I love my country, right or wrong, is an attribute of nationalism. But is it patriotism to stand up and be counted when my country led by the government navigates a path which is inconsistent with our constitutional values. Was it unpatriotic to be a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War? Was the ‘Arab Spring’ at Tahrir Square unpatriotic? Was it patriotic for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to have attempted to disrupt the national movement and support a colonial power? Was it patriotic for the Sangh not to have participated in the Satyagraha?
We must not confuse our love for the country in protecting her identity with our right to dissent. It is not unpatriotic to oppose the government when it is behaving dishonestly, foolishly or viciously.
Patriotism is an emotive response, which manifests itself in action to protect an identity of which we are an integral part. That identity is the result of cultural, ethnic, and linguistic affinity shared historically over a period of time. Within the contours of territory, shared experiences of people identifying with each other become the foundation of nationalism. The symbol of that identity, and every Nation has one, is its national flag. When unfurled, people identify themselves with it. Their patriotism does not depend on externalities. People should not be forced to demonstrate that they love their country and respect their national flag. I do not wear my patriotism on my sleeves. Others should also not be required to do so.
I am a patriot as long as I respect the rights and sensibilities of others, pay my taxes, inculcate the right values in my kids. I should not have to carry my mother’s photograph in my wallet to prove to her that I love her. Today, the flag has been made a logo – the “trademark of a monopoly on patriotism”. I do not doubt the patriotism of those in government; I only question their policies. Those who pin the national flag on their lapels are no greater patriots than those who don’t.
Now, our patriotism may be questioned if we do not stand up in a cinema hall when the national anthem is played. I wonder how many of us stand up in our homes watching the national anthem on television. If we don’t, are we to be regarded as unpatriotic?
My problem with this mandating prescription is that it is fundamentally wrong for people to have to demonstrate that they are patriotic. The act of standing up in a cinema hall is not an act of volition. Patriotism reflects in my response to protect the identity of not just myself but of millions of which I am a part. Only in situations which should evoke such a response is true patriotism tested.
Patriotism and nationalism are two different concepts. We must not confuse the two.
Is it then patriotic for vigilantes who in a show of patriotism for the sacred cow insult, beleaguer and not hesitate to kill ordinary folk? Vigilantes do it to protect their misplaced cultural identity. Their response is not emotive qua the sacred animal. It is in fact motivated to demonstrate and propagate that identity with which the victims of violence have no emotive affinity. The victims may be dealing with the sacred animal to trade or nourish it for their livelihood. Yet to do such acts under the present dispensation is considered patriotic and thus justified.
Instead such acts of violence create fissures in an identity which is historically shared by people, who together have fought wars and shed their blood to assert their identity. They together challenged the supremacy of the white man and humbled a colonial empire. They together forged a permanent identity based on cultural, linguistic, religious diversity coalescing because of shared values and a shared history. That is what we need to protect. True patriots are those who protect diversity – linguistic, cultural and ethnic.
The State and Institutions including courts should not test patriotism. Our patriotism is tested on a daily basis by our activities in the way we live and the way we deal with each other. A soldier’s patriotism is tested when he is confronted with the enemy and is willing to risk his life to save the identity of which he is an integral part.
The patriotism of a lawyer is tested when he is, despite opposition, prepared to protect the victims of injustice. A doctor will emotively demonstrate his patriotism when he goes out of the way to save lives though in the process he might endanger his own. A patriotic businessman will not participate in transactions that are dishonest. Smugglers, terrorists and perpetrators of violence who kill for partisan ends cannot be patriots.
It is possible that Courts wish to instill a sense of patriotism by having audiences stand up in a cinema hall. We cannot doubt the intention of the Court. But standing up in a movie hall for the National Anthem is not necessarily an emotive response. The audience must stand up because otherwise under the law, they will be prosecuted for insulting the flag. The mandate of the law does not make true patriots.
Kapil Sibal is a former human resource development minister
The views expressed are personal
This article is published by Hindustan Times.