In only a few days from now, India will celebrate its 72nd Republic Day. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was invited as guest-of-honour but thanks, in part, to the new COVID strain and subsequent lockdowns, his office cancelled the trip. And each year, as the red-letter day comes around, there is fervent preparation to put up a performance or hoist the national flag. It is even swift business for many vendors who put out a colourful display of flags – spanning an assortment of sizes. Leaders in government recount stories of the past while often eulogising historical figures.
There is no downside to patriotism really, at least not at first glance. But then, what got my thinking cap on, was the fact that I always question the why and the how, and so on and so forth. And in my quest to delve deeper into this alleged noble trait called patriotism, I stumbled upon interesting bites that I cannot resist sharing. I even chanced upon patriotism’s superlative cousin—the often seen but rarely spoken of—jingoism.
What is patriotism really?
Most folks refer to patriotism as ‘love for one’s country’. I am sure it is but its scope is wider. Patriotism is exceptional regard for the well-being of one’s nation – of priority concern for the motherland. It is perhaps an act of aligning together a country’s people for the accomplishment of higher ideals. But such utopian ideals must definitely come with some fluff; surely there is another perspective, maybe an altogether different viewpoint. And only a little research later, there was no dearth of opposing views.
Samuel Johnson, the lexicographer credited with compiling the modern dictionary, stated, “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”. Leaders and individuals have myriad interpretations of what patriotism means to them and often, the views seem to emerge from a fairly narrow scope. What patriotism entails for one person may not necessarily mean the same to another. But in many cases, we all connect on the basis of certain common beliefs.
Does patriotism only mean hoisting the national flag on an Independence or Republic Day? Does enthusiastic singing of the national anthem raise the credibility of one’s patriotic display? Are these prerequisites to cement my patriotism? These mediums, no doubt, heighten the entire ‘I love my India feeling’ but there sure is more than meets the eye.
Are patriotism and nationalism the same?
Patriotism and nationalism are similar terms that are often used interchangeably. They have similar meanings but entirely different nuances. Sydney J. Harris, an American journalist, put it succinctly when he said, “The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country, no matter what it does.”
Nationalism really is an ideal that needs closer examination. It is one thing to be proud of one’s country but to harbour the same pride—in the face of less optimal policy making—maybe calls for a rethink. I don’t mean to trivialise it, but can seemingly big decisions not be based on mutual respect, tolerance and restraint? Why must nationalism often be accompanied by divisions in society, where one community is pitted against another? More than anything, the world probably could do with a lot less nationalism at this juncture. If there is one pressing collective need, it is collaboration.
Can patriotism be acquired?
I view extreme forms of patriotism as ones often practised by the ill-informed. They are moulded perhaps to view this virtue within tight parameters.
On the same right, I also feel no person is a born patriot. He or she is conditioned to make certain choices which often result in the choice of certain occupations. What I am implying is that certain occupations need not be seen as being more patriotic than another. Each honest inhabitant of the country, serving as a net positive contributor to the economy, can well be considered a true patriot. Should one also choose to not express any patriotism, so be it. It is, by no means, an indication of character or poor morals.
In an increasingly globalised world, there are many who really are citizens of the world. They are here today, there tomorrow, and their companies are perhaps registered in yet another country. These are 21st century nomads. And in this context, older thought processes probably have to make room to accommodate newer schools of thought. COVID-19 was witness to a massive technology surge and while political leaders always enforce rigid national borders, the digital space really is one big globalised ecosystem.
Patriotism as I see it
In my personal view, respect, tolerance and restraint are the basis of patriotism. Building sound character is of essence and how we treat them—the ones who are most vulnerable and least affluent—is a telling sign of how human we really are.
Being empathetic towards one’s own society, I feel, is a definite yardstick of how patriotic one is. As the old adage goes that actions speak louder than words, so too is the case with expressing love for country. One needn’t wear their patriotism on their sleeve and shout out their support from rooftops. In the case of India especially, patriotism could well mean giving of oneself for the social uplift of the underprivileged. Even so much as taking time out to teach a child—from a less affluent home—is service towards nation building. Often, little gestures deliver the most impact.
As citizens of a country, there are constitutional duties that one must fulfil. By all means, they must be honoured but at the same time, let us do our bit to become exemplary citizens. In this regard, the Indian Constitution does not mention anything about ideals of respect, tolerance and restraint. It is, therefore, imperative to also practice the seemingly lesser facets to patriotism, while fulfilling the ones formally outlined by the ‘law of the land’.
I will leave you with one parting thought: love for nation is fostered; it cannot be imposed.