with overt tinge of nationalism.

The fervour was even higher in hailing abrogation of Article 370 as establishing ‘One Country One Constitution’.

For population control, so the narrative goes, we need to nudge people for small families. Those opting for fewer kids need to be ‘honoured’. Choosing to restrict the size of families is an expression of love for the nation.

Family planning is thus clearly linked to nation-building.

For achieving a 5 trillion dollar economy, we need investment, particularly private investment. Nudging active participation of private sector and corporates are seen as a must. If wealth is not created, it will not be distributed. If wealth is not distributed then the poor cannot benefit. So ‘Corporates are our nation’s Wealth Creators’. They should be given pride of place.

‘New India’: Giving Meaning To Identity & Grassroots

For advancing the proposal of simultaneous elections, we need to nudge the Election Commission/political parties/agents/voters to appreciate the disadvantages of frequent elections – ‘draining the scare resources of the nation’. Thus, ‘One Nation One Election’.

For reviving demand and consumption, and creating jobs, we need to support local businesses and industry. So, urging people to buy and promote local products, to be “vocal about local” is the need of the hour. This is also the time to boycott foreign (read Chinese) goods! The clarion call is ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’.

‘Ek Bharat is Shrestha Bharat’  well captures the approach and narrative..

Nationalistic thoughts, phrases and slogans, advanced in public domain, generally act as an effective nudge to achieve consensus or influence people to rally around the narrative of the State.

Nationalism, with its different reflections in nomenclatures such as ‘India’, ‘Bharat’, ’Motherland’, ‘New India’, gives meaning and relevance to the identity and roots.

With an attendant sense of pride, nationalism is seen playing a major part in determination of behavior, be it economic, social or political, both at individual and group level. The traction of Atma-Nirbhar Bharat, for a self-reliant India, is the latest example.

Does Nationalism Cloud Judgement And Restrict Choice?

In the recently-concluded Bihar elections, we noticed how the slogan of ‘Vocal for Local’ was ingenuously pitched by the PM with a promise to promote the Bihari identity (in locally-produced products) nationally and internationally.

An otherwise economic agenda, the campaign was thus woven in an electoral context for mass persuasion and nudge to buy a nationalistic narrative.

There are of course some questions in the popular debate. Whether nationalism —with its big overriding sweep — clouds judgement and restricts human choices? Whether nationalism works better for bigger goals only, like national security, sovereignty etc.? Whether nationalism, identifying with large power universe, compel people to see everything in terms of competitive prestige?

The counter questions posed are also many. Whether the debate on the negative side of nationalism suffers from prejudices? Whether the dark side is overhyped?

Whether such a debate undermines or undervalues the constructive impact of nationalism, arguably driven by political agenda? As high impact policy actions require public support, broad consensus and positive energy, doesn’t it make sense to pitch nationalism, with its creative potential, to act as nudge?

What We Need For A Civic Nationalism To Emerge

Surely, we need to guard against the negative effects of hyper nationalism. Yet, blatantly undervaluing or summarily negating the nationalistic emotions and its use-value may seem far-fetched, unfair and imprudent.

Between the two extremes, a new approach can be thought through. Given the potential it has in India for mobilisation of public opinion, nationalism, with improved governance and greater autonomy of our institutions, can be pressed as a nudge for furthering public actions.

For a civic nationalism to emerge, without any bias of exclusion and discrimination, our public institutions need to introspect and revamp themselves.

A democracy’s safety valve-debate — and dissent — must be encouraged. Institutions, particularly, government, police and educational authorities must respond proactively, as vibrant entities, in giving space to alternative voices.

By nurturing a climate of tolerance, debate and reasoning, in all their engagements, the institutions can help foster a healthy nationalistic spirit.

But the moot point is, whether injection of the dose of such liberalism would be acceptable or welcome? Thaler may be curious to know.

(The writer is a former bank executive and writes on contemporary issues. He can be contacted at rkrishnasinha@hotmail.com. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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