No, I don’t love my country unconditionally…

This article was published in The Huffington Post

Come to think of it, I was never “patriotic” in the sense of the word that is bandied about today. Sure, I respect my country, but my heart doesn’t soar when the national anthem is played nor do my eyes brim with tears when “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” is heard. I sure as hell don’t consider India to be my “mother” and wouldn’t punch someone because he/she won’t chant a slogan.

Does that mean I hate India? No, absolutely not. I respect India’s contribution to civilization and am grateful to certain stalwarts it has produced. There are things I love about this country…But… There are things I absolutely hate about it as well.

I believe that our intelligently conceived constitution protects my right to be downright critical of what I do not like about this country and still enjoy my rights as an Indian citizen. A belief that is fast becoming dangerous to live with.

The happenings in the last few months have confirmed that the Indian government and many people in this country are slaves to emotion, memory and “a certain idea of India” that is uni-dimensional, chauvinistic, belligerent and dismissive of any contrarian views. George Bernard Shaw’s acerbic wit comes to mind “Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it….”

Eschewing pragmatism and logic, they harp on India’s “glorious past” and don’t care much about moving ahead in the future. Instead of investing heavily in higher education and research, they insist much to our chagrin that plastic surgery existed in ancient vedic times, that astrology is far ahead of science and make many other embarrassing statements that are definitely “Made in India”. These aren’t some fringe nut jobs, but MPs who represent us in the highest law making body of this country.

When the JNU incident occupied public consciousness, the sensible thing for any leader to have done was to call for an open discussion and sort out differences. But no…

Instead, our HRD minister’s solution was to issue a notice mandating the national tricolour be hoisted atop a 207-feet pole at every national university. A retired army officer even suggested that the presence of a tank on campus would solve all problems and instill “nationalism”. The statement drew support and many “Jai Hind”s on social media. Is this an intelligent solution a burgeoning world power can come up with?

This is the same twisted notion of nationalism that leads to banning beef, pakistani ghazal singers, valentine’s day, cricket matches, James Bond’s “excessive kissing” and anything remotely against our “culture” (whatever that is). If subscribing to this brand of nationalism is the litmus test for patriotism, I am definitely not patriotic. What is amazing about this land is that the idea of India changes every 100 kilometers. What India means to you may not mean anything remotely similar to someone else.

I don’t believe any nation is infallible. Blindly supporting India and refraining from criticism and debate undermines human intelligence and reduces us to a bunch of unimaginative, sentimental sheep. We don’t confront issues that hinder progress nor do we face the difficult fact that there are some things that are terribly wrong with this country that threaten to pull us into obscurity and impoverishment.

When are we going to get down to the brass tacks? When are we going to stop wasting energy discussing who says what, who sleeps with whom and whose slogan is more appropriate?

I am sure many people will call me a “liberal” and blame “Western culture”, “globalisation” and many other unrelated concepts for this line of thinking. Call it what you want, but any relationship works both ways. As a citizen I have duties. I make sure I follow traffic rules, pay my taxes and not break the law. I insist everyone follow the law of the land because it is the way a civilized world must function. Many citizens don’t do their part and they are part of the problem. But the same goes for the government as well.

The government must do everything it can to lift people out of poverty, empower women and create an environment of curiosity and debate. This country has amazing potential and it is up to the government to harness this. It must stop propagating its own narrow idea of nationalism and instead roll up its sleeves and get things done!

The world is moving ahead; we can’t afford to sit back in complacence, shouting irrelevant slogans, asking everyone to look back at our “glorious heritage” and romanticizing every little thing in the name of nationalism.

This country deserves a lot more than rhetoric. The powers that be have to realise that patriotism is not some default setting that every Indian must have in order to remain in the country. It is an evolving concept and manifests itself in more ways than one.

I have every right to remain seated when the national anthem is played and still be a productive member in society and contribute to its growth. Instead of wasting time going for my throat, focus on the stuff that really matters.

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