A parochial, selfish, narrow-minded nationalism has caused so much misfortune and misery to the world

An important speech by A.P. Shah, former chairman of the 20th Law Commission of India and former chief justice of the Delhi high court.starts by quoting a remark made by M N Roy in 1942: “A parochial, selfish, narrow-minded nationalism has caused so much misfortune and misery to the world. A mad and exaggerated form of this cult of nationalism is today running rampant….”

Unfortunately, however, our institutions of learning are under attack today and there is a concerted attempt to destroy any independent thought. Today, sadly, in this country I love, if anyone holds a view that is different from the government’s “acceptable” view, they are immediately dubbed as “anti-national” or “deshdrohi”. This marker of “anti-national” is used to intimidate and browbeat voices of dissent and criticism, and, more worryingly, can be used to slap criminal charges of sedition against them…
Rabindranath Tagore, the composer of the Indian national anthem, had even more radical views on nationalism. He believed that a fervent love for the nation represented a conviction of national superiority and a glorification of cultural heritage, which in turn was used to justify narrow-minded national interest. Writing in 1917, Tagore said, “When this organisation of politics and commerce, whose other name is the Nation, becomes all powerful at the cost of the harmony of higher social life, then it is an evil day for humanity.” He thus cautioned against such an exclusionary and self-aggrandising form of nationalism that was based on a hate culture against an imagined or actual Other, who was viewed as the enemy…
…As religious nationalism, it endorses the two-nation theory, which envisages a nation under Hindu rule, a Hindu rashtra in Akhand Bharat (a United India). This is premised on the belief that only a Hindu can claim the territory of British India as a land of their ancestry, i.e. pitribhumi, and the land of their religion, i.e. the punyabhumi. As Vinayak Damodar Sarvakar propounded, “Hindu rashtra (state), Hindu jati (race) and Hindu sanskriti (culture).” Muslims and Christians are viewed as foreigners, who are not indigenous to the territory of India, and whose religion originated in a separate holy land.
…India is a diverse country and people hold different views about nationalism, the idea of India and our place in the world. We must respect these differences, not silence those who hold a different view on nationalism and patriotism for the country. Elevating only a single view – one that idolises the nation and staunchly rejects any internal or external criticism – will only polarise citizens against each other.
At the end of the day, it is important to question – what is the defining characteristic of a nation? Is it the territorial boundary or the collection of people that is a country’s defining feature…
Our early nationalist leaders too, from Raja Rammohan Roy to Bal Gangadhar Tilak, made the grant of civil liberties to ordinary Indians an integral part of the national movement….
Enforced nationalism cannot promote true culture. When a culture is arbitrarily prescribed and foisted, freedom of the creative spirit of man disappears or is suppressed. Only free souls can create abiding cultural values; they may physically belong to one particular class or geographically to a particular country; spiritually, they transcend all social and territorial limitations.
It has long been known that suppressing and censoring people’s speech will not remove the underlying simmering sentiment. In fact, it will only serve to alienate that section of the population further. If we have to give true meaning to the prime minister’s promise of “sabka saath, sabka vikaas” then we must celebrate not only those who profess affection for the state, but also those, who believe that change is necessary or injustice is being committed. We cannot have an Orwellian situation, where the government speaks in one language, but then fails to walk the talk. After all, as Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
The strength of a nation is not gauged by the uniformity of opinion of its citizens or a public profession of patriotism. The true strength of a nation is revealed when it does not feel threatened by its citizens expressing revolutionary views; when there is a free and open press that can criticise the government; and when citizens do not resort to violence against their fellow citizens, merely for expressing a contrary view. That is when we will have achieved liberty of speech. And that is when we will be truly free.

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