In the age of militant nationalism, the discourse of standardized patriotism is filled with brute power and associated hostility towards the invented ‘enemies’. As the author critiques this sort of patriotism, the possibility of a more inclusive and life-affirming worldview begins to emerge.
Avijit Pathak is a Professor of Sociology at JNU, New Delhi.
I have no hesitation in saying that those who are gifted with the moral power of love and vision of spiritual unity…will be the fittest to take their permanent place in the age that is lying before us, and those who are constantly developing their instinct of fight and intolerance of aliens will be eliminated. – Rabindranath Tagore
[dropcap]C[/dropcap]elebrate the Republic Day, dear friends; but be aware of the industry that manufactures and standardizes patriotism. Yes, here it is with its loud symbolism and aggressive propaganda; and it seems determined to find its consumers. As a ‘product’, patriotism needs three things: (a) ‘brand ambassadors’ who sell it with great intensity; (b) ‘ideal consumers’ who are absolutely loyal to the product; and (c) the ‘packaging’ that speaks of the ‘gains’ of the product. Now think of it. The likes of Mr.Narendra Modi and Mr.Amit Shah are its ‘gifted’ ambassadors; their fiery speeches, melodramatic performances and catchy gestures seek to convince the consumers of the ‘reliability’ of the product. Furthermore, the ‘loyal’ children of the much-hyped ‘Bharat Mata’ willing to protect the ‘holy cow’ at any cost, the army generals charming us with the spectacle of the ‘surgical strike’, and the angry ‘sadhus’ determined to build the Ram temple at Ayodhya-these ‘ideal consumers’ of standardized ‘patriotism’are celebrated, talked about and projected as ‘reference models’. And finally, the ‘packaging’ of this product is quite visible-Virat Kohli’s aggressive cricket, Arnav Goswami’s television-induced nationalism and Mukesh Ambani’s ‘gift’ to the nation: Jio India.
Manufacturing violence: anti-feminine, anti-spiritual patriotism
As it is argued by the champions of the industry, the gains of the ‘product’ are many. ‘Patriotism’ is everywhere: we breathe it, smell it, drink it, eat it, consume it. No wonder, street children are selling the flags in the national capital to earn some money for mere survival. Buy a flag, and be ‘patriotic’! We feel ‘proud’. Here is an ‘assertive’ Prime Minister-not like the ‘accidental’ Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh; we are learning to ‘honor’ the army, and realizing the value of the ‘militarization’ of the consciousness; we have eventually succeeded in giving a tough lesson to the ‘Muslim invaders’; and we have mastered the technique of sharpening the surveillance machinery that can identify the team of ‘urban Naxals’ and ‘anti-national’ rights activists, and send them to jail with unbelievable promptness. Moreover, it is said to have a magical power; it can give us ‘good days’; it can enable us to travel in ‘bullet trains’, and do shopping in ‘smart cities’. Yes, as it is said, we are ‘safe’ and ‘secure’.
However, once you come out of the propaganda machinery, and begin to see the ‘product’, you realize how dangerous and life-killing this ‘patriotism industry’ has become. First, as I would argue, it is anti-feminine. With its inherent narcissism, hyper-masculine aggression and militaristic outlook, it kills the positive life-energy of the feminine: its maternal care, its organic connectedness with the rhythm of nature, and its spirit of love. Instead, it divides and excludes, causes hatred and spreads poison. Amit Shah frightens the Muslims; Yogi Adityanath misses no opportunity to humiliate them; and in the name of invoking the ‘Bharat Mata’, it only reinforces the brute ‘masculine’ power of the perpetuators of cow vigilantism and mob lynching.
Second, it is anti-spiritual. Even though the ‘patriotism industry’ sees religion everywhere-from Prayag Raj to Ayodhya, from Patanjali products to Sadhguru’s ‘inner engineering’, and from a proposal to give pension to the ‘sadhus’ to the act of rewriting history, it kills the soul of religion-I mean its spirituality. It is merely an ideology through which it seeks to legitimize its discourse of nationalism. No wonder, even though it misses no opportunity to appropriate, say, ‘Hindu’ icons and symbols, it is essentially an anti-thesis of Mira’s love, Kabir’s lightness of being and Ramakrishna’s ecstasy. Love disappears; and ‘patriotism’ acquires a negative meaning–the assertion of the sword.
For instance, as a cricketer I may be bought as a commodity by the likes of Shah Rukh Khan and Priti Zinta; and yet, if I defeat Pakistan in the proxy war called cricket, who can prevent me from getting the ‘Padma Bhushan’? I am a true patriot! Or for that matter, I escape from my work, evade the payment of the income tax; but I hate the ‘stone pelters’ in Kashmir, the Muslim clergy with the visible identity markers, and ask the dissenters to leave India, and move to Pakistan, who can refute my patriotism?
Anti-feminine. Anti-spiritual. Here is the patriotism filled with hatred and violence. What else can you expect from an industry? Honey Singh is anti-musical, even though he is a successful product of the ‘music industry’. Likewise, the product of the ‘patriotism industry’ is hollow and toxic.
Redefining patriotism: love, resistance and prayer
I critique this all-pervading ‘patriotism industry’. But then, I cherish another kind of patriotism; and I wish to share its possibilities with the readers. My patriotism is based on four positive qualities. First, it reaffirms the power of love; and love is impossible without acknowledging the spirit of differences. Yes, despite being a Hindu, I see the living presence of other faiths. And this very acknowledgement of our uniqueness and specificity enables me to experience the deeper spiritual unity of all. Hence, my Muslim students enter my inner world; my Christian friends share my intellectual landscape; the Red Fort as well as the heritage of Ajanta and EIllora fascinate me with equal intensity; and like Gandhi I find no difficulty in drawing my inspiration from the Upanishads as well as the Sermon on the Mount, from Kalidas as well as Rumi.
Second, it makes me believe that love is inseparable from dissent. To love is to resist all that promotes violence, division and exploitation. Hence, my patriotism is not hostile to Marx’s critical consciousness-the way he opened our eyes, and enabled us to see and interrogate the roots of exploitation and alienation. Hence, to critique the crony capitalism, the dramatic rise of the Ambanis and the Adanis, and the project of ‘development’ that displaces and marginalizes the adivasis and farmers ought to be seen as an integral part of patriotism.
Third, my patriotism, far from worshiping the nation merely as a bounded territory, attaches more importance to real/living people-their existential needs and happiness. What do I do by conquering Kashmir if I lose its people? Likewise, true wellbeing is not possible if there is patriarchal violence or casteist hierarchy or communal hatred. Hence, my patriotism feels the anguish of Ambedkar,the pain of Saadat Hasan Manto, the sensitivity of Munshi Premchand, and the poetry of Amrita Pritam. Far from coercing people to believe in the abstracted notion of the nation-state, it feels the need of winning their hearts through positive and culturally empowering socio-political practices. It is politico-ethical, not militaristic.
Fourth, my patriotism,far from being spectacular like Virat Kohli’s century or Mr.Modi’s new reservation policy as a ‘masterstroke’ , is extraordinarily simple: the way an ambulance driver disturbs his sleep, and makes it possible to send a patient to a hospital, or the way a baul singer awakens us in a local train in Bengal. My patriotism does not necessarily require a flag, or a loud declaration that ‘I am a nationalist, and I hate Pakistan’ because all that is beautiful happens in silence.
Hence, dear friends, on this special day even when you are watching the gorgeous parade symbolizing the techno-military power of the state, don’t forget to contemplate on what really sustains us: the love that connects, breaks divisions, heals the wound and remains musical.