In Opposition of Nationalism

“An eye for an eye makes the world go blind” – Mahatma Gandhi

This post by Amit got me started thinking again about an issue I have meant to write about for sometime now.

All over the world, and in our country especially ( for reasons that I will mention later), I sense and see a growing wave of nationalism. Why is this of any concern? Are feelings of nationalism unwarranted? (Note: Nationalism is used here and rest of the post to consist all kinds of regionalism, communalism and casteism)

Yes, because nationalism as a concept is hollow and ridiculous. There is a general view that since we are born and belong to some place, we should behave as if we own it. That we must all feel offended when there is a joke cracked about that place. That we must feel proud about an individual’s success because he hails from my own place. Firstly, if I had a choice, I may not have chosen this place to be born with. So, if it was chance that caused my birth in a particular city/state/country, how can I claim to say I am obligated to defend and own that place? Secondly, most failures and achievements owe their origins to the efforts of an individual or a group of individuals. Claiming collective regional ownership of those does no justice to anyone.

The problem with nationalism does not end here. The actual danger of nationalism almost always manifests itself in the intolerance of the other. This is the clear and present danger that all of us face in an increasingly globalized world. For in the same day, there will be many of us meeting, working and socializing with people from different castes, religions, languages, cities and countries. Cities that consisted of people from one language or community in majority have to do with influences from all around. It is in such scenarios that feelings of nationalism are dangerous. Frictions that occur due to trivial misunderstandings soon snowball into a collective intolerance against a particular set of people from one region/language/city. So, people who want to exploit this simmering tension ( no second guesses on who these are) conveniently start talking about ‘Maratha Pride’ or ‘Kannada Pride’, as if to present an united front against an imaginary enemy. Thankfully, in our country we have not much examples of language-based conflicts, but we have had more than enough of communalistic violence. Just substitute, religions instead of regions, and you see how the causes are similar. But, as I had written in earlier post, I have seen such behaviour first-hand in Mumbai and Bangalore. Not just India, around the world, in Austria, Germany, the US, the UK and Russia, you read about the devastating effects of nationalism mainfesting as neo-Nazism, anti-Islam and racism.

An interesting thing about the nationalistic sentiment is how correct it seems. All of us associate with places, people and things we grew up with. So, since I grew up in Bangalore, I am very nostalgic and proud about my city. But, I do not own it to ask/request/ban anyone from visiting and living in my city. That is the fine difference most of us seem to miss. A city is not yours, mine or even the government’s. It is just a place that gains its character, culture and persona by the people inhabiting it. Just as my ancestors came to this country to make it their home hundreds of years ago, so do the people who come in now. As long as anyone who resides in a place does so by the rule of the law of that place, there should be no problem. All the threatening feelings of losing ownership, of feeling run over by immigrants, of feeling angry are not justified. If you are inconvenienced by presence of foriegners, it is most likely that the cause is elsewhere. It is either the administration that has not let infrastructure develop to support the newcomers or it is the law-makers who have failed to ensure safety to prevent social unrest.

The reason that feelings of nationalism are of an even more concern in India is apparent. Thirty states with more than a hundred languages, hundreds of food varieties, more than 15 religions, and zillions of castes. A country that is wholly and truly diverse. As migrations occur from backward to prosperous zones, clashes between dwellers and newcomers are bound to occur all over. Mumbai has already seen and tided over such a wave in the Shiv Sena eighties. Bangalore is witnessing it currently. Soon, Hyderabad, Chennai and Kolkata will be following suit. I hope, and it is not a very hopeful hope I have, that the administrations elsewhere will have the vision and show the statesmanship required to foresee and plan for these changes.

If nationalistic sentiment is wrong, what do national sport teams represent then? Should you not support India? Is it not one’s duty to back the Indian cricket team? It definitely is no one’s duty to support only one’s own country. I support the Indian cricket team because I like the way they play. That is why, by the same token, you will not find me watching the Indian soccer team play. They play poorly and it is no joy to watch them. Yes, most of us end up supporting teams from our state/country. But, note that no one is obligated to support a particular team. You are the fan, you choose.

The same extends to international and domestic affairs. If I am aware of abuses by the State, it does not mean I am obliged to not speak up. Just as I am depressed by the death of Palestinians and Israelis, so am I by the death of innocent Kashmiri civilians. No matter who the perpetator is.

