The essence of nationalism is the nation’s security, which presupposes its unity. A widely accepted understanding of the national security reckons that, “A nation is secure to the extent to which it is not in danger of having to sacrifice (its) core values, if it wishes to avoid war, and is able, when challenged to maintain them by victory in such a war.”1 Inevitably, the security perspective of a nation is reordered with the change of situation. What are, however, immutable are the country’s security fundamentals, namely, guarding its territorial integrity, security of its citizens, the intrinsic values and institutions, and affording each citizen an environment of personal growth, economic and social well-being.
For the inviolable sovereignty of a nation, its geo-politico-cultural unity is the paramount prerequisite. It is not enough to accord it the constitutional sanctity – the potential sleeping volcanoes have to be identified and the long and short-term anticipatory safeguards taken with dispatch. India has come a long way since Independence, through all kinds of turmoil threatening its sovereignty. One unmistakable observation on the post-Independence challenges reveals that while the war clouds on the horizon always galvanised Indians to face these unitedly, with the phenomenal sense of patriotism, in the normal course of peacetime, the common person fails to place the national or larger interest above self. Having resurrected from the long spell of subjugation, the nation’s collective patriotic psyche has not yet come of age. Most of these problems are because of a lack of general awareness of the public, leading to its exploitation and misguidance by the vested elements, which have no qualms in resorting to anti-national activities.
Nationalism is the Superior Religion
If religion is the way of life, nationalism or patriotism is the nurturer of life. Lala Lajpat Rai elucidates the distinction, “…the problem before us is in the main a religious problem – religious not in the sense of doctrine and dogmas – but religious in so far as to evoke the highest devotion and the greatest sacrifice from us. Our first want, then, is to raise patriotism to the level of religion and to aspire to live and die for it.”2 Another annotation, in this context, asserts, “Nationalism is a religion that has come from God; nationalism is a creed in which you shall have to live. If you are going to be a nationalist, if you are giving ascent to this religion of nationalism, you must do it in the religious spirit. It is a religion by which we are trying to realise Him in the three hundred million of our people.”3. Voicing the spirit of the Gita, several sages and scholars have pronounced patriotism above the rituals of religion.
Each citizen must appreciate that his own and family interests are best served by his or her identification with and service to the national cause. The main pay off from forging nationalism is unity, security and development, which are the basic human needs. One naturally feels good, being a part of the larger group, and counts on its security and strength. Unity with others also enlarges the scope of ones personal advancement. The unique Indian feature of ‘Unity in Diversity’- indeed the core democratic value – throws open, to individuals of different faiths and regions, the equal opportunity of achieving the highest in India, without compromising their freedom of personal belief or way of life. The soul of security provides every citizen in the national mainstream complete and fair opportunities to realise fully his or her natural potential – each is entitled to the prospects of total development of the body, mind and soul. This indeed constitutes the highest human trust and faith of life.
Preserving the National Spirit
India’s physical division, passed on by an aberration of history, cannot fetter, for all time, its pristine spirit of nationalism. Look at the strategic, economic, social and cultural loss, to the people of the divided Subcontinent. Imagine the power that the Subcontinent can be (once again), when its undivided potential and collective wealth are open to each member of the shared land as a fundamental right to make real his or her potential. A point of view held by some, that the people, who separated from India to form Pakistan, are a worthwhile elimination, is a negative and shortsighted concept. Till the borders remain sealed and hearts closed to pulling together, for the collective cause of peace and security in the region, there is little hope of ushering in an era of mutual well-being for people on both sides of the divide lines.
The essence of India’s inbred nationalism lies in the fundamental faith in the Subcontinent’s cultural unity – if calling it Bharata or Hindustan (Land of the Hindus) seems unreasonable to some. ‘Hindu’ here denotes a people living the Hindustani ‘way of life’, wherein an individual may practise a separate religion or form of worship. That at the national plane, this common chord keeps Indians culturally bound as one people, has been voiced in Iqbal’s famous couplet “Hindi hain hum, watan hai Hindustan hamara (All Indians are Hindi, and their country is Hindustan). It reflects its true spirit. Some meaningful signs of this realisation are already visible in the Subcontinent.
Unity is the raison d’ etre of a nation, which sustains on certain imperatives for its healthy growth. Diversity, in term of religion, customs, dialect and ethnicity, is an inherent element of the Indian cultural mosaic. For a Subcontinent of such vast stretch and dimensions, with each region having its peculiar geo-socio-demographic strains, a medley of cultural practices and conventions is natural.
Promoting National Cause
National spirit is a universal endowment; what differs is the degree of its demonstration. Everyone claims to possess this virtue, yet few truly serve its cause. The majority of political parties in the country are oriented to representing a region, certain community, or a section of the people. Those, which claim to be national in character, have been hijacked by the parochial electoral considerations of vote banks and so on.
It ought to be acknowledged that the vibes of nationalism are not the exclusive prerogative of a certain party or section of society or religion, or those in majority or minority in the country. Love of one’s country is all-pervasive, and is equally injectable in all its citizens, irrespective of their religion, region or headcount. What one imbibes, as love for the country of one’s birth, are the five elements of his or her being and growth (earth, water, fire (energy), air (prana) and space), which one inherits equitably as the fundamental right to existence. Whispers from the past remind one of the fragrance of the soil, on which one learnt at the tender age, to roll, crawl and walk. The trees and jungles which gave shade and sustenance, the rivers which taught one to swim and provided water for drinking and irrigation, the hills and seashores that ever enchanted and lured one to reach the greater heights and depths; and its people who offered a helping hand when one stumbled, or comforted when in distress, all combine to make it natural for one to fall in love with such a land, its environment and the people. Nor is patriotism area, religion, caste, or number specific.
It is the fundamental right of each citizen to be fired by nationalist consciousness – no one has the right to deny others this vital breath of life. The problem arises when the majority Hindus claim that they alone are true nationalists, and suspect patriotic credentials of an Indian from minority; or a certain section of Indian Muslims proclaim their nationalist allegiance to the pan-Islamic world beyond the Indian borders. Both are irresponsible and irrational frames of mind. What’s more, national spirit has to be realistic and not overly influenced by sentiments of grandeur and all-powerful.
Essentiality of National Interest and Unity above All
The biggest threat to national unity and strength comes from the erosion of moral values in public life. When politicians resort to unscrupulous methods, to capture political power – the most popular aspiration in a democratic system – they erode the nation’s moral fibre. The political parties, without exception, thoughtlessly turning to corruption and violence, have vitiated the political environment. The public is disillusioned by the exercise of franchise in elections, which has become the fountainhead of all cankering of values, and has slowed down the reach of the benefits of national development to the common person. We urgently need to resuscitate the values of fairness, patriotism, dignity of labour and service to provide good governance and all round development, lest the storms of secessionism, dissension and embarrassed circumstances should continue to blow into our faces.
In 1998, I was invited to preside over the passing-out ceremony of the Rashtrya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) at the culmination of its Annual Training Camp at Hoshiarpur. I had no previous exposure to the vast organisation of the RSS, until I visited this camp. On invitation, I spent two days at the camp, and was impressed by the national spirit, camp discipline and the standard of their group activities. It looked just like an army camp. I also attended talks and group discussions conducted by the luminary speakers and RSS leaders. Two other aspects of the training camp were noticeable: one, a fair representation of Sikhs among the trainees and the administrative staff, and two, the main themes of the talks and discussions were Deshbhakti (patriotism) and glory of India’s ancient past. During the function, on meeting the then chief of the RSS, when he remarked, “Hamari Sainikon ke sath khoob patati hai” (We get along well with soldiers); I responded, “Both are, as I can see, bound by discipline and love for the country.”
An organisation which projects to protect the cause of a section of the society, generally is branded as communal, however noble may be its cause. How can the cause be truly national, if it does not enfold all sections of the society? As long as we talk in terms of ‘we’ and ‘they’, while addressing serious problems facing India, the chasm will deepen further. The Hindus would do well for themselves and the country to bear in mind the unique and all-inclusive nature of Hinduism that has lived through thousands of years, even if there was no binding divine cult or curb.
Muslims are an integral element of the Hindustan, and unless they, too, are in our minds while talking or working for the nation’s unity, security and development, the exercise will remain deficient. The reality is that, given an equal opportunity, a member from any of the minority communities is likely to be fired by a greater sense of motivation for higher results. Thus, they are an asset to the nation. Granted, India is passing through serious problems of integrating as a nation, but then, we have had been through worse in our past. The synthesis of all sections into one Bharata is the goal, which must be ever in our thoughts and actions.
The true noticeable gauge of nationalism is when every citizen, irrespective of caste, creed or region thinks himself or herself as Indian first and foremost, and then something else. Let us openly appreciate and count upon the gradually growing sense of rationality among the knowledgeable and nationalist section of Muslims. “Signs of Islam’s return to reason are now clearly visible. It is an exciting time for Muslim intellectuals. But sadly, in the other, home to nearly one out of every six Muslims in the world, has yet to get a whiff of the new breeze that is blowing through much of the Islamic world.”4
Taking care of plurality and striving for unity in diversity has been a unique feature of our nation. Despite the manifold diversification between the regions, there has been an underlying bond between the people. Such binders amongst the people develop best through larger interaction and generating awareness through a proper syllabus of education. Fostering the pride of Indianness is ideally achievable at the teaching institutions. It is to the credit of the inherent Indian democratic values and post-Independence national policies, that today we have no single dominant group in India – a potent safeguard against any inter-group exploitation.
Patriotic Spirit, Both in War and Peace
Patriotic spirit is an inherent human aspiration. With the human race ever expanding its geographic and social bounds, the family spirit grew into the tribal bond, which further evolved into the national zest, with the varying amplitude and expanse of nationality. Initially, the Quam (nation) was confined to a tribe, professing one faith and one caste. As the time passed, the factors of economic, social interaction, political control, security and geographic contiguity kept expanding the scope of nationality. Tribes expanded to states, countries and empires. Moreover, with common land, heritage, language and culture expanded the prided sense of belonging and nationalism.
A grave threat to Indian unity comes from the growing religious fundamentalism and intolerance towards other faiths. However, this is a worldwide phenomenon, wherein a pluralist democratic state like India, if not on guard, could be an easy target of the zealotry forces from within and without. One cannot be content with the public manifestation of the spirit of nationalism, only during an external threat. Patriotic ardour should run in the veins of every citizen, ever prepared to place his self below the national interest. The spirit has to be so generated whereby the country’s interest takes its natural precedence over individual religious and regional considerations. How does one go about generating such a national culture?
America and some other developed states today are examples where highly diverse people, migrated from different countries and continents, have fairly synthesized as an integrated society. Americans too fought a war of freedom in the eighteenth century, and later a war for unity (American Civil War – 19th century). In fact, when the Americans were fighting the war for freedom, India under the Mughals, was a civilised and integrated nation. Indian problems are peculiar, for which a foreign-tested solution may not be blindly applicable, yet direct or indirect lessons from common human history are universally relevant.