Pragmatic | Nationalism is not an epithet

Why is Nationalism an anathema to some Indian commentators?

After the Americans took out Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan in a stunning military raid, the mainstream Indian reaction has been one of vindication — telling the world “I told you so” about Pakistan. After all, having suffered for many decades from the terror unleashed by the Pakistani state, schadenfreude would be a perfectly acceptable emotion among Indians.

Within a couple of days of the Abbottabad raid, India’s army and air force chiefs were asked a straight-forward question by the journalists about India’s capability to conduct a similar overseas raid. Their answer was an honest one — Yes. It was a perfectly valid response to a direct question posed to them. We should not expect it to be any other way.

Since then, Pakistani media has chosen to highlight the above themes in its coverage of Indian reaction to the Abbottabad raid. This is understandable because it allows India to be portrayed as one aggressive big-brother with evil and nefarious designs that only the Pakistani military (and its jehadi proxies) can effectively counter.

However, even more amazingly, there is a section of Indian commentators, writing in both the Indian and Pakistani media, which has copied that line. These commentators (and this blogger is deliberately avoiding taking any names in order to avoid a controversy) blame the Indians for being vocal about their feelings of vindication, and criticise the service chiefs for their straight-forward answer. They suggest that Indians need to be more considerate and sympathetic towards the feelings of the Pakistani state, where the army and the ISI feel outraged by the violation of its sovereignty by the US.

Of course, these commentators are entitled to their opinion and have the utmost freedom to express their view. They have been able to establish this viewpoint as the fashionable one, and the influence they wield via the mass media has allowed them to implant these thoughts in many impressionable Indian minds. Unless countered vigorously, it has debilitating consequences in the offing for the Indian society.

These commentators are usually christened as liberals or left-liberals in public discourse. Liberals or not, these folks seem completely dissociated from our past, our history, our people and from our very existence. Their disengagement has become so extreme that everything alien is their fashion of choice. And the more alien, the more fashionable it is. It seems that advocating an adversary’s line is being used by the commentator to bolster her independent credentials.

Observed closely, all their arguments flow from the presumption that India and Indians can never be right. As India and Indians are not right, the corollary then is for India to come up with solutions — making one concession after the other — till it meets the approval of the adversary.

Nationalism seems an anathema to these commentators, an epithet which they shouldn’t be tagged with.

For the first fifty years of the previous century, nationalism was the mantra of public and intellectual discourse in this country. The foundations of India’s independence and its continuing journey as a Republic were laid in that discourse. The word has unfortunately been devalued since. It is now used by joining it to other pejoratives — communalism, fascism, chauvinism, jingoism and fanaticism. Once nationalism becomes a dirty word, synonymous with fascism, it is explicable that these commentators feel the need to strike a pose — a pose which conveys that they are not Nationalist (any by extension, neither fascist nor communal).

As my colleague Nitin Pai has explained (here), automatically equating nationalism with intolerance is wrong. And dangerous, if I may add, as being witnessed in the current instance. Nationalism must be liberal, and that is what we should aspire for in India. As Nitin articulated in his essay on Liberal Nationalism:

Liberalism (or libertarianism, in its American usage) is concerned about individual freedom. To enjoy freedom in practice, the individual gives up some of it to the state. The state, a nation-state in India’s case, exists to ensure the rights, freedoms and well-being (yogakshema) of its people. So ensuring the survival and security of the Indian state—by maximising its relative power internationally—is wholly consistent with allowing its citizens to live in freedom.[Acorn]

There is no reason for anyone among us to be apologetic about Indian nationalism. Indian Nationalism is fully consistent with the values enshrined in the preamble to the Indian Constitution — our Constitution, which is the lodestar of modern Indian nationhood.

Nationalism is about putting the interests of India and Indians first, without compromising on any of our constitutional ideals. Let us not allow it to be any other way.

DISCLAIMER: This is an archived post from the Indian National Interest blogroll. Views expressed are those of the blogger's and do not represent The Takshashila Institution’s view.