What does it mean to be Indian enough? For me, it’s wanting the country I was born in to strive. It means to feel safe and welcome and to make everyone else feel the same, especially given the “unity in diversity” factor. Hence, it comes with both appreciation and criticism for the way things function in my country, for the way its people are governed. However, I know for a fact that it does not signify anywhere near the same for the people that hold power today.
The idea of nationalism has been centric to a large number of historic events that we read about in school, be it the French revolution, the World Wars, Indian independence, and countless others. It was seen as the great unifying force against foreign powers or invasions on one’s ‘motherland’. As nations began to grow, the definition of so-called nationalism also began to evolve. When one tries to look up its definition, one will find endless versions of the same concept: identification with one’s nation. How we define this identification, and what the criteria for adhering to the true means of nationalism are, differs not just from nation to nation, but from person to person.
Before COVID-19 struck the world, our society had become a victim of two other pandemics – religiosity and strident nationalism asserts Mohd. Hamid Ansari, former Vice President of India. These words are increasingly relevant in today’s day and age, where we see a great deal of divisive issues arising – all in the name of nationalism. The government has unofficially set certain prerequisites for its people to pass as a nationalist. More importantly, any form of dissent or critique clearly seems to go against these unsaid protocols of being a ‘true’ Indian.
When we look at the recent leadership in both the United States of America and India, we see the alignment of nationalism with the idea of purity of the nation. This idea is often associated with slogans like “Make America Great Again” or the promise of “Achhe Din” (good days are coming). These words are aimed to bring people from all walks of life under a single umbrella of nationhood, which is a noble idea. However, it strips down people of their individual identities when put in perspective. At the end of the day, the diversity in both these countries deserves to be celebrated. But this very idea of so-called purity hinders the celebration of our differences.
The increased intolerance towards any form of dispute has given rise to the need to give nationalism a single definition. The trend of labeling people as anti-national is not something new undertaken by the current government in India. It had been in place under earlier post-independence regimes as well. While it played an important role in our history, today’s idea of being a nationalist is inclined towards a more majoritarian and homogeneous form. This is evident through the restrictions on the boxes we check for someone to prove that they are ‘patriotic’ or ‘Indian enough’.
Another way we see the imposition is through the efforts being made to wipe out what are said to be foreign legacies – be it the names of cities, certain monuments, and the list goes on. It seems as if there existed ‘Hindustan’ as a self-sufficient nation before the ‘invaders’ came in. However, historically, everyone living here is an invader in one way or another. It is impossible to wipe out all ‘foreign influences’ for the culmination of all of these has resulted in what we call India today. From being home to the Seventh Wonder of the World to the ardent cricket mania – the most ‘Indian’ one can get, they all have the touch of an outsider.
Moreover, the introduction of strict documentation with the likes of the Citizenship Amendment Act along with the National Register of Citizens pushes the agenda forward. While these are all explained to be in the interest of the people, the reaction to the opposition faced by the concept of these initiatives depicts a very fragile sense of patriotism. The fact that it can be challenged so easily and cannot stand objection from people itself goes against the idea of unity.
When we think of strident nationalism, we come to terms with how dangerous its implications are these days. The constant comparison and some sort of exigency to assert the dominance of ‘my’ nation over the other nurtures a state of worldwide disharmony. While not intended so, it still makes peaceful cooperation (both internal and external), mutually exclusive to the idea of nationalism.
Hence, we struggle to identify with what the word really means to us. What is required of me to avoid being called an anti-national? Is it necessary to sing the national anthem whenever asked to? Is it a given for me to agree with my government every step of the way? Is it making choices or having preferences for something simply because it’s Indian? None of these should be set in stone. For no one holds the power to dictate to me what my ideal identity is, in order for me to be a real ‘nationalist’.