Peddling simplistic ideas of nationalism

BY ANANTHAKRISHNAN| IN Opinion | 29/02/2016
The media is trying to redefine and appropriate definitions for concepts like nationalism under a propaganda-induced context.
ANANTHAKRISHNAN says we should shut out the media and introspect


For the past few weeks, India has been burning. The nation came to know through Arnab Goswami and Zee TV about the ‘traitors’ that betrayed the nation by organising a meeting at Jawaharlal Nehru University  (JNU) in New Delhi. Not a secret meeting, but a public one. Everywhere, there are protests condemning the actions of the students who organised the event. The JNU student union president, Kanhaiya Kumar, is in police custody on charges of sedition.

We can see different instances in the media and on social networks like Facebook of numerous emotional posts on our jawans and army personnel being ‘shared’ and ‘liked’ as a gesture of solidarity towards the nation state and thereby condemning the ‘anti-national’ acts of the JNU students.

So Goswami allies with his frequent studio guest, retired army officer G.D.Bakshi, to romanticize the idea of the army’s sacrifice for their nation and express their disgust at how people like Kumar are disgracing the army by organising events that supposedly support a terrorist like Afzal Guru.

It is  very convenient and easy for any journalist or media house to portray the whole situation in JNU as a clear black and white demarcation of Sedition vs Nationalism. As rational citizens, if we try to question things more deeply, we understand that patriotism and nationalism are two different things that should not be confused as one. This is very important in the Indian context. Nationalism is when we, as citizens of our nation, share a common feeling of belonging and an organized sense of imagined community through the definition of a geographical and cultural space.

In India, which has a hundred different cultures and languages, the common perspective of nationalism can’t be applied that easily, simply because we are all different in our approach towards nationalism. First, we have a layer of regional identity which is in itself a sort of nationalism – a Bengali, a Marathi, a Keralite, a Rajasthani etc. Then, as we peel this off, we move closer towards the idea of being ‘Indian”. But peripherally we might deny this fact and say that we are all Indians. Then why do we have so many parties in our country? Then they have sub parties. And then we have religious political parties.

If we are so united in our allegiance towards our nation, the nation should come first for us, even before our religion. But that is not the case in India. So why are we fooling ourselves by labelling ourselves “nationalists”? We are not. We are a dispersed group of identities struggling to survive together in a geographical space that we call India. We are desperately trying to make sense of what we really are and so, when there are sharp and uncomfortable questions on these popular concepts of nationalism that we foster, why should we become so intolerant, violent or abusive about it?

It’s high time for us to turn away from the media, sit down and think hard. What have these students from JNU really done? Why would they want to speak against India? Why would they go to such an extent? Is it really something against India? Or is just one side of the argument that we haven’t heard through the media or popular culture? Why have we forgotten the north east? Why have we forgotten Kashmir?  Why have we forgotten Babri? Why have we forgotten the Bombay riots? Why have we forgotten Godhra?

"Both these elements of armed resistance and academic discourse are equally important to the well-being of a nation. They should not be compared and if we do compare them, we are doing injustice to the purpose of their existence."


Are all these the glowing souvenirs of a nationalistic nation? How can we call ourselves nationalists when we divide ourselves and murder each other on the basis of caste and religion? Comparing the army with the students of JNU or anyone who questions the working of a nation (as two TV channels have done) is not the right way. The army has nothing to do with this. They are safeguarding our nation because we have to protect our geographical space and the army is always driven by a feeling of patriotism (a strong admiration for one’s nation and its socio-cultural spaces).

This is entirely different from students organising an event inside a campus, which is an academic space created for multi-faceted debates and discussions, to discuss the issues of judicial killings or AFSPA or any such laws which are against basic human rights.

Both these elements of armed resistance and academic discourse are equally important to the well-being of a nation. They should not be compared and if we do compare them, we are doing injustice to the purpose of their existence. If some citizens of India don’t feel as though they are being treated like Indian citizens, why can’t they question it? Why can’t they raise their voice against it? And if they do raise their voice, why will they become anti-national?

Kashmir is part of our nation. So is Manipur and all the north eastern states. When we really start to accept that fact and treat them with mutual respect and love and provide them with equal human rights, only then we can call ourselves nationalists. Until then we are a dispersed group living in sheer chaos, trying to make sense of our identity by creating “the other”.

The media is trying to redefine and appropriate definitions for concepts like nationalism under a propaganda-induced context. This tendency is highly repressive for a country seeking to be the largest democracy in the world. So, next time when we see a prime time news debate on any channel, be sure to introspect and initiate a rational line of thought rather than fall into the dark pits of reductionism and intolerance.


Ananthakrishnan is a PhD scholar at Pondicherry University.



The Hoot is the only not-for-profit initiative in India which does independent media monitoring.
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