Yesterday I heard it again- ‘Our country is going to the dogs’. I looked outside. Many innocent members of the canine species looked back amiably. Some middle class Malayalees hurried along the road, looking focussed. Scores of construction workers from various corners of the country were building a Metro Rail track on which I and my family may travel very soon. A white tourist couple walked past, holding hands. We were a group of colleagues from my workplace. I, from Keralam. One from Hyderabad. Another close friend, from Rajasthan. We had with us, a black surgeon from Nigeria, a visitor to our department. Far off in another land, athletes from our country threw and ran; took aim and swam. Mostly to no avail- but they tried.
Are things bad? Depends on what you see. What you see is tinted with our knowledge and biases. Looking deep, what we see are the erosion of the family, community, tradition and religion. We also see the rise of individualism, individual and universal human rights, reason and science.
In short, our ancient virtues- courage, faith, loyalty and valour- don’t seem so unquestionably good all the time. The not-so romantic virtue of ‘Prudence’ has cast a shadow over it all. Yes- even on our concept of nationalism.
I left my friends and walked to the supermarket. I had to do my weekly shopping for my family. The available things had an astonishing variety. There were durian from Malaysia and apples from Australia. Brazil nuts rubbed shoulders with ground nuts from Andhra. I could buy cell phones from China and drive in a car made in Japan.
I did not make any of these by my effort. My skills are limited to a very narrow spectrum of human endeavour. The entire world colludes to benefit me in a staggeringly complex, monumentally beneficial system of exchange evolved from the bottom up through millennia. Hunters were exchanging meat for stone axes between unrelated people 30000 years ago.
The system of Nation states is the glorious culmination of this process. Violence is at an all time low, despite there being 7 billion human beings in the place of a single million 50000 years ago. The world is a better place, but for small patches of anarchy were the nation state is not strong enough or felt legitimate enough by its people. This legitimacy is crucial.
For giving my share of miniscule service, the Nation and the system in place, provides me with everything I may need. The people of my country work for me. The farmer ploughs and plants the seeds. The roads are serviced. The garbage is disposed.
We can do all this in a better and efficient way. If we can’t do it whom can we blame? Us. That is legitimacy. I feel involved in my Nations destiny. If some don’t, we cant expect patriotism from them. But if we do, we have to be loyal. Prudently loyal. It stands to reason.
We cant be under the naive notion that if there are no loyal soldiers protecting our borders, we will never be overrun and our systems demolished. If there were no Police, gangsters with codes both ancient and modern will take over our lives with unspeakable violence. If the rule of law were to halt with a screech, the beneficial system of exchanges will die. I don’t want that to happen.
Pride in our shared history, loyalty, courage and sense of belonging is good. But that is not the only reason that I love my country. My individual rights are protected by a mutual respect for everyone’s individual rights. That is guaranteed by my constitution. It helps me and the people I love to be part of this country. I owe it. That is the basis for my nationalism.
Happy Independence Day.