Last one week, Delhi has debated nationalism like never before. Since the arrest of JNU student Kanhaiya Kumar on charges of sedition, it has become a staple for dinner table conversations. Not to mention, heated debates in the Metro, buses, offices and even public parks.
The worst of this debate manifested in Patiala House courts – first on February 15 when JNU students, teachers, activists, and journalists were beaten up by lawyers and a city legislator. In less than 72 hours, the same set of lawyers, backed by many more, were back to beat up Kanhaiya in the same court premises, this time in the presence of a bigger contingent of policemen.
Meanwhile, not happy with whatever happened in JNU, our political establishment has taken up the responsibility of instilling nationalism among students. The HRD minister and vice chancellors of the central universities, including Delhi University, JNU and Jamia Millia Islamia, have agreed to install the national flag “prominently and proudly” in their respective campuses.
Not to be left behind, the local unit of Delhi BJP is administering oath of “nationalism and protecting respect of Mother India” to 10,000 citizens in the national capital. “The Constitution of India has guaranteed us the Right of Expression. As citizens, we shall use our rights but before that we shall perform our constitutional duty of respecting the nation and the Constitution,” was the vow taken by thousands this weekend.
One is not sure of what BJP legislator OP Sharma – one of the three who made it to AAP-dominated Delhi Assembly – made of this oath. Just last week, he was caught on camera assaulting a CPI activist in Patiala House court.
Nationalism, as many understand it, is more than symbols — although experts say myths, memories and symbols have traditionally helped in connecting people. While it is often used interchangeably with patriotism, George Orwell drew up the difference.
Nationalism, he said, was inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist was to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or any other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.
Patriotism, on the other hand, was devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believed to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is in its nature defensive while nationalism tends to get aggressive, Orwell wrote in an essay, Notes on Nationalism.
While administering doses of nationalism to thousands in Delhi, the BJP could well focus on the three municipal corporations it runs in the city. What can be a more emphatic demonstration of nationalism than uprooting corruption from these corporations, ensuring timely disposal of garbage, and proper upkeep of roads and pavements? It should not be an uphill task given that Delhi BJP chief Satish Upadhyay is himself a councillor.
Mere symbolism can get us nowhere. If anything, it can legitimise aggression and lawlessness. Nationalism is certainly not about witch-hunting imagined enemies of the nation every now and then but in fulfilling one’s duties as a citizen under the Constitution every single day. When people love their country, when they are proud citizens, they help in nation building, which is a euphemism for simple hard and honest work.
Patriots don’t litter, break queues or the law, demand bribe, dodge tax or vote on caste or communal lines. They carry accident victims to hospitals, offer seats to the weak and the elderly, volunteer time and effort to help the disadvantaged and the poor, and take the right stand even if it is against their own interests.
And amidst all that, if they have time, they also hoist the tricolour and chant slogans and sing songs of the glory of the nation, particularly when the Indian team is playing.