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India is disgracing its martyrs with chest-thumping nationalism

Apoorva Pathak
Apoorva PathakOct 31, 2016 | 17:33

India is disgracing its martyrs with chest-thumping nationalism

Nationalism is the flavour of the season. From the cast of Bollywood movies to the PM's Mann ki Baat message during Diwali, nationalistic fervour is ubiquitous in 2016. The public discourse is overflowing with politicians and celebrities professing gratitude to the soldier, who is the figure in whose name the said discourse is being fuelled.

This nationalism has assumed two forms. On the one hand, it is vying for increased rivalry and enmity with Pakistan.

Being anti-Pakistan, militaristic and hatred-driven is increasingly becoming central to who we are. On the other hand, anyone who disagrees with the centralisation of Pakistan obsession with nationalistic pride or is critical of the government in any other sense (the soldier-army-nation and government are being conflated), is being pitted against the sacrifice of the soldier and labelled anti-national.

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While the political armies can of course later pay respect, does it bring back the soldier who wouldn't have died if there was not politically-expedient stoking of tensions?

The irony of the soldier being used to fuel this paranoid version of nationalism is that one of the greatest prices of stroking such intolerant and paranoia through nationalistic fervour is borne by the soldier.

The first people to bear the cost of escalation of tensions with Pakistan, the inevitable result of nationalism based on Pakistan hatred, are undeniably our soldiers. The pressure to feed their nationalistic pride often means that it's hard to exercise strategic restraint in the face of any provocation.

In fact, now every provocation by Pakistan leads to expectations of an even stronger response by our forces, which, in turn, calls for still greater retaliation by Pakistani forces. While such escalation certainly affords the Twitter warriors more occasion to fuel the jingoistic discourse, it is the soldier who has to witness mayhem and misery.

Firstly, in light of persisting tensions, their leaves (as such, much less than desired) are cancelled. Secondly, their working hours gets extended. Thirdly, the increased shelling and firing, increases their stress. Finally, the increased conflict leads to more injury and deaths of soldiers. While the political armies can of course later pay respect, does it bring back the soldier who wouldn't have died if there was not politically-expedient stoking of tensions?

And it's not that history doesn't hold enough lessons for us to be wiser. The border with Pakistan used to be a scene of incessant firing and shelling till as late as 2003, when the two nations agreed to ceasefire. The soldiers could breathe easy. But it seems we have had enough of peace as frustration that restraint is now necessary for peace reigns supreme among the masses.

Soldier's voice stifled

As an institution, the Indian Army has its own internal divisions and contestation for power and privilege (between infantry and armoury, between the bureaucracy and the uniformed branches, the serving and the retired, et al). But when questioning the Army is forbidden, the top brass who gets to speak for the Army, finds it easy to quell such voices advocating the concerns of different segments within the Army.

Also, it's in the conscientious soldier's interest that the Army becomes a more vibrant institution open to self-correction and scrutiny. Like any other institution, the Army can and does indeed make mistakes, which are more likely to be corrected if it's recognised that the Army can also err.

But when asking Army questions is conceived as not just against Army, but also against the nation, the opportunity to bring out and correct such imperfections of the Army is lost. For example, Pakistan's army, being shielded from scrutiny, has continued with many follies like supporting terrorists - known for its extensive involvement in civilian affairs and the economy.

Soldier serves to protect constitutional order

When civilian liberties are pitted against a soldier's sacrifice, it is the latter that is being demeaned. The soldier sacrifices his life not just for the physical integrity of the nation, but also for securing the constitutional order that makes our nation truly great. Civil liberties and freedom are essential to that constitutional order, so the soldier's sacrifice is not a reason to lessen civil liberties (such as freedom of expression) but to be steadfast in their defence.

The soldier dies so that you and I can freely express, but if we are not even ready to face challenges (like threats from the likes of Raj Thackeray) to exercise the freedom, we prove ourselves unworthy of the martrydom.

Again, when we succumb to hate and fear in the name of nationalism, we are undermining the soldier's sacrifice. The soldiers risk their lives so that we can live without fear and hate, not be driven by them as we so evidently are when we respond without calm to Pakistan's provocation.

Thus, it's important that we realise that the chest-thumping nationalism, endangering our sanity, is more than anything an assault on the soldier's sacrifice, on whose name it survives.

If we truly care about the soldier's sacrifice, we will strive to maintain the peace and freedom for which innumerable soldiers have laid down their lives.

Last updated: October 31, 2016 | 17:33
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