OPinion@The Hush Post| 6:36 pm|
Let’s begin with not the definition but the chronology of the definitions of two words nationalist and anti-nationalist. I am writing about it since these two words have suddenly acquired currency in the theatre of Indian politics and life. The word nationalism does not have a date of birth to it. In that sense it was orphaned at its birth. Almost like an old illiterate man who does not know his date of birth or even year. But he has a name.
According to American philosopher Hans Kohn, the word first came into existence somewhere in the 17th century much before France and America came into existence. Other sources variously place its birth to 18th century. But nationalism is like a misunderstood child or like an Attention Deficit Hyper Syndrome child or Arnab Goswami. This means that when a nation like the ADHD child says, “Look-at-us, look-at-us We-are-Germans, we-are-great, We-are-Indians, we-are-great,” one seldom turns around. Just as silent waters run deep, screaming nations scream and people look the other way.
Four elements make a nation — People, territory, government and sovereignty
To understand the word national, let’s find out the chronology of its origin. It originates from the word Nation? Nation has four elements: Territory, population, government and sovereignty.
Territory or country is lifeless in the human sense of understanding, though it is a near-perfect idea or a construct to live a safe and secure life. Safety and security bring the next element of the nation into argument: Sovereignty, which is paramount to it. It is again an abstract noun or a construct discovered to declare the mental and geographical limits of your freedom.
People or population is what brings life to concepts like territory and sovereignty. And of course, it is people who form the fourth element of a nation called the government, which governs the territory and determine its sovereignty.
However, unlike nationalism, its antithesis anti-national is not a destitute. It has a definite date of birth. It first came into existence in 1759. And people keep it alive not to protect the nation but to redefine it to suit their political needs and fulfill their aspirations.
Who should be called an anti-national?
The question now is who should be called an anti-national? Essentially, someone who is against the existence of the people, the very ones, who are at the centre of the country or territory, who infuse life to it by forming the government and protect its sovereignty.
Here it does not mean one ideology or the other but wouldn’t it be relevant to ask a different question: If not singing national anthem amounts to being an anti-national, if siding for a reasonable cause of moderate Muslims is anti-national, if any argument against the government qualifies as anti-national, if any argument against the ruling party amounts to being anti-national, then possibly anyone who lives in a house with six Air-Conditioners or anyone possessing three luxury cars could also qualify as one.
While the former four are abstract ideas — singing or arguing for or against; the latter two are concrete ideas since they encourage material inequality in the nation and create psychological disparity which ultimately leads to sadness and gloom among the majority have-nots.
Let’s try and hold the nose the other way round: Anyone who buys a BMW or a high-priced luxury car, and remember, because possibly part of the money that one spends on buying such a car may indirectly be used to re-carpet the roads of Bavaria, the birthplace of BMW cars in Germany, can’t such an act by such people be termed as being anti-national? Aren’t they contributing to building roads of another country rather than their own? Though, I don’t agree but am trying to titillate you into a thought or a possible argument, even though at the risk of being called naive.
These constructs are flexible & always changing
So like a house or a family or a nation or anti-national, abstract constructs are quite flexible. Some Indian citizens may be psychologically Indian, others may be spiritually Indian, yet others could be practically Indian, others could be half Indians or quarter so on and so forth.
Nobel-prize winner of Economics in 2019, Abhijeet Banerjee says that he lives in the US but he is psychologically an Indian, or a Bengali. No doubt, the dhoti he wore while accepting the Nobel Prize proved what he said.
So let me randomly ask what is Mukesh Ambani ‘s nationality? Here treat Ambani as a metaphor for all the Richie rich of India. Of course, he is an Indian. He definitely must have felt proud when MS Dhoni hit the winning six in 2011 cricket World Cup. But is that all that is required to be an Indian?
Well, that may qualify him to be an Indian, mostly in his head and on papers. And the soldier who fought Kargil war, Mohammad Sanaullah may be an Indian under-scrutiny or not-an-Indian-on-papers. In other words, as Mr Banerjee mentions himself, let’s ask of Mr Ambani: Does Ambani psychologically feel like an Indian? Does he feel the psychological pinch of a farmer, who is contemplating suicide, or an unemployed youth who can’t find a job, or an average ailing senior citizen who doesn’t have 1000th portion of the money Ambani spent for his son’s wedding?
Ambani may call himself an Indian. And yes, he definitely would have an Adhaar Card before all of us; he may have his name in the voters’ list, he may know how to sing the national anthem. But does this qualify him and people of his ilk psychologically and mentally Indian enough? Or better yet nationalist enough. You decide.
As far as Mr Ambani — the actual and metaphorical is concerned — his India is an abstract construct; he is free and rich enough to make. A peek into his India was visible at his son’s wedding as the guests poured in and which included former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, former England Prime Minister, Tony Blair, former UN Secretary-General Ban-ki Moon, Chairman and CEO of Bank of America, Brian Moynihan among others. That’s the India, Ambani, the man and the metaphor lives in. And that is not your India. And your India is not his India.
While nationalism prospers as an idea despite it having been orphaned at birth, people do get cured of it as they read, travel and meet people of strange nationalities. And as you read and travel and see the world and appreciate, there is a fair bit of possibility that you will appreciate the stranger and his country and be possibly called an anti-national by the mofussil man, who rules you at home. Not his fault, pardon him.