Plug the patriotism void

Written by YRK Reddy | Updated: Aug 18 2007, 04:10am hrs
There is much cause for celebrating the 60th year of Independence. Many economic indicators look good and India is indeed sizzling, not just shining. We have captured global mind share as at no other time since 1947. This, despite the admitted baggage of our woesdire poverty, violation of human rights, illiteracy, et aland cynical suspicions that the West has encouraged the India hype for geopolitical reasons.

Yet, it is hard to find comfort nowadays on intangible attributes such as patriotism. In 1947, patriotism arose from a unity of purpose to end colonial rule. People who participated in the struggle and died for the cause became our heroes. They continue to be so for the generation born before Independence and at least a couple of decades thereafter. Subsequent generations probably relate a little more to the patriotism associated with the wars in 1962-63, 1965, 1971-72 and 1999. The patriotic songs of independence struggle bring goose pimples to Indians even in the context of war. But does that mean that patriotism is only en memoriam for August 15, January 26 and the wars Does this also mean that we need a struggle or a war to discover patriotism The cricket fan would say that one should count the nationwide cheering for our cricket team as patriotism, too. Managers talk of our pride in an Indian-origin professional, scientist or astronaut touching great heights. But these are pointless in the absence of patriotic behaviourthat is, a set of actions that show love and respect for the country and all its people.

Because of this void, we get obfuscation, particularism and narrow definitions, with patriotism sometimes used as a synonym for nationalism. The void is worsened by acts that hurt the country in one sense or another. There is increased consciousness of caste, if not an outright obsession with it. The unholy mix of caste-based strategies and divisive politics has made people more conscious of their kith, kin, language, districts and states at the cost of any unifying feeling for the country. The caste-based strategies that have worked in Bihar are now being flaunted as the mantra for the future. Consolidation and reconsolidation of votes on religious grounds are now accepted political tacticsoften taken to illogical extents just to capture or retain a few votes. We are now reminded daily of regionalism rather than nationalism, with the growing number of regional parties. At the Centre, we have entered a coalition era that threatens to last forever and serve narrow interests. The regional and sub-regional parties have little to contribute except share power with others in tenuous coalitions. As the former British Prime Minister James Callaghan had reportedly observed, a coalition is like a muleit has no pride of ancestry, and no hope of posterity. The current conditions will soon devour any residual sense of patriotism.

Patriotism must not be a fleeting feeling or emotion. It must be part of our value system. A person who bribes another cannot be patriotic. A person who does not love his neighbourhood enough to stop littering cannot love his country. An industrialist who transgresses environmental laws cannot be trusted with any responsibility for the country and its people. A civil servant who has no pride of his public service duties cannot be patriotic.

Patriotism must connote actions by individuals that are responsible and fair to the people of India. That one must place the country before oneself is not a dictum applicable only in times of war and for the Armed Forces and Police. Indians of all ages must be taught to understand the inclusive meaning of patriotism.

Gandhiji had stated: By patriotism I mean welfare of the poor people. He had also commented that the cult of patriotism teaches us that the individual has to die for the family, the family has to die for the village, the village for the district, the district for the province, and the province for the country.