Nationalism merely expresses the civilisational values of the nation
Waldemar Hanasz’s “Toward Global Citizenship?”, one of the readings prescribed for next week’s Liberty Fund Colloquium at Neemrana, organised by Centre for Civil Society, says “contemporary republications realise that today the only form of passionate patriotism is nationalism, which is often incompatible with toleration and pluralism.”
This negative view of nationalism pervades the Western political discourse. A few years ago, a European friend argued that he was sceptical of nationalism because of the crimes and violence that were perpetrated in Europe in the first half of the twentieth century. In a way this is like the contemporary connotation of the swastika in the West. The Nazis appropriation of an ancient symbol sacred to Hindus, Buddhists and people of many other Indian faiths has resulted in the swastika becoming a taboo sign, not just among the ignorant, but also among the politically correct knowledgeable.
Mr Hanasz phrases his sentence carefully but in popular discourse, nationalism is automatically equated with intolerance. This is wrong.
The political expression of nationalism depends on the values of the nation concerned (the nation being an “imagined community” that has cultural kinship). If nationalism in twentieth-century Europe resulted in intolerance and violence it is because the intolerant and violent values of Europe’s nations were dominant. There is no reason to believe that this will happen everywhere else.
Indian nationalism since the middle of the nineteenth century was informed by the quintessentially Hindu values of tolerance and pluralism. As long as Indian nationalism continues to be driven by these dominant Hindu values, we need not worry too much about the colours with which Western discourse paints it with.
The politics of liberal nationalism is not only possible but presents modern society with a enlightened way to manage its affairs. Actually, this has been the way in India for much of history, with the exceptions being Islamic and European attempts to impose religious intolerance in some parts during some periods. These attempts largely failed except in 1947. Even so, the outcome of Partition showed that systems that reject the values of tolerance and pluralism will come to grief.