I write this post on the day India completes 66 years of independence. This is a very interesting time for a 22 year old to live in this country. For I, as a 22 year old, am looked upon as a part of the younger demographic of this country. And as many of my counterparts fly abroad in search of greener pastures, remarking on the pitiful state of affairs in my / their country, I ponder upon the implications of continuing to live in India. I ponder upon the dichotomies existing in the life of a 22 year old living in this country. And no, this isn’t any national awakening upon my part. Just a tenacious belief in the idea of India.
To illustrate few of the dichotomies. I plan to exercise my vote in the general elections next year knowing well that my vote wouldn’t matter in the larger scheme of things and also knowing that the party or politician I am going to vote for, neither represents my best interests nor satisfies any benchmark against which I judge him or her. So much for democracy. I have been forced (not by choice) to learn that being a Republic country means the affairs of state are a public matter, there is no room for administration by inheritance. Which is the antithesis of dynasty politics and political elitism existing in the Government. Not to mention the blatant abuse of power and burgeoning wealth of most of our leaders.
I don’t complain about the above mentioned illustrations, which is an entirely different ball of wax anyway. I don’t mean to whine about the disparities existing in our economy and the robustness of our administration or lack thereof. I just ponder about them, because growing up in India you are expected to adhere to the aphorism “This is how things work in India” and carry on with your work towards personal gratification. Your parents and the society expect you to have an agnostic stance towards your country. In contemporary Indian society, politics and welfare are for ‘other people’. Which brings me to the focal point of my post. The meaning of patriotism in modern day India.
According to many, patriotism is changing display pictures in Facebook and sharing greetings twice an year. Patriotism is dismissing the Government as an incompetent authority. Patriotism is hating the enemy. Patriotism is about preferences in cricket. Patriotism is about disposition towards indigenous brands. All of these definitions of patriotism may or may not be wrong.
George Orwell, in his splendidly written book; 1984 says that “Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood.” If you could personify our country, I’d like to believe India toes the above mentioned line. In the present scenario there is a dire need to understand the country. For India is an experiment in democracy. A mix of political adventure and socio-economic diversity. I have been reading this rather intriguing book called ‘India after Gandhi’ by Guha. At times reading this book brings forth an array of historical occurrences which encourage the reader to think about the genesis of our country and the ontological argument about India. It is inhuman not be swayed by these emotions but on an unemotional note, I was surprised by what people had to say about our country back then.
In the book, Sir John Stracey, a member of the Governor-General’s council back then remarked that India is merely a label of convenience. A name which was given to a great region including a multitude of different countries. He says “Scotland is more like Spain than Bengal is like Punjab.”
If you look at Stracey’s viewpoint, the idea of nationalistic feelings arising in a country with such diversity is almost improbable. Nations are divided and formed on the basis of linguistic boundaries or at times religious interests. But the eighth schedule to the Indian constitution lists 22 languages that the Government of India has the responsibility to develop.
To quote further from the book, in 1891 when Rudyard Kipling visited Australia, he was asked about the possibility of self-governance in India. To which he remarked “They are 4,000 years old there. much too old to learn that business.” This sentiment was shared by many back then. Even Winston Churchill famously predicted that if British left India, the entire gamut of public services created by them would perish and India would fall back to medieval times.
We haven’t fallen back to medieval times, instead we have made progress if not rapid in various fields. You see, the idea of India back then remained a paradox. It perplexed many that a nation so huge in numbers, with such diversity in culture and with a history of religious conflicts could even exist as a single secular entity. At times as a citizen of this great country it baffles me as well. To me India is beauty in chaos. The idea of eating Tamilian food and appreciating Rajasthani folk music at the same time is beautiful. The idea of a person from Assam interacting with a Hyderabadi autowallah in different languages yet resulting in a more clarity of thought than our economic policies is beautiful. This beautiful narrative, the idea of India will not cease to exist if you stop believing in it. It will continue with a spirit unique to us. So as we celebrate our 67th Independence Day, do not let the patriotic fervour die down. Lets stop nihilism of patriotism. Personally I don’t think any person should complain about this corrupt and poverty-ridden country without having educated himself or herself about the country, without having fallen in love with this country, without having appreciated the idea of India. Because if you hate without having loved the country first, it is just downright unadulterated contempt and disregard on your part.
There is this sentence in our national pledge which is recited in schools.
“I shall always be worthy of it.”
Happy Independence Day!