Patriotism – A Political Agenda or An Inherent Instinct
“A Patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government”[i]
Patriotism and nationalism today have occupied prime time space all over the world. In a world getting polarized and turning the tide of globalization back people have returned to a myopic world view whereby the interests of the state and society take precedence over the collective good of mankind. The 2014 elections in India were a watershed moment in its history as it occupied immense importance due to the stable government that it provided to India after over a decade of coalition politics whereby majority was sewed up to govern people. The other reason was the fear of a hegemony rising and pushing the country towards majoritarian polity or a majoritarian governance whereby party took precedence over nation, ideology over ideals and mob justice over the rule of law. In this vexed atmosphere in India patriotism was in the cross hairs. From ultra national groups promoting country over everything else to reclusive anarchists demanding no emotional attachment to country but just inhabiting it as a piece of land the very idea of patriotism has itself come to be debated. So what is Patriotism? Patriotism is an emotion whereby a person displays loyalty, love and unflinching support to his country or motherland or fatherland. That brings us to the next question what is a country? Is it just a piece of land we inherit and inhabit or does it also include the people who co-habit it with us and accepting them with all their inherent differences, attitudes, culture, philosophies and way of life?
Patriotism as a concept emerged in the Renaissance period[ii] whereby separation of State from Church was sought and people were taught to love their homeland above religion. Rise of patriotism also coincides with the emergence of the concept of nation state and the Westphalia Treaty whereby cultures, tribes and linguistic groups who shared cultural commonality united into a political entity. Even though in the recent history the concept of Patriotism can be attributed to the West in reality all cultures and civilizations expected patriotism as a basic virtue from societal members. Indians have a very high patriotic fervor as they celebrate India as “Bharat Mata”, it is a living embodiment whereby the umbrage and love of a mother is sought. Is it over exaggeration whereby a larger than life presence is attributed to the soil of this geographic entity or is it the love and gratitude that the inhabitants of this nation have for their country. In the third mantra of Vaagambhrini Sukta (Mandala 10, Sukta 25 of Rigveda) Mother Earth is proclaimed as “aham rastrii” meaning “I am Nation”. Such is the respect and love for motherland and mother earth that upon rising up Indians apologise to Mother Earth by saying “pada sparsa kshamasvame” which means sorry for placing my feet upon you. “Janani Janma Bhoomischa Swargadapi Gariyasi”[iii] Mother and Motherland is higher than Heaven is a common emotion that we come by in India. On the other hand, we have people who claim that inherently India is not a nation but just a mix of castes, religions, languages and different races muddled together in the subcontinent. They claim that we were never a nation politically before the British came and colonialism through British administration conjured up India.
In a country where thinking of people ranges from honouring and deifying the country to setting it aside as just a political and historical outcome debates, discussions and deliberations are bound to get riled up. However, these have taken the ugly turn lately of lashing out at each other on public forums. Patriotism has been used nowadays, as a political tool to mobilize people against each other. What use is the concept of patriotism that antagonizes people rather than bringing them together? If people get at each other’s throats to prove patriotism, would there be anyone left to exhibit love for your country? This brings us to the next important question, what is the parameter to measure patriotism? Is it a commodity that can be quantified and weighed and compared or is it an abstract notion which people may choose to express covertly or overtly. Is it restricted to chanting Vande Matara and Bharat Mata Ki Jai or is it having a genuine concern for the country and not merely reducing the great notion of Patriotism to a few slogans?
The current government regime which is purported as “ban sarkar” and “intolerant sarkar” has been alleged of shoving patriotism down the throats of citizens. The concern of imposing and forcing patriotism on the people of India is grave as well as laughable at the same time. Can an emotion be imposed on people like planting an idea into a person’s subconsciousness as in Inception and grave at the same time because can a government be so foolish so as to impose something on people rather than governing properly and evoking that spirit amongst people.
Patriotism is often said to be the last refuge of a scoundrel and the first refuge of a politician. Patriotism should not be reduced to empty slogans or using it as a subterfuge to attack other communities. It should not be also reduced to ungrateful attitude and emotional detachment to one’s own country whereby you use the country and its natural resources like a commodity. Patriotism is truly caring about your country. If a person claims to be overtly patriotic but turns a blind eye to all the abuses carried out in the country irrespective of the government in power and allows the country to be ravaged, pillaged and abused is he patriotic? Does such a person have a high moral position to dictate terms to other citizens? Certainly not. On the other hand, a person who is critical of the government in power just for the sake of opposition and equally doesn’t have any concern for it is also not patriotic.
For saying “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”, “It is lamentable, that to be a good patriot one must become the enemy of mankind” are just talking points if they are devoid of any emotion and genuine concern. In this polarized world “Patriotism” and “Globalization” may seem juxtaposed, however India shows the way ahead by proclaiming “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” and deifying mother India at the same time. For to be a patriot one need not necessarily pamper hatred for others and for being a global citizen one need not necessarily chide away his homeland. It is said that man made borders, however borderless world may also seem unorganized. Wisdom lies in respecting borders while not altering them. Jingoism and anarchism cannot work. Inherent love for motherland and global fraternity is the way ahead.
Patriotism is like religion – it is best when least ostentatious. [iv]
[i] Quote by Edward Abbey, an American author and essayist noted for his advocacy of environmental issues, criticism of public land policies, and anarchist political views.
[ii] One of the strongest proponents of this notion in Renaissance period was Jean-Jacques Rousseau
[iii] Lord Ram states this in Ramayan. Also the national motto of Nepal
[iv] Quote by Charles F Jefferson, “Ethical Aspects of Conscription and the War”
Author: Amar Patil
College: School of Law, University of Mumbai
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