Editorial: Hating to Love?

Really, is Indian pride so fragile that an out of turn hug can hurt it?

So, Navjot Singh Sidhu, the former cricketer, one-time road-rage murder accused, TV reality show fixture and now Legislator from Punjab, finds himself in a soup. His “crime” - having hugged the Army Chief of Pakistan during his recent travel there for the swearing in as PM of another cricketer-turned-politician, Imran Khan. And why was that such a boo-boo? Well, because Pakistan supports terrorists with evil designs on India. And while that may be true, why should personal animosity be necessary when the establishments already hate each other so much? If the premiers of the two countries can shake hands and earn praise for it, why should hugging be sacrilege? After all, hugging is to a Punjabi what shaking hands is to the more reserved. But the issue has been dusted up as a national outrage. Must be the timing so close to I-Day, when the nationalism of the easily offended gets an uptick and when distractions are also necessary to divert attention from the more real worries and concern. Remember, it was almost to the day this time two years back when Ramya, an actress who is also a former Congress MP, was facing a private complaint in a Court in South India seeking action on sedition and other charges against her for “insulting” Indian patriots with her remark that “Pakistan is not hell”. There cannot be a better example than these two episodes to understand the problems of nationalism versus the confidence of patriotism. Schools and colleges across the country should take these episodes to debate what they want from the future citizens – compassionate souls or boorish clowns infected with blind faith, because in these instances, we have examples of both. It all started with some Union Minister referring to Pakistan as “hell”. As expected, the right-wingers loved this pronouncement. There also appears to be a law in the land where inciting hatred against another country is also considered a bookable offence. No one appears to talk of that law though. India and Pakistan have their issues, but these are issues which obsess the governments and leaders. That is not to say that these are not important issues or that they don’t affect the citizens at all, but it is also a fact that as far as the people are concerned, Pakistan loves Bollywood and India loves Pakistani TV soaps. Agreed, a very simplistic analogy, but one which works fine to drive home the point that governments are not the same as people; regimes can be hellish and situations nightmarish, but an entire country or all its citizens are not. The real worry is the mindset which is gaining credence all over; a mindset which requires people to constantly run down everyone else all the time so that they can keep their chest puffed. Blind faith is embarrassing enough, but to demand it of everyone is dangerous, but that is increasingly what is being asked of Indians. These demands used to be made in the past as well, but under the current dispensation at the Centre, these come laced with a semblance of authority and are often also backed by the state machinery. The madness of gau-rakshak gangs and the naked aggression against Dalits, students and thinkers – basically everyone who does not worship at the altar of the warped interpretation of nationalism, all these instances stand proof of the fact that the lunatic fringe is on the verge of becoming the new normal. If the people arrive at an informed choice that they want to become ultra-nationalists, there is nothing one can do. But if they are conned into mouthing nationalism when they would rather be patriots first, well, that would be wrong and needs to be challenged. It is hence important that because there is so much blurring of the lines between nationalism and patriotism, at least schools and colleges make the effort to allow the young to discuss the differences and decide for themselves which pigeonhole they want to lock themselves into. But then again, a generation which has given up its ability to think for itself (because they allow TV anchors to do it for them) cannot make out the difference between nationalism and patriotism, but the young should be encouraged to see the contrast, discover the nuances and make an informed choice.