With ‘Har Ghar Tiranga’, ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ and all the pomp associated with the celebration of Indian Independence Day this year, the Government of India led by the Prime Minister and the ruling BJP tried whipping up the patriotic fervor and nationalism. How successful? Well, different people will have different opinions and this column is not about answering that question but an attempt to offer a cursory look at Indian nationalism and an opinion on what it is morphing into. Now, before going any further, it must be said that while patriotism and nationalism are often used interchangeably or as synonymous to each other, the two terms are actually different from each other. In simple words, patriotism refers to devotion to a particular place and involves social conditioning and personal opinions while nationalism involves national identity and a superior feeling towards one’s own nation. Nationalism means to give more importance to unity by way of a cultural background, including language and heritage. Patriotism pertains to the love for a nation, with more emphasis on values and beliefs. The concept of a ‘nation’ is another topic altogether, though.


In the words of American journalist Sydney J. Harris, “The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does.” A nationalist believes that his country is the best because he lives in it while a patriot believes that his country is the best but there is always room for improvement. A nationalist puts more importance on unity through a shared cultural background but a patriot puts more importance on unity through shared values. This is not to say that nationalism is all bad and evil. In fact, there can be no national unity without nationalism. The problem arises when this nationalism morphs into something else. There is a fine line between nationalism and chauvinism. The world has much to learn from Indian nationalism; a nation that freed itself from the yoke of imperialism through non-violence and is today respected as the biggest democracy in the world. Unfortunately, Indian nationalism is being slowly but evidently hijacked by Hindu nationalism. There are fundamentalists infiltrating the government, judiciary, academia and media in India today. Hindutva ideologues are now occupying top offices in the country and the upper echelons of power. Hindu nationalism in the garb of Indian nationalism is rearing its head and it is there for everybody to see. Calls for establishing a Hindu Rashtra in India are getting bolder. Akhand Bharat or Akhand Hindustan, a geopolitical concept of Hindu nationalism that posits present-day India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet Autonomous Region, Sri Lanka and Myanmar is one nation is being openly advocated. Bharatvarsha, the Hindu nationalist concept of a Hindustan state encompassing the whole Indian sub-continent is similarly propounded. Indian nationalism, as can be seen, is being morphed into Hindu nationalism powered by Hindu majoritarianism.

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