26th of January, is celebrated as the Republic Day in India. On this day, social network streams are flooded with posts that involve patriotism and love for the nation, TV channels broadcast the parade live from Rajpath followed by movies and programmes based on the same theme, children on the road have a tiny national flag pinned to their school uniform, and messages from friends congratulate our nation on the anniversary of adoption of its constitution. This is one of those days on which many Indians become conscious of their national identity and feel proud about it. What better day than this to do a critical analysis of patriotism?
Patriotism is generally defined as devoted love and loyalty towards one’s nation, and is often compared with the love for one’s mother. In this aspect, I consider this as one of the highest emotions that a man can have, and has inspired countless humans to dedicate their lives for the protection and betterment of their fellowmen.
However, it is also in the name of patriotism that numerous men have turned conquerors, colonialists and mass murders. Is it the same emotion, feeling, or ideal that leads men, on one hand, to noble deeds of selfless service and, on the other, to acts of monstrous cruelty?
The flavour of patriotism that justifies and encourages people to subdue and kill others is based not in love for one’s nation, but in a national identity that builds an insurmountable wall between those who share their nationality and those that don’t. This is similar to how fanatics of some genuine religions worry less about following the path to knowledge laid down in their religion and are more concerned with punishing and cursing non-believers and “blasphemers”. They’re the kind of sons who are too busy making proud statements of their ancestry and slandering others that they don’t bother to take care of their aged parents. In all these cases of twisted loyalty, the key element is dislike, hatred and mistrust of those who do not share a particular identity. True patriotism, religious allegiance or filial love should be rooted in a sense of duty towards our nation, religion or parents. It should serve to unite citizens of a nation, followers of a religion, or siblings towards a common cause.
When gone wrong, all of these can only share to divide people along lines of nationality, religion or family. There is nothing wrong with loving your own, trouble starts only when it is rooted in ill-will towards others. In modern nations, attachments to identities that are narrower (or even broader) than national are usually denounced in the interest of national integration; so much, that the terms referring to these feelings – such as regionalism – have a negative connotation. Patriotism, on the other hand, is encouraged and so glorified that it becomes difficult for people to think beyond its boundaries. What is a nation today comprised of many princely states a few decades ago. Attachment or loyalty to those kingdoms of yore will now be looked down upon as parochialism. An example in point is how Sir Ramaswami Iyer, Dewan of the erstwhile state of Travancore at the time of Indian independence and an able administrator who has made great contribution to the growth of southern Kerala, is referred to by many as a traitor, only because he loyally stood by the Maharaja of Travancore in his wish to remain independent from the Indian Union.
So, what is a general thumb rule in deciding whether patriotism, or a particular level of loyalty is good or not?
While I cannot claim to give a universally applicable rule, I think the general principle is that anything that unites us and broadens our consciousness is good, whereas anything that divides us and makes our thinking narrow is bad.
Love for family is definitely great, and it should serve to replace the selfishness in us. Love for our village or province should be even stronger. For example, if one needs to give away part of his property to an infrastructure project that will benefit a larger population, one should gladly do that. The broader love for nation should take precedence over love for one’s province, and even this feeling of patriotism should not come in the way of one’s love for the world and all its inhabitants. Finally, even the world should be sacrificed for the sake of God (our real self) which is all-encompassing and is the broadest ideal that is.
This principle is outlined by Vidura in Mahabharatha (Vidura Neethi):
A person shall be sacrificed for the sake of the family; family for the sake of village; village for the sake of country, and even the earth shall be sacrificed for the sake of self.
Raman is a mechanical engineer by training, software architect by profession, martial artist by passion, and philosopher by nature. He believes in spirituality as the panacea for all of the world’s problems.
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