As you keep expanding the scenarios, you notice how so much of the world’s problems are due to the inflated feelings of owenership and dangerous pride. All of its wars have been fought over land. Land, on which often thousands can reside, is barren with landmines. The funny part is the warring sides are fighting over this minefield. The sad part is the number of such conflicts just keep increasing. Politicians exploit usually latent emotions and then take it to a peak to ensure fueling tensions keep them in seats of power (and money).

It is, therefore, important to remember not carried away by feelings of being a Kannadiga, Bangalorean, Indian, Brahmin, Hindu or even as a member of one gender. Because most often than not, we did not have a choice in any of the above. So, we claim no rights over the successes of a co-member nor should we be victimised by the crimes of another. Extend the token and we will see that it also means we have no right to victimise a community because of the crimes of a few.

In Opposition of Nationalism

20 thoughts on “In Opposition of Nationalism

  1. Very profound thought expressed… is this leading in some way to the philosophy of detachment (sort of) preached in the Gita? Am sure there is enough literature in the Vedas and Gita on this matter…

  2. Not really maga. It is more of an emphasis on the individual with a wider concern for humanity, instead of strictly-defined classes/communities. But, yes detachment from man-made concepts of groupsim is what I am for.

  3. gube says:

    Easier said than done.. then again, we have so much of a twisted motive to do.. My bro’s in kashmir again :( But he’s a winner alright!

    the yada yada yada and all this talk of the Geeta.. Shouldn’t you be going yada yada hi dharmasya :p

  4. @Gube: LOL! Nice to see a vintage gube PJ again :P Twisted motive to do what though?

    @Nakul: Yes… In fact, remember that one discussion we had at Pizza Hut in Gurgaon? We did discuss about such points!

  5. hmm says:

    isnt nationalism natural?atleast a certain kind……see like i dont stand for the national anthem and ppl on the streets sell mutilated flags….which i think is ok. but like the other day this lady told me- “in 1996 i supported sri lanka in the world cup finals’ and i couldn’t forgive her….maybe one extra prayer wouldv’e helped?

    anyways dont stay too long away from posting………..what will fans like us do?

  6. A Nation is too big a concept to grasp. Let us zoom into a smaller ecosystem, the ecosystem around you. Lets say your friends and family. If you could talk about why is there a limitation on the number of friends, how many friends you have and such, why is there such a limitation, why is that you have a limited set of friends and not the entire humanity? What roles have your family and friends played in your life? What are the dependencies? What resources have you consumed from your family? friends?

    Once you get a chance to write up a post on the questions raised above, and also address the same arguments you used, we can have a dialogue on a larger scale, a Nation. We’ll be able to zoom in and out, compare ecosystems on a smaller scale and large scale, see what the similarities are and where these ecosystems differ.

    Indians are extremely individualistic. Everyone is in hot pursuit of pleasure, better opportunities and the good things of life – books, blogs, movies, drugs, porn, etc. I have lived in India for more than 20 years and I haven’t seen a Nationalist. Where have you sighted these rare species? After years of searching, I found one young Nationalist. I am amazed how someone could write against an extinct species. There are definitely no Nationalists in India. Of course, there are clowns, like VHP, Shiva Sena and such, but they are for entertainment purpose only, to be taken in a lighter vein. If you know any, could you please pass on their information to me?

    Warmest Regards,
    Lets Build A Nation!

  7. Siddharth says:

    Hey Sheyas,
    Long time bro…good to see that you are interested in politics! I ended up doing political science after the fiasco at PPJC. Am just completing my Masters in Policy Studies in Montreal, Canada.

    Your post is a bit ambiguous in terms of defining nationalism. Linguistic and ethnographic differences within India are a sub-national manifestation of tensions between millions of people who live in close proximity of each other. You are absolutely correct in identifying in-groupism and out-groupism between religions, languages and cultures. This is, contrary to your post, the opposite of nationalism. Look at China – they have a centrally enforced nationalism. People are forced to talk, act and behave the same – and the risk of dissent is death or imprisonment (e.g. Faulun Gong). This is the main difference that makes Indian nationalism almost an oxymoron. Under what rubrics do you “unite India”? How do you get 1.2 BILLION people to buy into one nationalist ideal? You remember those “milé sur mera tumhara” national integration messages on Doordarshan? I think they got it right… celebrating diversity is the uniquely desi way of representing Indian-ness.

