As election fever grips the nation with Rajasthan, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh in poll mode; as the mind grapples with the several grey areas in the charges of sexual assault leveled at erstwhile respected and now much maligned citizens; as I worry about a nation pushing its multitudes of poor further to the sidelines in its current state of enamor for a particular strain of neo-liberal thinking…
In the midst of all this, I read with delight the news about India’s Mars spacecraft successfully exiting Earth’s orbit on its way to the Red Planet. I realized I had been worrying in my subconscious mind about the craft going off track and the profound sense of relief and pride that washed over me was both amusing and heartening.
I have to remind myself everyday that India is a good story. Not just because it is my country and I have more than my share of patriotism inside me, but because I see immense positives everyday. We are not a nation that has given up, we are on the street trying our best everyday. I refuse to believe in that self-created image of Indians as a people happy with status quo. No, we are restless for change and that is hugely hopeful. Let’s not give into the media-created hype of negativity, but look around us at all the success stories and brave attempts being made every day by ordinary people who want to live a good life, do a good job and leave a sound legacy behind for an undoubtedly capable generation to take on.
Yes it is cliched to write a blog post on independence on the eve of our country’s Independence Day. What is the sort of independence we aspire to, as individuals, as groups within society, as a nation?
Personally, independence has always been a struggle. While I have strong opinions and can be quite self centred, I know I am far from independent. I live the stereotypes I have been fed, like most of us, since we were children. I thrive on relationships, the typical ones- spouse, mother, kids, grand mums, mother in law, close friends, extended family. I think I derive the most satisfaction in life from these. Every so often I find myself holding back from something I love to do, for instance, because I perceive this as being in conflict with these relationships and the person I am in their context. I sacrifice independence for peace.
Independence, therefore, is not a point won. It’s not the annihilation of dependence. It is far more nuanced. It is about balance, about the right amount of compromise, about weighing options, prioritising and taking chances.
Interdependence among citizens and our ability to come to reasonable means to live in harmony is therefore the main goal for an independent nation like ours. We have no higher power to tell us what to do, who we must listen to because we don’t have a choice. We do. But we must choose to exercise reason, build relationships, accept the dependence in order to truly enjoy independence.
I woke up this morning to glance down from the balcony at the community flag hoisting ceremony happening down in the park. On a rather chilly morning, a dedicated bunch of residents were assembled, singing the usual patriotic songs and releasing balloons in the colors of our national flag. It didn’t seem a particularly moving ceremony from my perch high up on the 14th floor.
Later, as I caught glimpses of the Republic Day parade on TV and was idly wondering about the relevance of such an imperial sort of display in the current post-modern context, I was surprised to find my eyes wet with tears of emotion! ‘Aah, patriotism!’ I said to myself.
Now, of course we are all patriotic deep inside. But the sharp, militant form of patriotism of our childhood, of those times when every young child dreamt of fighting a war for the country (when in our make-believe games, the boys were soldiers in imaginary Indo-Pak wars and the girls nursed the wounded!), can hardly be seen anymore. In today’s context, the threats have changed in nature. No longer is the country potentially under attack from outside elements, but insiders seem more threatening to the tenuous structure of our young and still immature democracy.
This 63rd Republic Day in our 65th year of independence, patriotism is no longer something we wear on our sleeve. As so-called global citizens, we the educated middle classes, express love for India in our desire to see higher GDP growth, industrial productivity, sectoral growth, rising sensex figures, increasing employment figures. We are patriotic in how we would like to see India beat China hollow (in your dreams, I hear the cynics say!) in terms of economic growth, exports, etc. I wish we’d get more competitive and patriotic and make efforts to improve our basic indices like health, infant mortality, sex ratio, literacy…we’re so far behind in trying to meet the Millenium Development Goals, we should, as a nation, hang our head in shame!
But coming back to the point, for all our professed love for India, are we really patriotic and does patriotism still mean something to us?
Patriotism, by definition, is about love for one’s country and loyalty to its central institution, the state. A large part of patriotism is about defending one’s nation against others and in the context of India’s current situation, against moves to destroy the nation’s democratic foundations and institutions as well. Which means we need to speak up and stand against all elements that want to divide Indians and those who want to take away any of the freedoms granted to us by the constitution.
To sum things up, shedding a tear or clapping in delight at the Republic Day parade simply isn’t enough! We’d need to do more to save our nation from its true enemies and then we’d be patriots for real!