Avik Chattopadhyay: Am I “nationalistic” enough?

06 Aug,2020

By Avik Chattopadhyay

 

We are moving close to another Independence Day. The tricolour will be unfurled from the Red Fort, the Prime Minister shall make some big announcements including about some vaccine and the National Anthem will be played. We shall all stand, as dutiful citizens.

 

I too shall stand for the 52 seconds more as a ritual than possibly out of actual emotion. For otherwise it is an open display of disrespect to the nation. Forget the fact that most of us do not understand the meaning of the words we simply lip-sync, much like the way we muttered “Jack and Jill went up the hill…” in nursery school.

 

I am in a curious state of mind.

The five Rafales landing in Ambala does not enthuse me.

The Statue of Unity did not rouse me.

The failure of the Vikram lander did not really sadden me.

The Surgical Strike did not inflate my chest.

The Ram Mandir “shilanyaas” yesterday did not move me.

 

And I thought to myself, am I nationalistic enough?

Why do I not revel in what most around me do?

Why do I not lament over what most around me do?

 

But then, the migrant crisis shamed me.

The beef-lynchings made me cringe.

The woes of demonetisation infuriated me.

The lot of the farmers bothers me.

The anti-CAA agitation invigorated me.

 

And I still think to myself, am I not nationalistic enough?

Do I align with issues most around me do not?

Do I identify myself with those that most around me shun?

 

I reached out to a piece of work that I usually find solace in in such times.

 

Tagore’s “Nationalism”.

 

After extensive tours of Japan and the US, delivering lectures and engaging in deliberations with all types of people for over two years, he finally put his thoughts together in 1918 on the subject of nationalism in an India that would gain independence some time.

 

The work is more than 100 years old yet so eternally relevant especially in today’s India. I will quote three portions from the 33-page essay to help encapsulate the conviction of the man who also wrote what we ended up choosing as our national anthem!

 

“I am not against one nation in particular, but against the general idea of all nations. What is the Nation? It is the aspect of a whole people as an organised power. This organisation incessantly keeps up the insistence of the population on becoming strong and efficient. But this strenuous effort after strength and efficiency drains man’s energy from his higher nature where he is self-sacrificing and creative.” states Tagore.

 

Four terms are important here, in their manifestations in society.

 

The first is “organised power”. It implies a unilateral and unidimensional setup where every individual has specifically assigned roles and responsibilities from a higher authority, irrespective of personal likes and inclinations.

 

The second is “strong”. Strength is a very relative measure and has no finish line. It is an aphrodisiac that keeps the organisation intoxicated in its endless pursuit.

 

The third is “efficient”. This is about an organisation only of the fittest, purest and compliant. Differences of opinion, faith and abilities are gradually ‘weeded’ out over time. Inclusiveness is not a typical trait here.

 

The fourth is “higher nature.” Is this not the same as the much-glorified management concept of ‘greater purpose’ especially in these times of uncertainty and anxiety? It is about creating a creative, collaborative and sustainable society, wherein all stakeholders co-exist for mutual benefit and even individual pursuit is for collective evolution.

 

Tagore goes on to say, “Political freedom does not give us freedom when our mind is not free. An automobile does not create freedom of movement, because it is a mere machine. When I myself am free I can use the automobile for the purpose of my freedom.

We must never forget in the present day that those people who have got their political freedom are not necessarily free, they are merely powerful. The passions which are unbridled in them are creating huge organisations of slavery in the disguise of freedom.”

 

This, to me, is the summit of the essay, where the concept of political freedom being equated with independence is questioned and debunked. What we gained in 1947 was the power to determine our own future. If the same institutions of servitude and slavery are carried on from the previous regime to the new, the entire struggle ends up being pointless. If the poor and oppressed then are the same now, the freedom is reserved for only a few privileged people.

 

The analogy of the automobile is so telling. It questions the very purpose of creating unending accoutrements to primarily help us finally ending up commanding our lives.

 

Society needs to understand and recognise this fundamental conceptual difference between being free and being independent. Only then can the organisation and the institutions within be challenged and even dismantled.

 

Towards the end, he comments, “When our nationalists talk about ideals they forget that the basis of nationalism is wanting. The very people who are upholding these ideals are themselves the most conservative in their social practice.”

 

Absolutely and it is in your face! I take the Ram Janambhoomi “movement” itself as a demonstration of this wanting and constrictive conservatism. If the leaders were so bothered about the concept of ‘Ram Rajya’ as Gandhi had espoused, after ‘winning back’ the land from the ‘intruders’ they should have built the nation’s biggest hospital or set up a massive garden open to one and all. That would have been the true interpretation of the concept and a tribute to the “lord prince” of Ayodhya. But as traditional nationalists, their solution was confined to a mere place of worship.

 

Nationalism is a menace! We are going through a phase where it is held up as a parameter for being judged as a true “Indian”. Soon, we shall be celebrating the 75th year of our independence. Hoping that at least a serious debate is started on what we really want to be judged against…conformism or the ability to challenge.

 

To quote from Tagore once more, into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake!

 

Avik Chattopadhyay is a senior marketing and strategy consultant. He writes twice a month for MxMIndia, mostly every other Thursday. His views here are personal

 

 

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