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.
What has worked in the case of America? Until recently, it was the new boy in town, and today, the most powerful. Where does the Indian canker lie? Where has the Indian democracy failed vis-à-vis the American? The American nationalist pride and spirit of adventure as a people, is unmistakable. Indians too have shown national spirit, in the event of external threats but in their general attitude to self-discipline, patriotism and enterprise much remains to be desired. Is it that the prevailing unhealthy drift is slowing down the process of revival of India’s intrinsic national mores?
The sole trustee of the national spirit or national character is the individual himself. Unless each citizen is fired to place the larger interest above his own, and takes life as an opportunity to evolve and contribute, the national complexion will remain dim. Being a subjective development, none can help the other directly – each has to take charge of self, which presupposes the growth of national consciousness in citizens, both in act and thought, thereby fostering and cherishing the national culture. The objective is to develop a socio-cultural environment, where each citizen acts as a watchful sentinel of national security, ever alert, to see through and immediately report any snags observed, to appropriate authority, and spares no sweat to contribute to the nation’s advancement through dedicated service in the chosen field of his or her vocation, .
The soul of nationalism for unity must manifest, inter alia, in the realms of an effective law of the land, security consciousness, all-encompassing advancement through appropriately structured education and awareness, which fosters Indianness. We, as people, have to travel a long way to develop a national climate of Indianness, where in working, teaching, social or political gatherings, we do not find people grouping up only in ethnic or regional groups.
The law of the land should uphold national interest as supreme Dharma (duty) of every citizen that brooks no other consideration, which compromises the state’s interest, even remotely. In this regard, a uniform law hardly can be overstressed, in the matters of security, education, fundamental rights, and for demographic balance. The only distinctive personal choice or freedom one can have is in practising own forms of worship and rituals on birth, marriage and death. The law does not have to be draconian, nor should it seem unequal in safeguarding freedom and aspirations of each section of the society. Wherever there is doubt in interpretation of the law, the benefit must go to the state.
For law to be equitable and speedily enforceable, it has to be unambiguous, foreclosing an interpretation detrimental to national security. Obviously, all legitimate apprehensions, and fundamental rights of an individual’s faith and freedom should be taken into account, as long as these do not impinge upon national health and security.
Imbibing the ‘Soldier Spirit’ or ‘Nation-First Spirit’
A soldier is organised, trained and motivated, to give his all, for the larger cause. Whenever there is a call, he simply puts behind whatever his personal engagement is, and immediately embarks upon serving the urgent duty. In fact, a soldier is always mentally conditioned to surrender his self to the organisational cause at a moment’s notice. In other words, what sets the man instantly in motion for taking on the summons of duty is his soldierly spirit, which simply put, is his unreserved choice of the larger organisational and national cause over his own. The soldierly spirit is not something self-moving or confined to a group – each citizen is privileged to be fired by it, whatever is his or her field of activity. A soldier may have served for years in his profession, and yet be devoid of this naturally grown spirit. On the other hand, a strong nationalist or soldierly spirit may instantly fire his civilian counterpart.
The famous words of Johnson (1778), “Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier” is a true endorsement of the ennobling spirit which guides a soldier in life and death. To develop the ‘Nation First Spirit’ or ‘Soldier Spirit’, each citizen has to imbibe, for all his or her thoughts and actions, a sort of self-actuating slogan like ‘Merey haath Desh ki shaan aur Jaan’ (In my hands, lie the nation’s sovereignty and honour). This motto ultimately generates the will power to overcome pulls of ‘self’’ coming in the way of one’s discharge of duty to the utmost; whether standing as a sentry on the frontiers, or teaching in a classroom, or engineering on a project site, or tilling his land, or engaged in any other sphere of work.
The usual regret of some that the spirit of idealism and essential character qualities, like integrity, courage and sacrifice – so evident among the older generations – are on the decline, is a futile exercise unless a serious thought is given alongside to the restorative measures. It is important to note that these are inherent human character qualities, which will be there as long as humans live. Perhaps, our ancestors had the promising environment to help develop and display their distinctive traits of valour, uprightness, self-denial and so on. The state and society today owe it to the national health and its march ahead, to recognize and adequately protect the whistleblowers and other courageous men and women, whose undaunted display of the laudable character virtues join to make the nation strong.
There is an Indian maxim, which could help us discriminate between right and wrong, between fair and unfair. “If the crisis is of espousing one, at the cost of renouncing the other, then give up the lower for the higher, the lesser for the greater.” Further, it urges, “When the conflict is between self and family interests, sacrifice the self and uphold the family; between family and village, shore up the village; and in like manner, uphold the national interest above all.” In other words, the nation’s interest is supreme and must override all others, both in our thoughts and actions, which indeed is the essence of the spirit of a soldier.
