The hysterical debate that has been sparked off in the aftermath of the fateful events of February 9 at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), in which anti-India slogans were raised, underlines the importance of understanding what promotes nationalism and patriotism and what not.
To no prudent mind the anti-national slogans that were raised at the JNU are justified or appreciable. They deserve the strongest possible condemnation from all quarters and action should be taken against the perpetrators by the relevant authorities. But the way the ruling party and its supporters have reacted to it is both a disservice to the cause of nationalism and a failed attempt to promote it.
It is a disservice to Indian nationalism as the overzealous response by people in power has given undeserving attention to a bunch of criminal provocateurs and India appeared to be "dignifying" them as a threat to its national security.
The heavy deployment of police on the JNU campus, fiery debates in the media, jingoistic statements by senior government officials (including India's home minister and human resources development minister) and so on were completely uncalled for.
It portrayed India as a country whose agenda can be hijacked by a handful of men raising anti-national slogans; whereas, in fact, India is too big and powerful a country to deal with them as it has. Ironically, Indian nationalism has been bruised more by the government's reaction to those raising anti-national slogans than by the provocateurs themselves.
It is also a failed attempt to promote nationalism as jingoistic slogans, forceful hoisting of the national flag, coercive singing of the national anthem, fiery "nationalist" debates on television channels, thrashing of even convicted anti-nationals (let alone dissenters) and the like can never promote patriotism in a country; they rather make people disillusioned with the whole idea of nationalism. What can, however, serve as a matter of pride for the citizens of a country are the protection of their human and democratic rights.
A country which provides security to life and property, high standard of living, quality education, rule of law, justice and equality to its citizens is more likely to have patriotic citizens than those which perform badly on these parameters.
And unfortunately, India is one of those countries which fits more into the latter category than the former. It is still a country where healthy food and water, safe shelter, proper medical care, uninterrupted electricity supply, world class universities, and swift and just redressal of grievances are not available to the masses.
Had the ruling party and its supporters who are claiming to champion the cause of nationalism in India today reacted with the same enthusiasm and concern when reports surfaced of people eating grass due to poverty in the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh, and hundreds of elderly people dying due to unavailability of shelter in harsh winters every year, they would have been said to have contributed towards a true nationalist cause. But until all Indians' right to food, shelter and a dignified standard of living is ensured, mere sloganeering would hardly promote patriotism and mostly sound ridiculous.