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In the past few centuries, nationalism as an idea has been the most successful construct for inspiring unity, preceded only by religion. Culturally, a nation is a group of people bound together by a common language, religion, history and traditions, although nations exhibit various levels of cultural heterogeneity. Politically, a nation is a group of people who regard themselves as a natural political community, classically expressed through the quest for sovereign statehood. While the concept of an ethnic group resembles that of a country, the fundamental difference between the two is that of political aspirations in which the former lacks collective political aspirations whereas the latter are driven by them.
Different perceptions of nationalism for a nation
The notion of nationalism has varied from country to country. In the Indian context, numerous thinkers have defined the term in their own ways. Sri Aurobindo provided an element of spiritualism to nationalism. In 1908 he said in a public meeting in Bombay, “Nationalism is not a mere political programme; Nationalism is a religion that has come from God; Nationalism is a creed which you shall have to live. If you are going to be nationalist, if you are going to assent to this religion of nationalism, you must do it in the religious spirit. You must remember that you are the instrument of God.” In a way he elevated the demand for national freedom to a religious faith so that the masses could be awakened.
Swami Vivekananda’s nationalism was also based on spiritualism, patriotism and religion. He reintroduced the Vedas, Puranas, Geeta and India’s immense heritage to the contemporary public discourse. He was also a great patriot who stressed on selfless service, a sense of human dignity for national integration. He believed that in India, religion has been a creative force towards stability and integration. He considered Education as the panacea for social and religious problems. He not only believed in nationalism but also in internationalism. At the World Religion Summit at Chicago in 1893 he gave the message of the Universal Brotherhood to the entire world.
Rabindranath Tagore through his book Nationalism, said that the idea of nation encounters much criticism and cannot be a suitable institution for the welfare of the people. He, instead, advocated for the concept of humanism which would favour distributive justice and the rights of humans and other living beings over the rights of nations.
Ambedkar’s nationalism was quite different from that of the Indian National Congress. His spirit of nationalism stems from his spirit of dignity both for the people and for the country. His empathy for the downtrodden and alienated led him to fight against the denial of basic human rights to some sections of the Indian society. Such an attitude of Ambedkar was considered by some congress leaders as anti-national, but it was nothing but an expression of humanism and nationalism to which he sincerely devoted himself.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s nationalism was tantamount to Hindu Muslim unity. He commented, “I am proud of being an Indian. I am a part of the indivisible unity that is Indian nationality. I am indispensable to this noble edifice, and without me this splendid structure of India is incomplete. I am an essential element which has gone to build India. I can never surrender this claim.”
Sarojini Naidu also contributed significantly in the national movements through her writings. She helped spread Indian nationalism through the promotion of the Swadeshi goods, and by exhorting people to give up foreign products.
For Mahatma Gandhi, nationalism meant attainment of ‘Swaraj’ or self-rule in which the entire national community would be free and active. However, he rejected the violent methods of revolutionary nationalists.
Whether it was the method of violent struggle adopted by Chandrashekhar Azad and Bhagat Singh or a path of passive resistance (ahimsa) advocated and followed by Mahatma Gandhi, all the indefatigable endeavors of the masses and of their leaders were the result of the ignited feeling of nationalism. Indians were determined to liberate India from the shackles of exploitative British rule. The Charisma of nationalist leaders and the cascading effects of country-wide movements for the achievement of freedom had played a significant role in evoking the spirit of nationalism among the masses.
Bollywood and Hindi songs have also significantly contributed in developing the feeling of patriotism. While movies like Border, Lagan and URI have kept the flame of patriotism burning, songs like Saare Jahn Se Aacha and Bharat Humko Jaan Se Pyara Hai have filled our hearts with enough zest and pride. Flaring national flag gives us goosebumps unwittingly and warms our hearts. All such feelings are the means to define our patriotism. It is a natural sentiment which one can suppress.
Cooperation and accommodation are necessary for the development of the masses without requiring any compromise with the feeling of patriotism. We certainly believe that every individual is free to show their love for the country in the way they want, unless the act has jarring effects on society and harms innocent others.