Debating the pitfalls of patriotism

By TANVEER UL ISLAM

Samuel Johnson once said, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”. Often, the Indian media, electronic or social, is abuzz with a debate as to who is nationalist or loyal towards the nation and who is anti-national. I can’t decide if I am a nationalist or anti-national? I can’t even open my facebook page or twitter because everywhere I see an atmosphere of hate and hostility. The situation is so bad that supporting or cheering any other cricket team can land you in jail or make you face violence. Especially if it is a side in a green jersey, most probably you might be slapped with sedition charges. But the irony is that that team is habitual in disappointing its fans back home, so I feel pity for them.
But what haunts me the most is that today everything ends with being nationalist or antagonistic. Be it beef eating, intolerance, Indo-Pak cricket, the Afzal Guru issue or Yakub Memon hanging, the politics of chanting slogans etc, all end in rants of being Rashtriyavadi (Nationalist) or Deshdrohi (Traitor). I can only laugh.
Some politicians and news anchors have created a vicious circle in our society which is already struggling with infections of crime and corruption. This would not surprise many as this is precisely the classical way of doing politics in India and polarising the situation. The million dollar question is: what exactly is nationalism? Where does this concept come from and who has given the right to any person to brand someone as nationalist or anti-national?
There are two “companies” in India that will give me a certificate of being a true patriot or secular. If I want the certificate of being a patriot, then the BJP and RSS is the company, and if I want the certificate of secularism then the Congress will judge me. It is hilarious, and at the same time humiliating, when a group of people wearing white shirts and khaki shorts labels anyone a traitor or patriot. The recent ruckus and hullabaloo in JNU over a few students raising slogans has changed almost the entire melodrama of politics India.
The sloganeering that we witnessed in JNU, where some students protested the hanging of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat, was unprecedented to many in India, but in Kashmir this is popular discourse and a normal thing. The whole saga that followed made for an insane debate. TV journos and news anchors, who behaved like judges in a media trial over the incident, forgot the basic rule in any case that one is innocent till proven guilty. Journalists who should have been asking about issues of the aam admi, like employment, poverty, suicides of farmers, basic amenities etc, instead joined in this pogrom of branding people.
We saw how doctored videos went viral and how the government and police started witch-hunting a few students on the basis of false allegations as if they were most-wanted outlaws. Alas, the same police never act when criminals roam free, when corrupt politicians and big business tycoons are given a clean chit and escape easily. One may or may not subscribe to the slogans raised at JNU, but isn’t there a space for voices of dissent? This is the question that needs to be answered.
The whole narrative is being built on slogans that called for ‘breaking of India’ and Azadi for Kashmir etc; but isn’t it a fact that such slogans are raised by millions of Kashmiris every single day? So will you lock up the entire Valley or brand everyone a traitor? One cannot shy away from the fact that there is huge anger and alienation among the people of Kashmir. The sentiment of secession is deeply rooted in Kashmir. Then why this drama over a few slogans in JNU? Can a few students break a nation of more than one billion?
History is witness to the fact that the RSS never took any part in the entire freedom struggle of India. Never did they shed a drop of blood for the movement. In fact they openly glorify Hitler and Mussolini and what they did in Germany and Italy. They have a fascist ideology and it’s not a hidden fact. Now, the same people branding others anti-national or patriotic is a matter of national shame. The RSS has never unfurled the tricolor at their headquarters in Nagpur, it’s nowhere present in their rallies, so what nationalism are they talking about? Their sermon on nationalism is hard to swallow.
If I talk about self-determination in Kashmir do I become traitor? Then let me ask a few questions to these people in khaki-chaddis: would you call Nehru an anti-national for promising a plebiscite to people of J&K? Will you demand sedition charges against the incumbent Punjab CM who burnt the Indian Constitution in 1984? Recall the maiden speech of Anna Durai, the founder of AIADMK, in Parliament, when he demanded the separation of south India and called for a plebiscite there? How will you label him? What is your opinion on Rabindranath Tagore as he was openly and vociferously against this so-called notion of nationalism? BJP is again in a love-tangle with PDP in J&K; why don’t the RSS and Sangh Parivar ask them to clear their stand on Afzal Guru? We all know PDP said that Afzal Guru’s hanging was a travesty of justice and called him a martyr, though it was only to gain sympathy in Kashmir against an unpopular government of Omar Abdullah and primarily to keep the BJP out of the Valley. Why such double standards? Show your nationalism and patriotism and break the alliance with PDP if you have the guts!
The idea of nationalism was unknown to the world before the 19thcentury, but today anyone claiming to be patriot with a flag in hand can come and lynch you or ask you to vacate a country. If people were such patriots why they did not come on the roads when the 2G scam surfaced? Why were Congress supporters silent when Coalgate scam and Commonwealth scam happened? Why did BJP supporters not rise against the government over the Vyapam scam?
Today, if you want to show your love for a country then work, contribute to the nation’s economy. Be a fortress against corruption and pay your taxes on time with honesty. All other things have become obsolete and void in today’s digital world. This debate of slogans and branding people needs to be shunned as people are fed up with dirty politics and communal hatred. Let good sense prevail and let there be equal space for voices of dissent. That’s what a true democracy is all about!

—The writer is an MBA student in Panipat

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