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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 42, New Delhi, October 2, 2021

Patriotism is not Blind Nationalism | M R Narayan Swamy

Friday 1 October 2021, by M R Narayan Swamy

The Psychology of a Patriot

Saket Suman

Rupa

10th August 2021

Pages: 240 pages; Price: Rs 295

ISBN: 978-93-91256-39-5

A very superficial and outward idea of patriotism has been introduced into people’s lives and implanted in brains in India, so much so that gestures such as chanting anthems and waving flags are now used to define a patriot. This is how, author-journalist Saket Suman says, patriotism has historically been manipulated by political and vested interests and powers that be. Succinctly delving into Indian history from the independence struggle, Suman warns that patriotism is today being turned into hero worship in the country.

When India fought the British Raj, patriotism was not just an idea but a call to action that would lead towards swaraj. Mahatma Gandhi knew that patriotism was vulnerable and, to ensure that its vulnerability was not exploited, he always disagreed with the use of violence in the name of patriotism. His strictness led to two stands of patriotism: one, the Gandhian view which held, among other things, that Muslims of the day were not responsible for the errors of the past, and the other – broadly called Hindutva – which held the opposite to be true. In other words, two sets of people held two contrasting ideas of India. Suman underlines that patriotism is not nationalism, and also patriotism and religion don’t go well together.

Once two varying thoughts of what India ought to be came into play, patriotism came to mean different things to people ideologically. Today, one can find people who think that patriotism as it exists in our society is nothing but another form of blind nationalism. People may also feel less and less patriotic when they realize that they are not loved by their fellow countrymen. “The more oppression there is, the more are the threats to patriotism.” There is another section, tied to the ruling party, which feels that anything that the leader does or says must be supported, otherwise one is not a patriot.

If dissent during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency regime was deemed patriotism, today’s dissenters are dubbed “anti-national” and their patriotism is questioned. But those who framed the constitution were in no doubt that criticizing the government of the day was not an anti-national act. Patriotism, Suman says, is not akin to blind hero worship of a given leader. One’s religious identity must not be a determining factor of patriotism. Patriotism also means remaining conscious that lust and greed to acquire political power may give way to fascist tendencies. Jingoism, warns the book, crushes dissent and rational thinking in the name of blind patriotism.

Suman minces no words when he turns to the Modi regime, accusing it of indulging in open divisive policies in the name of patriotism, turning what began as hope with his electoral victory in 2014 into desperation. Narendra Modi used patriotism as the epicenter of his obnoxiously costly election campaign. The power of hyperboles and rhetoric that were multiplied by the rise of social media curbed people’s ability to see through things with sanity and rational thinking. Slowly, unprecedented vitriol became a matter of everyday news cycle. The country plunged into unimaginable intolerance, hate and bigotry. It was a brutal desecration of India’s inclusive character. All this was done in the name of so-called patriotism. In contrast to what Mahatma Gandhi preached, Modi’s core voters drew satisfaction from the suffering of their Muslim brethren.

Patriotism was used as a weapon to attack critics even on an issue like demonetization, which was carried out against the advice of informed economists and which eventually led to economic chaos. A society constantly fed on hatred for the other cannot generate positivity, so essential for growth. No wonder, the Indian rupee has taken a huge beating, businessmen are sick and tired of being looked upon as criminals, there is a steep rise in crimes against women and Indian farmers are in distress. More jobs have been lost, more businesses have shut down and more public sector undertakings are on sale. But people ingrained with patriotism fought back although the government refused to bend on any issue. Suman has the final word: “Patriots should behave as patriots, and they should call a spade a spade, a lie a lie.”

Although on a different canvas, this is the second important book I have read this week after journalist-author Josy Joseph’s “The Silent Coup”. Students of politics will find “The Psychology of a Patriot” immensely useful.

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