“Every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be proud, adopts as a last resource pride in the nation to which he belongs; he is ready and happy to defend all its faults and follies tooth and nail, thus reimbursing himself for his own inferiority.” Arthur Schopenhauer - the artist’s philosopher - 1788—1860
Nationalism separates. It does not integrate. Nationalism is a tool - for fascists to divide and rule.
India began its treacherous journey into the dark from 1966 onwards, though the journey was gradual, it was inexorable, and reached a bleak extreme from 1975 to 1977. After this terrible and troubling time for India as a nation, successive governments have determinedly taken India onward on this perilous journey into the dark.
Since May 2014, the country is plunging headlong into a deeper and darker abyss than the cramping darkness of the emergency. We are now journeying through a merciless, destructive and terrifying darkness - and we have no perception of its depth.
We, the citizens of India, and our citizenship, is being threatened by the government in power, with words like ‘nationalism’ and ‘patriotism’. And nationalism, though a simple word is a dangerous one. And naturally its antonym, anti-national, even more dangerous, comes into play to suppress free expression and dissent. Dissidents, whose views differ from that of the government in power are branded anti-national.
I had written in an earlier essay that: Nationalism is a political ideology. A social belief concerned with power and the balance of power. Paraphrasing George Orwell, I had said that Nationalism is an aggressive concept, an exaggerated and belligerent belief in national and religious superiority and glory. I had also written that religious nationalism is unthinking faith and intolerance; a convoluted muddle of religious conviction and political expediency overtaking critical reasoning.
And nationalism, as a word, has come into public consciousness with a big bang since May 2104, and has assumed dangerous levels of seepage, staining public discourse, especially amongst the television watching public, and has become a word to fear along with its antonym, ‘anti-national’. The words nationalist and anti-national are so fraught that they have become words of evil and are synonymous with anger, outrage and fear.
When the Government, or the party in power in a country, or a nation state, makes its ‘reason for being’ the propagation of nationalistic fervour, and when this pernicious form of nationalism is used to rally the majority against minorities, it is unjust and dangerous to democracy.
Bigotry, in case we have forgotten, is intolerance towards those who hold different opinions from oneself. Xenophobia is hatred or fear of foreigners or of their politics or culture. And ethnocentricity is ones own preconceptions of cultural superiority while evaluating other cultures. Religious xenophobia as we all know, is being spread with a new-to-ancient-India, national political ideology called Hindutva.
The perverse nationalism that is being practiced in India today, in reality, aggressively feeds the flames of ethnocentricity, xenophobia, bigotry and religious xenophobia. None of which are the aspirational goals of the sane!
Hindutva is far removed from the ancient spiritual way of life and that has been practiced for the three or four thousand years in the sub-continent and has been called Hinduism for the last two hundred years or so. And the ideology of Hindutva, a form of political nationalism coined in 1923, is slyly being substituted as a national and cultural philosophy. Both, the idea of nationalism and Hindutva are unnecessary, and dangerous to the unity of the country.
Here is what Rabindranath Tagore wrote in 1917, in his book, ‘Nationalism’. “...this nationalism is a cruel epidemic of evil that is sweeping over the human world of the present age, and eating into its moral vitality.”
"Where the spirit of Western nationalism prevails, the whole people are being taught from boyhood to foster hatred and ambitions by all kinds of means - by the manufacture of half-truths and untruths in history, by persistent misrepresentation of other races and their culture; unfavourable sentiments towards them, by setting up memorials of events, very often false, thus continually brewing evil menace towards neighbours and nations other that its own. This is poisoning the very fountainhead of humanity. Nationalism is holding up gigantic selfishness as the one universal religion for all nations of the world."
"… the idea of the nation is one of the most powerful anaesthetics that man has ever invented. Under the influence of its fumes the whole people can carry out its systematic program of the most virulent self-seeking without being in the least aware of its moral perversion, in fact, feeling dangerously resentful when it is pointed out." Rabindranath Tagore
Rabindranath Tagore wrote this as a critique of nationalism and how destructive and divisive nationalist sentiment could be. It is more an essay than an academic work. But Tagore, being Tagore, just couldn’t help being poetic.
Tagore's vision of unity and humanism and pluralism was truly ahead of his time. Remember that this was written in 1917, when we were under British subjugation. And he considered Nationalism to be a western import to India after he had observed the rise of nationalism in Europe - Russia, Germany and Italy.
He felt that nationalism was not intrinsically an Indian characteristic. India, he probably felt, was, too spiritual, too universal, too pluralistic and had a too great an appreciation of shared values to fall into the trap of nationalistic fervour. But if you remove the words Western Nationalism from the quoted passage, it very aptly applies to the atmosphere that prevails in India today.
Nationalism as a tool, or weapon of public consciousness had been used for short periods in the past by fascists; dictators like Mussolini in Italy, and Hitler’s Nazis in Germany, but now in those countries, and perhaps in most countries in the world, nationalist and nationalism are bad words, and are not used any more.
In India today, warriors of conscience, defenders of human rights, conscientious journalists and right thinking citizens fight their way through narrowing and closing walls while aggressive misinformation about India’s cultural values are being spread.
India’s cultural values and centuries of pluralism are being torn apart as separatist
Hindutva forces divide the country, while state-approved guerrilla skirmishes take place with various branches of civil society, and with conscientious objectors all over the country - all the time! Strangling dissent. Plunging and sucking us into a darkness of primordial slime.
Warriors of conscience are meeting new enemies and fighting new and unexpected battles and are finding new and unexpected battlegrounds, while guerrilla attacks and ambushes are conducted at various places throughout the country. Political guerrillas are laying minefields, infiltrating institutions and establishments; choreographing scuffles and pitched battles; all the while using the language of nationalist propaganda to stamp down and stomp on our (Indian citizens) freedoms to express ourselves, expose basic injustices, and to disagree and criticise.
Imagine a government conducting an unending guerrilla war against its own people, especially against thoughtful people and people of conscience who think and speak and write!
Right now, the path followed by the government is ‘Live and let die’. People of all communities who do not follow their ideology of religious nationalism are killed and students are persecuted.
What India needs is less nationalism and more unification. More pluralism, more cohesion and more national integration. What we need is a policy of ‘live and let live’. A policy that lights up our path to unification and integration of communities, religions, regions, classes and castes. We need politicians who would kindle incandescent lights of reason - of wisdom and understanding, and banish this darkness. We need to awaken everyday and live in a country envisioned by Tagore:
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake