Years before India became independent, and the freedom struggle was in its full sway, Tagore had written about its downside in his book “Nationalism” published in 1917. As he rightly proclaimed, it was neither a nation's agenda nor a part of human history to choose between the vagueness of cosmopolitanism and the fierce behavior of blind-sided nation-worship. India was never a nation before the British invaded its roots through scientific and systematic methods. India paid more attention to spirituality and societal relationships rather than concerning herself with the notions of a united kingdom or a single nation. However, that changed when western civilization influenced and corroded her roots.
He dreamt of an India where citizens will enjoy equal rights, live with dignity and fearlessly. In his book ‘Nationalism’, he warned people against the negative consequences of militant Nationalism, using the examples of Japan and western countries. Nationalism and the promulgation of a nation are beneficial only as long as it ensures the welfare of all the people living in it and safeguards their rights. During the first half of the 20th Century, we witnessed the alignment of Nationalism with rising militant sentiments. Nations like Japan, Germany, and China experienced propaganda to increase nationalist sentiments within their population. They promoted militant nationalism in the form of wars and invasions to achieve their goals. Huge armies, navy and air force, and large-scale destruction was employed to achieve nationalistic goals at the cost of human lives and welfare.
The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are witness to another instance of extreme Nationalism, where the integrity of nations was held before human lives. According to archives, more than 2 lakh casualties took place in these two places and many later generations experienced the after-effects of the radioactivity. In such historical cases, groups of people forget the basic universality of human lives and regiment themselves based on parts of identity, overlooking the larger identity as humans. One of the most inhumane campaigns that were a part of German militant nationalism during the world wars was the alignment of racial identity to Nationalism.
In Germany, the term ‘Lebensunwertes Leben’ which translates to “life unworthy of life” was equipped by Nazi Germany to carry out mass genocide of the people they deemed unworthy of living. This included anyone ranging from “racially inferior”, “sexually queer” or any enemies to their nationalism. Nazi Germany’s holocaust exterminated millions of Jews through murder squads, gas chambers, extermination camps. At the end of World War II, it was revealed that using the linkage of racial elements cost the lives of 10 million people, including 6 million Jews.
The alignment of Nationalism with religion, ethnicity, and regimentation:
In modern times, the world is walking on a similar path where communal or regimented ideas are interlinked with Nationalism. Starting right from the national terrorist organizations worldwide which engage in mass murders and violence in the name of religion and working in tandem with their definition of the ideal “nation”. A lot of organizations across the world identify nationalism as the preservation and upholding of religious ideals.
In many regions such as Turkey, Western Europe, Latin America, and even India, the rise of political appeals influenced by religious sentiments or tailored to cater to certain religious nationalistic sentiments are not unheard of. To give an example, in the 2018 Costa Rica presidential campaigns, Fabricio Alvarado rallied his voters under the slogan “If a man of God can’t govern us, nobody can.” Many experts have raised concerns over this extreme form of religious nationalism and its effects on universal human rights and freedom.
In modern India, we can realize these narrow nationalist tendencies on a rise, expressing themselves in the regimentation of thoughts based on religion and the formation of other militant organizations. This intolerant extreme religious nationalism has taken the reins of India in the past few years amid the wave of right-wing Nationalism, often at the cost of minorities.
Currently, two types of Nationalism are prevalent in India. Secular nationalism promotes the integration of regions along the canvas of existent pluralism in a sovereign India. At the other end of the spectrum, we have our Hindutva Nationalism, which believes that India, along with its territorial integrity is primarily a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ and Hindu culture deserves a place over any other tradition or culture existing in India.
There are several commonalities of Hindutva Nationalism with other extreme forms of nationalism over the board. The first attribute is that it stems from a puritanical approach to the sentiments of the masses. Secondly, the organizations or nationalists of such forms propagate moral appeals and use sensational rhetoric to sway the masses. Lastly, these forms of extreme nationalism often seek to regiment the nation in a manner that may be derogatory or detrimental to the minorities.
The basic threat that Hindutva Nationalism poses to our diverse nation is the marginalization of the minorities. Cases of lynching, moral policing, curbs on basic life choices owing to religious sentiments, and in some cases where even fundamental rights are denied are not unheard of.
These extreme forms of polarization and cultural idealism have given birth to many militant organizations that engage in blatant violence under the veil of religious-nationalist notions. These organizations stand for everything that led to the partition of India in 1947 and the eventual rise of communalism and intolerance. India is a country that cannot be regimented under the identity of a single communal, linguistic, regional, racial, or group identity. However, we can see instances of these majoritarian ideals through the developments in recent years.
The alignment of religion, nationalism, and politics could be fatal to the integrity of a diverse unified India. This sort of extreme has no scope for individual identity, prioritizes religious practices over the lives of people, perhaps even considers the life of animals as more important than the lives of human beings on religious grounds, and ultimately permeates the pride in ‘majoritarian cultures’ over the welfare of people.
To quote Tagore, ‘When this organization of politics and commerce, whose other name is the Nation, becomes all-powerful at the cost of the harmony of the higher social life, then it is an evil day for humanity.’
To conclude, Tagore’s apprehensions against Nationalism have led us to wonder about its fruitfulness. Is India abiding in the future that Tagore had foreseen 104 years ago?
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