Nationalism- The new opium of the masses

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In a classroom discussion a few days ago, my teacher couldn’t help but express the sheer disbelief she felt when some of her own relatives spoke about how those refusing to chant “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” should be slain to death. She, however, argued, that the one good thing about this debate is the unveiling of the previously disguised jingoists and pseudo-secularists.

The problem here, isn’t whether or not I want to chant those four words, because, honestly, I am as inconsequential as any piece of hollow sloganeering, whether those of “Azadi” or those exalting a nation to a high and mighty pedestal, by virtue of which, you get blinded to its shortcomings.

One of the popular (read: controversial) definitions of Nationalism as quoted by Merriam-Webster describes the emotion as “a desire by a large group of people to form a separate and an independent nation of their own.” So in a sense, the emotion evoked by the Kashmiri separatists, or those demanding a secession of the northeastern states or even those in Punjab seeking to create the independent state of Khalistan are all, in fact, strains of nationalism. Or is it only nationalism when it suits your definition, the one your ancestors very conveniently passed down while simultaneously imploring you to apply for an American visa because “Is desh me toh kuch nhi rakha hai”?

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The ability to identify a group of individuals as your own, to protect and nurture them, to call them your “brethren” is actually, a very beautiful thing. But I cannot help but question, if that’s what nationalism, or the conceived notion of the term, really stands for. Is a nation only an amorphous piece of land, and not the people on it? And if it is really the people, why does that love and feeling of brotherhood have to desist and cease to exist at an arbitrary line on the map? If you acknowledge your nation as a “mother”, why isn’t the whole earth your mother? The one common mother all of us share, regardless of our other, inherent differences. Maybe the day, our ideals of nationalism will stop being at loggerheads with our ideals of humanity, we will become true ‘nationalists’.

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Don’t question the judiciary, don’t question the police, and don’t question the bureaucracy. No, not because they are “honorable”, but mostly because you don’t want another unsolicited ticket to the neighboring nation. That, right there, is where the problem lies. Karl Marx once said, “Religion is the opium of the masses.” The moment we start being overly defensive about our nation like it is bereft of flaws, we start acknowledging it as yet another kind of religion. When that happens, the next obvious consequence is the pitfall of bigotry previously only limited to religion, now becomes rabidly associated with nationalism.

It is only that bigotry that can lead to the chief minister of Maharashtra to say that “those unwilling to say Bharat Mata Ki Jai must leave the country”. No really, how can you possibly justify that? It is no more just the fringe making the provocations, the fringe is now the center.
The issue isn’t Bharat Mata Ki Jai, or at least, shouldn’t be. Every day, there are umpteen farmer suicides that we very conveniently don’t talk about. Out of Maharashtra’s 43,000 villages, an estimated 27,723 are affected by drought. Too mundane, or just not sensational enough to address, Mr. Fadnavis?

No, I refuse to be a subject of your “false choice” when you ask me to choose between those guarding the borders and the students of JNU. You know why? Because both are very much a part of my “Bharat” and I acknowledge both as my fellow countrymen. Don’t let your love for the country become yet another reason to hate. Your country deserves better, the men residing in it are worth a lot more.

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