It is heartening to notice the gradually growing public consciousness, and the upsurge in patriotic spirit amongst various sections of society, to brave and stand united against national threats. The upbeat nationalist mood and resolve, to defeat any future challenges, bodes well as the developing republic. The Indian buoyancy, particularly noticeable since the 1990s, is rooted in the rather unannounced signs of its surging economy, gaining world recognition for its vast potential, markedly in the fields of information, nuclear and space technology. Moreover, not to forget, the politico-military upshot it received in the world reckoning, as an emerging power after the 1999 Kargil conflict.
Recalling India’s National Goal
It will be pertinent to recall the characteristic universal goal for each nation, as envisaged by Vivekananda, “Every country has a purpose, and national goal. It survives until it achieves that goal. Once that is achieved, the country, the race perishes. That happened with the Greek and Roman empires. However, India’s national goal is different from that of other countries. It is not just about power struggle or wealth amassment. Our path, our vision has been laid down long back by our Rishis. It is to take us further, to achieve the highest in the spiritual field. It is not only to reach the highest yourself but also to lead others towards this noble goal; so long as India sticks to its national goal, it will survive.”5 Since each citizen symbolises the nation, as long as his or her individual goal is in consonance with the larger national goal, India has a great future of eternal glory.
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It has been a long exciting quest, trying to picture the Indian military thought down the ages, through the prism of scrutiny of the available material, coalesced with own experience and glimmerings from the past. A great learning affair for me, the scope of which kept expanding as it progressed. The initial work, aimed at study of the post-Independence wars, got enlarged to include, during the Kargil War, an exclusive analysis of ‘What Motivates Men in Combat’, which got further widened to look into the intrinsic Indian military mind and its vicissitudes through the corridors of time. The last chapter on ‘Future Perspectives’ was added later, to complete the cycle of time – past, present and future.
In this endeavour, spanning over twelve years, poring over its manuscript pages, many a time I wondered if I had written these. In an introspective research work, one seldom reaches the point of satisfaction – the proverbial question marks, ‘so what’ and ‘what next’ invariably haunt one at every stage of the script. Even at this stage, having spent my time perusing the relevant classics and other material on the focused study, caught in the mindset of a quest for greater amount of details, there seems no end to wishing for more and more time. Throughout the endeavour, I drew strength from the spirit of the Sanskrit saying, “There may be somewhere, at some time, somebody who would agree with my views and appreciate them, for time is eternal and the world is wide and large.”6 Happily, the well-spent time, with God’s grace, has enabled me almost to reach the destination that I had set for the instant endeavour. An attempt has been made, in the preceding pages, to share my thoughts and the relevant finds on the subject. If the seeking has been able to set about some more minds to further deliberate and study, the aim is achieved.
In a subject of this nature, which has yet to be fully discovered and articulated in a comprehensive manner, one cannot find references or answers in black and white to every question that crops up. Often one has to turn to speculation and serious mulling over. Some complex issues might take days of deep contemplation but given the earnest look into, the point in question invariably clears up.
An inquiry into a subject of such vast and varied dimension is bound to evoke as many viewpoints as the reflecting minds. That is precisely what sets one apart from the other. Nor can there be an absolute answer or explanation of the critical larger issues. True to own conviction, and understanding of the available study material, from a soldier’s point of view, I have attempted to put across a perspective, on what I perceived was India’s ancient martial heritage, how it coursed through the tumultuous Medieval Age, a critique of the contemporary showing, and what the future holds for us.
In the process, certain fresh grounds have been broken, by calling into question a number of myths about the Indian military mind, as also taking a fresh look at some conventional beliefs and practices, having acquired national acceptance after Independence. It is imperative for a forward-looking society to recast its approach and strategy, in the face of the dynamics of changing national and international environment and threats. The fluctuating regional situations notwithstanding, India must display faith in its inherent potential and unflagging commitment to safeguard assertively its abiding strategic interests. India is once again on way to its Golden Age, and no lack of national will or public ineptitude can be allowed to impede the fulfilment of its legitimate aspirations.
- Rashtra Raksha, Forum for Integrated National Security by Lt. Gen (retd) D.B. Shekatkar, p 30.
- The History and Culture of the Indian people, Struggle for Freedom, Bhartya Vidya bhavan, Vol XI, p 78.
- ibid, p 95-96.
- Indian Express, 12/4/7, The Rethinking Islam, by Javed Anand.
- Tapovan Prasad Nov 05 Management fundamental in Kautilya’s Arthsastra viii by Radhakrishnan Pillai, p 22.
- The History and Culture of the Indian People, Struggle for Freedom, Vol XI, Bhartya Vidya Bhavan, p XXXI.