A New Interpretation of Nationalism: The Author’s View

India is having a surge of Nationalism. When it comes to National symbols or the National anthem, there is an unsaid respect that is expected out of people, the question lies, how strictly can this be enforced by law? Can patriotism be forced? These are debates that require perspective and information, both of which can be found in this article.

Nationalism- An Interpretation

The sanctity of the Constitution of India is unparalleled. The visionary thinkers of a prosperous India drafted the text by keeping in view future challenges and anomalies. The shackles of imperialism aroused the feeling of nationalism in the united form. The independence movement not only led to the uprising of the mob against the British Raj, but every individual vociferously contributed and sacrificed to free their motherland. But, patriotism has taken an altogether different turn in recent times. The meaning of nationalism and patriotism, symbolic force during the independence struggle, has landed into the whims and caprice of individuals. The political class has taken out a new card for political gains which has completely diminished the sanctity of these words. In my opinion, a citizen has a fundamental and moral duty to respect the national emblems, such as national flag, national anthem, but such cannot be enforced upon its citizens by the government in power or their moral inspectors. It is a feeling within that drives one individual.

The above contention can be well-explained by establishing some similarities between patriotism and nationalism. In one of my readings, a very beautiful illustration was provided which stated that ‘patriotism is like a smile, an inner manifestation of outward feeling’. Such as a smile, one cannot be forced to love, hate, enjoy, same as one cannot be forced to be patriotic. To throw some more light on this connotation, let us go back to the pre-independence period. The British Imperialist though an exploitative regime, but also was one of the important factors that led the Indians to unite as one. People were exasperated against the foreign rule, and discrimination and arbitrary administration fired the feeling of one nation with home rule. Such a feeling of patriotism and nationalism was not enforced upon the people by their leaders, but the people with their free will and with their determination and courage to oust the foreign rule stood together as one. But, this integrity is on the anvil of destruction. The modern-day interpretation of nationalism is the antithesis to what it actually means. Polarization is one of the biggest menaces daunting the politics in India, but this new political gimmick would only deteriorate the feeling of nationhood. The political innovation to attract the electorate by inciting the feeling of nationalism will only result in the ultra-nationalistic feeling which may take us back into the period of Hitler’s Germany. India is the largest democracy in the world, and unity in diversity is the core principle of its success. And, the politicization of the feeling of nationalism would crack this very foundation.

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The Constitutional Dimension

The fundamental right of Freedom of Speech and Expression has been enshrined in Part III of the Constitution of India, but whether this expression denotes that one should express the feeling of nationalism as per the desires of their “political masters” or self-proclaimed moral inspectors? In a free society like ours, is it appropriate to allow vandalism and hooliganism in the name of nationalism and patriotism? Even the brilliant minds have failed to establish an instrument to measure the feeling of patriotism. The statute of Prevention of Insult to National Honor Act, 1971, empowers the court to take cognizance of the matter whenever there has been an ‘intentional insult’, but is the same law equipped with the power to force an individual to express the feeling of nationalism and patriotism by forceful respect to the national anthem or symbol. It is depressing to see the how the sanctity of national symbol, anthem, and the feeling of nationhood is distorting.

Let us examine the events, trending in recent times that have demarcated the society in the debate on nationalism.

Bridging Gap in the Mindset

The cricket match of India-Pakistan unites the nation into one. But, if the loss of India is celebrated then such would result in a brawl leading to tagging the other side as the enemy of the nation. Or whether the so-called Anti-National incidents at JNU were made so sensitive to trivial issues making us tag them as disrespectful to an imaginary national honour[1]. The chant of ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ is a simple expression of hailing the motherland or in my opinion, the power of the people which are united under this common slogan. But, a religious angle to it has simply destroyed its very meaning. It is not about a slogan, but it is simply about the human nature which would be reluctant to do something if made to do forcefully. Now, with these events, let us come to the national anthem issue. The National Anthem is the pride of the nation, and it is sung with the spirit coming from within. But, if such a feeling is imposed from outside then it would likely to invite some resistance. The Hon’ Supreme Court of India stands as the Guardian of the Constitution and of the rights of the people. In the decorated judgment of Bijoe Emmanual v State of Kerela[2] observed that no one can be obliged to sing the national anthem, but the same court recently equipped the government and self-proclaimed moral inspectors by making it compulsory to play the national anthem before the movie begins in a cinema hall. The disciplinary guidelines for the Persons with Disabilities have welcomed nationwide criticism to the growing insensitivity to uphold nationalism within the citizens[3].

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But, who decides whether a person is nationalist or not? Who has given the authority of law to empower few hooligans to thrash citizens, not obeying as per their desires and wishes? Is India moving in a direction where moral inspection or I would say ‘patriotic inspection’ by a third person is necessary? Has the trust amongst ourselves depleted that we are in a need to keep a vigil check upon our own citizens? To conclude it, force nationalism would only generate more “anti-nationals”.

Also read National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India


[1] Shreya Tripathi, JNU has always been a ‘hub of anti-national activities’, says internal dossier,FIRST POST,http://www.firstpost.com/india/jnu-dossier-kanhaiya-kumar-administrator-kashmir-umar-khalid-anti-national-sedition-2753874.html (Last accessed: 07.02.2017)

[2] 1987 AIR 748

[3]HT Correspondent, Bombay high court pulls up replies over poor facilities for the disabled, HINDUSTANTIMES,http://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai/bombay-high-court-pulls-up-rlys-over-poor-facilities-for-the-disabled/story-EoSViPgu7zXOtnjqTQNiQL.html (Last accessed: 07.02.2017)