Present Day Nationalism
By Dhurjati Mukherjee
The ruling BJP has been harping on nationalism on and off. This nationalism is something unique as it is aimed at arousing the majority Hindu community of the feeling that this land belongs to them. There is thus a tendency of dividing the Hindus and Muslims and making the former feel more important. However, recentlynoted economist Amartya Sen, pointed out that India’s culture has been of tolerance and the need of the hour is that Hindus and Muslims should work together, adding that the majority was not the end of all.
With the BJP coming to power, it slowly displaced the Congress from these two politically operative forces of mainstream Indian nationalism.The Modi government’s nationalistic package included welfare schemes such as National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, Swachh Bharat and Digital India, and economic policies like ‘Make in India’ and GST. The vocabulary of rights and entitlements has been replaced with the grandeur of national projects, with people portrayed as active participants in constructing the new nation. However, the BJP regime’s poor record on the social and economic front makes its ownership of this nationalism domain relatively weak and vulnerable to challenges.
The Congress used secular nationalism as an effective instrument of elite politics for building coalitions. But in the arena of mass politics, it failed to develop a vocabulary of secular nationalism to counter the growing and aggressive Hindu nationalism that is manifest very much today. The BJP’s brand of nationalism is one of aggressiveness, not seen since independence.
Delving into the past, it may be stated that nationalism originated in Western Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries but it did not become a general European movement until the 20th century. Thus, it can be said that nationalism is a relatively recent phenomenon. As Prof. Oganski pointed out: “Nationalism in the modern sense did not exist at the time of Romans and Greeks. It was not present in medieval times. Some trace of nationalistic feeling can possibly be found at the very beginning of modern times when the nation State was first becoming an important form of political organisation”. With the passage of time, nationalism spread by means of propaganda and education.
The true meaning of nationalism cannot be identified in the name of religion, caste or community. The nation-State model talks about cultural boundaries of the State that must be similar to the cultural boundary of the nation. On the other hand, the State-nation concept focuses on the fact that there is no need for similarities between States and nations. Thus, the concept of State-nation protects the rich culture and individuality of the States.
The welfare of the nation is the true reflection of nationalism. It means the spreading of love and peace, brotherhood and unity among the countrymen, women empowerment, eradicating poverty and economic development, improvement of law and order, etc. In short, nationalism means the complete development of the nation. Nationalism neither encourages discrimination with minorities nor any type of violence against them that is manifest in India today. After all, minorities are also part of the nation.
If this definition is to be followed, the country has failed. In India, the social aspect of nationalism, i.e. the portrayal of the importance of the majority in public life has become manifest quite naively. Secular outlook and feelings have been suppressed, while the minorities have been humiliated in various ways. The culture and tradition of the Hindus may be there, but in a diversified country like ours, that of minorities too needs to be recognised. This is quite evident from a rendition of the country’s history.
The developmental aspect of nationalism must assume priority in all matters of governance, but this is sadly missing. The ruling party even a decade or two back was largely a party of the upper caste and small businessmen. As such, there was virtually no attention towards the conditions of the lower castes and backward communities. In fact, the impoverished and marginalised sections were not the focal areas of attention. Thus, till the late 90s, inclusive nationalism was virtually absent.
Though Prime Minister Modi recently asked party leaders to reach out to the “deprived sections other than Hindus”, without mentioning the largest minority, the Muslims, who have borne the brunt of the saffron party’s hate mongering, it is clear that the party now thinks of a change in strategy. “There are deprived sections in other communities too. We should work and connect with all these downtrodden communities”, Modi is reported to have told party leaders at a close-door meeting at Hyderabad.
It is thus quite discernible that over the years all the talk of inculcating nationalism was thus limited to a particular section of society and not intended to involve the masses. Even in formulating the development strategy, the focus has been on thrusting from above and not a grass-root level approach. This same strategy was followed by the Congress in the later years of its rule though their social nationalism was better as they followed secularism, not to the extent desired, but reasonably appreciable.
The sense of nationalism cannot be identified in the name of religion, caste or community of people, it’s beyond all these. Similarly, the European model of the nation-State is an old concept. India is a diverse country, where each State has its own culture, religion, tradition, history, language, etc. The nation-State model talks about the cultural boundaries of the State that must be similar to the cultural boundary of the nation, but this is a very narrow concept, at least for a country like India with wide disparities in every sphere.
On the other hand, the idea of State-nation is much wider than this. It says that there is no need for similarities between States and nations. Thus, the concept protects the rich culture and individuality of the States. The welfare of the nation is the true sense of nationalism. It means the spreading of love and peace, brotherhoodand unity among the countrymen, women empowerment, eradicating poverty and economic development, improvement of law and order, etc. In short, nationalism means the complete development of the nation from all aspects but principally in the social and economic realm.
If there is genuine rethinking within the party of moving forward with all sections of society in a truly nationalistic spirit, avoiding all forms of discrimination in matters of religion, caste and creed, the objective of a strong bond of citizens would be established. Dissenting voices would be heard, while intellectuals would be given due respect. In a pluralistic society, development would occur at a fast pace only if the social, cultural and economic climate is conducive to the interests of society. Then only can true nationalism in the country be witnessed. — INFA