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Which to prefer Freedom of expression or Nationalism & Why.


The concept of Nation State, National and Nationalism came into vogue after the Westphalian peace treaties of the 17th century. It had four major characteristics. First, it was never inclusive of the entire population and identified an "enemy within". Second, it was necessarily imperialistic. Third, the division of states was largely based on linguistic basis. And fourth, it possessed a mercantilist approach i.e. the idea was to make the nation 'strong' by military, economic or colonial means. Thus, European Nationalism was flawed and had a majoritarian aspect to it.

On the contrary, the Indian Nationalism was different. Its struggle was against an immensely powerful adversary, i.e. the British colonial rule. It had to be inclusive and mobilize every segment of the population. The idea was to develop solidarity with other such struggles and sought to have fraternal relations with the 'Third World Countries'. And finally, it put 'welfare of the people' greater than 'greatness of the nation' per sec as its central focus, poignantly expressed by Gandhi when he said "the objective of freedom was to wipe away the tears from eyes of every Indian."

Hence, central to this nationalism was tolerance, accommodation, negotiation of differences, i.e. all aspects of freedom of speech and expression and not use of brute force to enforce silence or to assert hegemony. It was liberal in nature and a defining feature of this anti colonial Nationalism, both in ideological articulation and in practice was secularism and inclusion. It stood for non discrimination on the basis of caste, creed or religion and recognized the multicultural and multi religious character of Indian society.

Majoritarian or the so called (pseudo) Cultural Nationalism, being practiced these days is narrow, radical, sceptic, inward looking and alienates and demonizes "the other". Nations are reduced to a country that is a homeland of a particular religious practice and 'spiritual culture', clearly insulting the evolution of composite Indian culture over centuries that is decidedly heterogeneous, unique, plural and syncretic without and parallel throughout the world.

Apart from being a modern phenomenon, Nationalism was a modernizing phenomenon. Its ideological legacy was liberalism, rooted in Enlightenment values of humanism, rationalism and universalism. Hence, our freedom struggle, its perspectives and practices were informed by the principles of liberalism except among revolutionary nationalists and communists. Even while fighting against the British, our Indian nationalists were great admirers of British liberalism as it provided space for dissent and discussion.

After independence, attempts were made to institutionalize a political system based on fundamental civic rights like freedom of speech and expression. It promoted a sense of cosmopolitanism which secured a check on Nationalism going overboard. Indian nationalism was always liberal in nature. The signature movement was to expel British without hatred. The longest constitution being formed on 'consensus basis' rather than 'majority basis' where every aspect, except 'universal adult suffrage' was debated upon undoubtedly states the accommodative nature of our Nationalism.

Thus, it is inclusive of Dalits who reject Brahminical Hinduism or eulogisation of Nathuram Godse as a heroic figure by some. It accommodates leftists and secularists who reject Hindutva and some rightists who celebrate Republic Day as "black day". It incorporates non vegetarians as well as vegetarians. It is supportive of choice in clothing be it western attire or the Indian saree. Since cricket is sometimes seen as a 'measure of patriotism', it embraces the supporters and opposers of the Indian team alike.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who once advocated thousand years of war with India, proclaimed from his death row cell in Pakistan, "India is more heterogeneous than Pakistan, but India has been kept in one piece by the noise and chaos of her democracy." Thus, constitutionally sincere citizens agree on two things. First, any assailant of unity, integrity, democratic sovereignty ought to be dealt according to law. Secondly, intimidation and violence, especially aggression and predation, moral vigilantism, control of food habits have no place in pursuit of "Rashtra Bhakti". Both violate the basic structure, fundamental rights, directive principles and fundamental duties of all citizens.

The spirit of Nationalism is difficult to design. Territorial patriotism, cultural identity and political tradition may contribute to its making in some manner. However, associating Nationalism to one particular chant, slogan, song, symbol, religion, culture or tradition is simple minded, mediocre, narrow and an insult to the idea of Nationalism.

- Neda Fatima