    Quick response to some of the comments: I was in a group called Nehru Bal Sangh (NBS) – those from Bangalore may remember Cascades in Cubbon park – NBS put it on. Anyway – I think they had the right idea in terms of fostering nationalism. The main messages were: volunteerism, community action, intellectual stimulation and a bit of fun! A good (albeit Hindu-centric) book is “Being Indian: Inside the Real India” by Pavan K. Varma. Check it out!

  8. @Lets Build A Nation:

    I will first address your interesting questions on the ecosystem I live in- friends and family. I have a limited set of friends and acquaintances because I choose to devote so much energy to the relationships in my personal life ( though this is a largely subconscious decision). The roles family and friends play is to serve as companions and act as stores of shared memories and experiences. I certainly do not see family or friends as resources. They cannot be termed anything because what role family and friends have in my life might be entirely different from what role they have in yours or anyone else’s. I cannot see how you can “zoom” out to draw analogies at a national level. Family and friends share an emotional connection that I do not with all of my countrymen.

    Secondly, I mentioned it in my post too – nationalism in this post includes all kinds of jingoisms – regionalism, religionalism, linguism. I chose to call it nationalism to use a common term to include all this.

    You say – Indians are extremely individualistic. I don’t see what is wrong with that. As long as someone is not breaking the law, it is solely his and his decision alone whether he chooses to watch porn or do social work. On the contrary, I am happy that in India, much ever than before, we have more freedom in our choices.

  9. Hey Banner! Real nice to hear from you man :) Nice memories of our times in the Computer class!

    I guess the note I put in the beginning of the post got missed out. As I mentioned in the previous comment, I defined nationalism in my post to include all kinds of groupism. That said, it still does not mean I am a supporter of nationalism. If my country’s government is out to make a gross human rights abuse or being unfair in its dealings, I cannot be expected to support the same. This is the kind of nationalism I am against. There is also the Swadeshi Jagran Manch-brand nationalism that seeks to keep out foriegn-made goods because they are “anti-national”. Someone’s economic theories are seriously screwed.

    Nationalism, to me, is still an uncomfortable concept because it suffers from the same ills that ail its smaller cousins – regionalism, linguism and communalism. We have already witnessed the last of the above, and regionalism is breeding in over-crowded places like Mumbai and Bangalore. You can sense a latent hostility in native Bangaloreans towards outsiders. And why the hostility? Just because he is a newcomer to “their” city. So, who is to stop us from feeling hostile towards some German guy who loves Indian culture and wants to settle here? If there is an Indian war against Germany, you know which innocent bystander is going to face the brunt here.

  10. Siddharth says:


    I saw your point in the start of your post…that’s the one I was addressing – i.e. how can you clump nationalism with inherently sub-national phenomena? The same is true on the global stage – regional solidarity movements are a response to globalization [The EU; NAFTA; MERCOSUR etc]. In short: nationalism is purported to be a unifying force, while casteism, linguistic differences and regionalism are all divisive phenomenon – thus putting them all under the same title is a bit problematic.

  11. @hmm: Thanks for commenting to keep me encouraged :)

    Your point illustrates why I advocate freedom in choices. Yes, nationalism to an extent is natural owing to the noble views associated with it. Also, all major sporting events involve supporting teams of one’s own nation. But, the example which you gave, it basically hinted at curbing a person’s choice to support the team of his/her choice. If she wants to support Sri Lanka, no one should hinder that! It should not be natural to expect everyone to support teams from their own country/state/city!

  12. @Siddharth: Dude, you have got me totally wrong. Integrating movements that you talk of are largely motivated by economic compulsions – EU because of the need to fight American dominance, NAFTA to ensure free trade within NorthAm, SAARC too had a largely economic, and to some extent, cultural motives. Economic movements, consolidations or disintegrations are totally harmless in the funadmentalist sense I am talking about. The kind of nationalistic movments that I was referring to are the ones that spur the neo-Nazi attacks in Germany or the anti-immigrant righ-wing in Austria. These are what are dangerous and against all basic tenets of humanism.

  13. Lin says:

    Re nationalism, I’d like to submit a quite poignant quote. Actually, it’s more of a confession …

    “Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind. And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind has closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry. Rather, the citizenry, infused with fear and blinded by patriotism, will offer up all of their rights unto the leader and gladly so. How do I know? For this is what I have done. And I am Caesar.”

    – Julius Caesar

    I think that about says it all.

    Lin ~

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