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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Excess of nationalism in India

CNN is carrying out a week long feature called “Eye on India”, as part of which they are interviewing people below 25 in India. Though most of the interviews are carried out in posh Delhi locations, one can ignore the bias and say that as is emerging from the interviews and everything else around India is that India is going through a phase of extreme nationalism. People appearing on these interviews almost totally discount the severe problems that beset India: extreme poverty for almost 300mn of our people, casteism, religious discord, illiteracy, etc. Newspapers like Economic Times so obviously try to sell their papers by publishing extremely optimistic reports on the front page. Indian media goes all gung-ho as Shilpa Shetty wins at Big Brother and Liz Hurley marries an Indian. And all this is so clearly in display during the World cup cricket: extreme reactions at any result, calls for throwing out the foreign coach, advertisements that so blatantly leverage “Indianness” with their simplistic rabble-rousing.

One may say what’s the problem with that, dude? Knock, knock… Here are my problems. Nationalism immediately calls for sacrifices, sacrifices from others. How many of us believe that the only way to eradicate poverty is to demolish slums? How many of us are able to empathize with the residents at Nandigram as they are asked to overcome the uncertainty of leaving their land from generations to make way for an unknown future in the name of national economic development? How many of us jump at suggestions that blame IITians leaving India for all our problems? Yes, nationalism leads to simplification of problems: any unrest is deemed to be due to Pakistan’s ISI. Given the vagueness attached with the concept itself, it also fosters belief in other irrationalities in the name of glorifying old local traditions: local religions, regressive tele novellas, etc. And nationalism always exerts a gravitational pull to ponder only the positives while totally ignoring the negatives: How many of us have ever wondered whether the security forces did all things right in our militancy-troubled states?

My fundamental problem with nationalism and any such tribal feeling is with placing on a higher pedestal something or someone from my own country, which implicitly means having lesser regard for others, for no other reason than that the former’s place of origin and my birth was within the same borders in a map. I would really like to hear some better reasons for pursuing this feeling. One doesn’t need to recall the wars caused by nationalism in the last century. Given that both India and China are going through the excess of it now, how far are we from the next war?

1 comment:

Sudipta Chatterjee said...

Really nice post --- and agree with every word. Towards the end you make the case of the next war looming large: I believe it is already happening. When the VHP activists burn shops on Valentine's Day to protect the culture, when the police shoot indiscriminately in Nandigram, the war is already upon us. You point out something very important: to place something on a pedestal with a tribal savage fervour immediately makes us what we so vehemently try to preach against.