Becoming Nationalist

Manasi Krishna Sinha

IMG_20160317_234736Manasi is a doctoral research scholar at the Centre for European Studies, School of International Relations, J.N.U. Her area of interest: European Union and its Policies, Gender and development, Gender politics, socio-political issues etc.

The JNU uprising will be remembered always for at-least two reasons: First, as it triggered the conscience of people across India for deconstructing the existing notions of ‘Nation’, ‘Patriotism’,’Nationalism’—thus initiating a new discourse of what the future understanding of Indians should be? ; and Second, for its efforts to revive the ethos and principles of the Constitution-the repository of democratic India that has for a long time been forgotten by those who hold power structure. However, alongside the revival of ethos of democracy and social justice, what also oozing out as a byproduct of this movement—is the trend of ‘Being Nationalist’- the tendency to prove oneself ‘Being Nationalist’—the tendency that creates the notion of ‘Others’—the tendency that divides our own people. The tendency that make all of us vigilant over each other and to look out for the enemy inside us-like in the ‘Game of thorns’ where there is a need to hunt each other to survive and to get the validation of patriotism. The rulers of the game however remain invisible only to play with the string of our mind. And we drive so crazy to hunt each other that we keep our eyes close to that invisible game in which we all are trapped and victimised. Its spreading like a forest fire.

The trend acts like a ‘talisman’ (this talisman is different in spirit of what Gandhi proposed) and it dictates a different philosophy which says: ‘in order to being a Nationalist, brand somebody ‘Anti-National’. The presence of ‘Others’ or construction of ‘Others’ is therefore mandatory for this saffronisation of talisman. Raising slogans for ‘Bharat mata ki jay’; ’Vande Mataram’; ‘Glorifying military’; ‘Visibly hosting Indian Flag or ‘Singing National Anthem’; ’Not eating beef’; thus become markers of being a ‘Nationalist’ and those who do not comply with it become ‘Anti-National’. What is dangerous here is this binary element of ‘We’ vs ‘Others’ that it creates through it conformation to dominant narratives of ‘Proofing Nationalism’.

To me, it seems quite a short cut to become a real ‘Nationalist’. Singing National Anthem, or raising slogans for ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jay’, or ‘Vande Mataram’ alone however loud they are, do not have much potential to label anyone more or less a ‘Nationalist’ nor it stimulates our intention of becoming such one. For instance, keeping in mind the wide range of linguistic and regional diversity in our country, one may not understand or articulate properly those slogans that supposedly guarantee the certificate of ‘Nationalism’. Some may not resonate with the ancient ‘Bharat’ but the modern India-the more globalised and developed one therefore may find ‘Bharat Mata’ a stranger one; some others may find the usage and glorification of the word ‘Bharat Mata’ disheartening and patriarchal considering the gross violence unleashed on women everyday by its own people and soldiers that worship her as deity. Therefore, the question arises if any denial of articulating these markers of trendy Nationalism really makes one ‘Anti-National?’. ‘Being Nationalist’ for me is not articulating those words but reflecting upon its essence and intention- it is in the intension of ‘Doing Nationalism’.

As a matter of fact, the process of ‘Becoming Nationalist’ is more desirable and tough than ‘Being Nationalist’ because becoming a Nationalist requires much of the doings that qualify one to become a Nationalist. This ‘doing’ is associated with being tolerant, sensitive, inclusive and accommodative of everything that many not resonate with self interest. For me, ‘Gandhi’ could become a ‘Nationalist’ in true sense and we do not call him ‘the father of the Nation’ just for his leadership in independence movement, but also because he acquired all these qualities of ‘doing’ Nationalism. He was well travelled, sensitive, aware of argumentative Indians and yet accommodative of every distinct community, language, people and their culture that spread across the length and breadth of india and thus accommodate all such diversity and freedom of interests. Therefore, I become cynical as to see the trendy Nationalist and wander how many of us can actually have those qualities that our freedom fighters have in order to claim us as ‘Being Nationalist’. Of course, no one here is to judge for the other, but what we really need now is to introspect and check our own qualities and virtues that can truly reflect on us ‘Being Nationalist’. For me, there is nothing great in defeating others in the race of being labelled as more ‘Nationalist’ but what is worth to be called as ‘Nationalist’ is to value and stand for others, to be more inclusive, more tolerant, more accommodative and more compassionate towards all our fellow Indians who may not resonate with our self-interest and values. This is the only way to keep our secular democratic Nation alive, to keep our diverse culture alive-that’s the way to ‘Becoming Nationalist’.

In the process of ‘becoming nationalist’ what we have to gaze at is denial of the presence of an ‘abstraction’- the abstraction that validates the Nation over its people that constitute it. What is important is to understand that our independence from British rule was not fought for this abstraction of Nation but for its people only and so is the Constitution echoes the spirit of ours becoming together. What we have to understand is that there is a difference between ‘Being Nationalist’ and ‘Becoming Nationalist’ and the gap between them lies in the process of ‘doing’ only. We have see how this ‘doing’ resonates with the presence ‘others’. While the former uses ‘Others’ as ‘anti’ element to fulfil their believes and whatever they stand for, the latter acknowledges the presence of ‘Others’ in any form may it be social, economic, political differences or the differences at the level of ideology and values. The former has to create the notion of ‘others’ in order to sustain itself, to validate the purpose of its existence as it happened in case of Hitlar whereas the latter celebrates the existence of ‘others’ and believe in co-existence with it in any form. JNU uprising is knocking our conscience to check what process we choose to follow : ‘Being a Nationalist’ or ‘Becoming Nationalist’, to decide whether we choose to become fascist or democratic.