Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children describes nationalism as “a dream we all agreed to dream.” Without that collective dream, it would be quite impossible to keep a nation like India united in spite of the million mutinies that have always simmered beneath the veneer of its unity. We need the dream. As much a dream as religious paradises are dreams.
Political scientist Benedict Anderson argues that nationalism is more like religion and kinship. There is no logic in religion and kinship. There are only emotions. It’s about bonding people together in a strange stupor of intoxication. Have you ever experienced that the feeling deep within you when you hear a moving patriotic song is similar to the feeling given by a religious exercise?
Anderson goes on to say that nationalism has never produced its own philosophers. It has hooligans and killers. It has sloganeers and rhetoricians. But no philosophers. Nationalism, like religions, does not require thinking. Like drugs, it is about feeling.
There are various types of nationalism: linguistic, cultural, religious, ethnic, territorial, and what not. Our own India is intoxicated with religio-cultural nationalism. That’s as deadly a concoction as fentanyl. It gives you charming hallucinations which you mistake for potential realities. Those hallucinations project certain people as your enemies. And then you become a warrior, a crusader, a jihadist.
A warrior for what? For a nation with one religion, one language, one culture! Why do they want only one religion, one language, and one culture? Sociologist Max Weber suggests inferiority-superiority complex as the answer to that question. Weber said that in the eyes of nationalists their own nation (with its singular culture, religion, etc) is superior to others. Hence it is irreplaceable. Like every form of superiority complex, this has its roots in certain insecurity feelings (inferiority complex?). Otherwise why would a whopping 80% of a population be scared of 20%? Why would such a scare lead to violent a form of nationalism?
Intoxications have no logic.
Assume that the present warriors achieve their objective of creating an India with only Hindus in it. Is it going to be a utopia, a Ram Rajya?
Pakistan should serve as a proximate example. They had one religion. And it didn’t unify the people. They tried to impose Urdu on the entire people unified by that one religion. That led to the division of the country into East and West Pakistans.
Since religion is an integral part of India’s current version of nationalism, let me present a very poignant and relevant episode from Arundhati Roy’s novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness:
We can create a Ram Rajya with Hinduism as the only religion in it, Hindi as the only language, and Ram as the only God. But no sooner we do it than will we create new divisions like Brahmins versus Shudras, original believers versus neo-converts, and so on.
Nationalism is no way to achieve anything great. As Weber implied, it is a good drug for hooligans and criminals, or at best sloganeers and rhetoricians.
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