Nationalism – Narrow and Wide

Bhaskar Majumder

At the beginning let me confess that I am not an expert on the idea called nationalism as common people are. Common people live their life without understanding many such concepts. But they pay the price when they are made the victims in the processes by being defined or identified as somebody which they themselves could not discover in their lifetime. These days we are defined as nationalists and anti-nationals. So we need to understand who defines us or how are we defined. The recent public discourse on this baffled me really – how I am being identified as a nationalist or an anti-national? While being engaged with toiling people in the Heartland soiling hands everywhere to earn livelihood, I used to ask them, ‘What is Azadi for you’? They instantaneously replied, ‘Roti, Roji’. One person asked me, ‘Saab, Mujhe ek Deshbhakti ka card banwana hai’. I told him, ‘Tumhara BPL card yaa Voter’s Identity card nehi hai?’ He was surprised, ‘Uus sei chaelga?’ I told, ‘Hain’. However, I told him, ‘also, you may try to get one MNREGA card, if you do not have that’. I did not ask him, where would he keep the cards in safety – did he have a safe non-dilapidated house and a safe Almirah in his house?

Some people also have Passport and readily available Visa, otherwise how could at will they cross the ocean allegedly cheating the banking system, playing (looting) with the hard-earned money of the people. Some such enterprising people bargain vis-à-vis the State of India in fixing the date when they will have time to accept the date as fixed by the ED, GoI for conversations. Are these people, who ‘Quit India’, nationalists?
Nation means people. But then there are people who calculate to get state awards and people who cultivate land to feed us and commit suicide for crop failure. The first one defines the second one. The second one failed to understand so far historical injustice inflicted on him by caste-colour-gender-community-narrow boundary and so on.

A new term is of late in use very much on a daily basis and most of the users I asked failed to tell what they really meant by the term. The term is Bharat Mata. Let me explain. By ‘Mata’ I mean the earth that circumscribes the geographic boundary of the country that is India/ Bharat that feeds us by providing resources; by ‘Bharat’ I mean those who are engaged to preserve and use those resources. The relationship between Bharat and Mata is inextricable, as if Bharat is son and Mata is the Mother. So, who can be against ‘Bharat Mata?’

The problem comes when one section monopolizes ‘Bharat Mata’, imposes on others what this section understands. My understanding is ‘Jai Mata Di’ or ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ are not for any exhibition – it is in the blood of people. If nation means people, then anti-national means anti-people. The fact is, at the minimum level of political discourse, the Constitution of India documented that ‘We, the people of India…’ framed the Constitution. The state as the custodian of the Constitution was also an agreed upon decision by consensus of the people post-Westphalia in Europe in 1648.

Often the terms ‘government, state, country, society,….’ are used synonymously which these are not. We need to understand that there is nothing above human society – if we may think about it at global level the best. At the least, let us not cocoon ourselves in narrow frame of nationalism. If violated, the day is not far off when in descending order, one will identify himself as ‘Bihari’, Bengali’, or Hindu Indian, Muslim Indian, Sikh Indian and so on. There is nothing wrong in feeling proud or prejudiced about one’s sub-national identity; but then it cannot be institutionalized to be imposed on the people to be victimized by indicators of parochialism.

Nationalism has a tendency to be projected in a narrow frame by projecting martyrdom, boundary conflicts and wars. I have full support for the soldiers as I have for the peasants, the wage labourers, the teachers and the builders of the nation-state. But then we need to come out from the false claim that the state is omnipotent feeding the people and hence the people are subordinated to the state. Just the converse – it is the people that formed the state; it is the people that should guide the state.

The problem has come about the ‘people’ and the ‘people’. There are people on the ground – the potential victims some of who think temporarily that they are victors; there are people in the sky the frequent fliers – the victors who set the goal posts, who define others.

I have doubt if nationalism can be circumscribed in a legal frame notwithstanding the unfathomable power of the judiciary. I have full respect for the Judiciary – needless to say. Nationalism is a component of labour, a component of romanticism, if history of Europe carries any meaning.

If the doors and windows are closed, if some define purity and pollution by indicators of birth, by the food-habits, then we live in prejudice-faith-belief. Let me say that it is anti-science and anti-knowledge.
Personally I do not mind if the knowledge-proof people go for wrong nomenclature. I mind if the responsible people in the legislature brand others (who are not conformists) as anti-national not only by errors of commission (Type I error like eating beef) but also by errors by omission (Type II error like chanting ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’).

Let me make the discourse simpler: all the security staff and some of the sweepers in my Institute in the Heartland of India say, ‘Jai Hind’ and ‘Jai Bhim’ whenever they see me face to face and often I keep mum and raise my hand in consent. Am I an anti-national? The administration of my Institute perhaps did not tell them to chant ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ if it knows what is being chanted and the need for its swapping or need for addition.

My understanding is from the guidance of world-poet Ravindranath Tagore – if the mind is free from fear and the head is held high, if one can think about the whole world as his own home, if one loves the people of India (at the national level) or looks in others his own self delinked from caste-community-gender-region, then one is a nationalist. The canvas of this nationalism is the globe.

(Unconditional) love is patriotism that builds a nation – nationalism is a corollary. Nation is people. Advocating pseudo-nationalism is playing with fire. I believe the statesmen-thinkers do not play wrong games around nationalism. There are unnumbered problems that need our serious attention like hunger, unemployment, insecurity of women, shelterlessness, displacement, pavement dwelling, labour bondage, inequality at a low level of income, institutional corruption and so on.

Patriotism is love: if it is enforced, it is not real. Enforcement of a homogeneous view of love for a civilization like India that is Bharat may disintegrate the civilization.

Bhaskar Majumder, Professor of Economics, G. B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad - 211019

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Oct 26, 2019

Bhaskar Majumder [email protected]

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