Nationalism is a Betrayal of Patriotism

Raman Swamy

When Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu was in Paris to attend the First World War’s Armistice Day ceremony on November 11, he heard President Emmanuel Macron of France say:  “Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism”.

Naidu was seated in the second row during the historic function just behind Angela Merkel of Germany, Vladimir Putin of Russia, Donald Trump of USA and a galazy of world leaders.   

The French president’s categorical assertion that Nationalism and Patriotism are two different and antithetical concepts struck many of the assembled Heads of States in different ways.   

Leaders of the liberal democracies, the so-called Free world, took it as a profound observation very much in tune with Globalization and free trade.  But heads of more authoritarian governments were not impressed – they felt Macron was taking advantage of his role as host to the World War One event by injecting political controversy into what was supposed to be a solemn ceremony to honour the sacrifice of those who had lost their lives during the Great War.

The western media interpreted it as a jibe against the US president whose ‘America First’ doctrine and anti-immigration policies have raised the hackles of leaders of western democracies who believe that hyper-nationalism and parochialism have no place in the 21st century.

As India’s representative at the august gathering, Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu maintained a low profile.  He had already inaugurated an Indian War Memorial in France the previous day to honour the 13 lakh soldiers from British-ruled India who had taken part in the First World War, many of whom killed during the fighting.  

Later, he also attended a formal banquet and shook hands with leaders from all the continents – but since it was a ceremonial occasion requiring only exchange of courtesies, there was no need for the Indian vice-president to talk about what he thought about Macron’s loaded quote:   “Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism”.

Soon after his return to India, however, Venkaiah Naidu gave an indication of where he stood on the nationalism versus patriotism debate.   Speaking at the Jamnalal Bajaj Awards function in Mumbai on Friday, the Vice-President touched on the meaning of Deshbhakti. 

Patriotism, he said, does not mean crying out 'Bharat Mata ki Jai' or crying out 'Jai Hind' after watching a movie.  It means every citizen doing his duty towarss the nation.   According to him, "deshbhakti" involves both patriotism and nationalism.

Clearly, therefore, Venkaiah Naidu does not agree with the French President’s view that the two concepts are entirely different and that nationalism is in fact a betrayal of patriotism.

Having been brought up in the RSS school of thinking, it is no surprise that Naidu sees no distinction between love and loyalty towards one’s country on the one hand and staunch nationalism on the other. 

This is a subject that has not been debated deeply in India and it is safe to assume that many Indians would find it difficult to view nationalism and patriotism as different and sometimes even conflicting ideas.

However, all too often the patriotic credentials of citizens are harshly called in question by adherents of the Hindutva ideology and those supportive of the present BJP-RSS ruling dispensation.   It has become all too common to hear BJP spokesmen hit out at critics of the government by angrily telling them to “go to Pakistan”.  

Recently even one of the most popular sporting heroes told fans who did not like his way of captaining the national team to “leave India”.  To his credit, he was quick to retract his words once he realized that he had crossed a red line, but the damage had been done.   It was a case of taking the so-called “cricket loyalty test” too far:   if you find fault with the national team then you are not a patriot and therefore have no right to live in this land.

The same kind of extreme chauvinism -   bordering on intolerance - has become all-pervasive in India during the last four years.  The danger is that such a rigid and narrow outlook tends to descend to racial prejudice, religious bigotry and cultural ethnocentricity. 

These are the manifestations of deeply ingrained mindsets, which is why they are so difficult to counter.   Mere words cannot capture the disturbing dimensions of xenophobia in all its various forms.  Indeed, even words like intolerance and prejudice are just that – just words that defy definition and rational discussion. 

In the ultimate analysis, what Emmanuel Macron said contains an element of profound truth - Nationalism is a betrayal of Patriotism.   But in the present world, and in the current India context,  those guilty of such a betrayal will be the last to admit it.

Nov 18, 2018

Raman Swamy

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