India News

Is Unpatriotic Nationalism in India a Thing?

Created in 1947, India is a young nation still in search of its identity. This Gen Z author struggles with his generation’s understanding of what it means to root for India and cheer for its success and its economic transformation. He questions whether the competitive business culture that dominates a globalized economy is compatible with India’s true identity.
Gen Z India

Kolkata, India, 11/01/2020- A woman is given slogan on her mike for the protest of NRC and CAA in Kolkata, India. © papai /

February 14, 2023 01:29 EDT

Each time I’m brought to notice how dynamic the feelings of closeness in friendships are, I begin to wonder if everyone feels the same way or if it’s just an issue with me. I usually convince myself that this phenomenon is normal by reminding myself of my theory: that most people in the world are very similar, and thus if my emotions follow a certain pattern, it’s highly probable that it’s the same for everyone else.

If I perceive a certain comment from a friend as demeaning, my bond with the concerned friend temporarily wanes before slowly returning to the baseline. Over time, due to my strong tendency to be at the receiving end of such comments, I sometimes think it’s made me more resistant. And thus when a particular statement does affect me, it’s usually because it’s a powerful one.

My childhood and teenage upbringing has shaped my life into one that none of my college friends relate to. When morals and values are discussed, I’m usually the one with a completely different perspective from others. As a result, I’m used to having to defend my opinion. The only issue is that since I’m the minority, the format of the discussions is usually multiple friends versus me. Initially, during the first few months in medical college, I would defend myself in all circumstances. But it got tiring and began to seem pointless since very few friends would even rarely consider my opinion. I wouldn’t mind the fact that they thought I was wrong if they at least would give it the consideration of being an opinion worth pondering.

Perhaps instinctively, I began to reciprocate. I began to dismiss their thoughts and opinions, and eventually some conversations. It became a competition in my mind, were my interests and opinions better than my friends’? When I realized what my immaturity had led to, I tried to start considering matters more rationally. Despite the change in mindset, however, I realized that my opinions, interests, and disinterests didn’t change all that much.

Boring Popular Conversations

A few months ago I had been sitting with my friends in the mess, listening, though not with much interest, to them conversing about a topic of which I had little knowledge. It was a situation I was quite familiar with, and was usually about diverse topics such as politics, history or cricket. However all these had something in common. They bored me. My friends had long realized that these were topics of popular conversation about which I remain largely ignorant due to my limited interest in them. Despite knowing this, I sometimes suspect they derive some sort of pleasure in reaffirming that I truly do lack insight about the topic. I’ve tried to find explanations that avoid portraying them as indulging in schadenfreude to compensate for their low self-esteem. But that’s usually the conclusion I end up with.

On this particular day, they were talking about multinational corporations. One of my friends was talking about stocks or profits or some other economic term he probably didn’t fully understand himself. His musings concerned an Indian corporation and how it was one of the top companies in the world. Then he must have sensed the opportunity to boost his self-worth, so he turned to me and asked me if I knew about the company. With a sense of foreboding, I admitted my ignorance and as I expected, they scoffed at the poverty of my knowledge. 

At that moment, my need for acceptance and justification momentarily overtook my self-confidence and I tried defending myself by saying that I just wasn’t interested in those things. I was rebuffed by my friend who claimed that I was being unpatriotic. While I acknowledged at the time that my reflex dismissal of that opinion could be largely due to my trying to justify myself, I was convinced that my disregard of their assessment also had a logical basis. I later pondered the situation and concluded that my patriotism wasn’t really in question, but that they, on the other hand, were indulging in a sense of false patriotism.

What Exactly Do Terms Like Nationalism or Patriotism Mean?

Nationalism and patriotism are terms thrown around quite loosely, and being someone who doesn’t adhere to these principles can become an annoying label with which other people may tag me. My American nationality by birth is an example of this. But what nationalism really means is something I don’t think people understand, based on what I’ve managed to piece together through conversations. Patriotism ideally means support for one’s country, and thus most likely its values and culture. And so I tried to understand what part of an Indian-based company competing in global markets had to do with nationalism. I highly doubted that the CEO cared deeply about his country. By managing a company — and a large company at that — his interests were probably more directed toward profits than the land where he was born. 

Was I supposed to feel pride that a business from my country was competing at an international level? I couldn’t find a way to do that. In my eyes, competing on a global level in business just meant forsaking our core Indian values and fighting with western countries on their playing field. It’s hard for me to believe that the aspiration of a capitalistic world is inherently an Indian value. I felt that the more we tried to compete with other countries on an international scale, the more we were becoming like the rest of them and thus losing what made us unique, our national character. I’m convinced there is an inverse relationship between any developing nation’s core values and those required to be successful globally, not just ideologically, but functionally as well, since the more time, resources, and money allocated to this competition, the less we have left for our indigenous culture.

I’m not talking about which way of life is better for a country, but merely the thought process behind the current mentality. When I bring up this paradox of nationality, people begin to defend globalization (while ignoring the problem of the paradox) by saying that it’s beneficial for the country. While I think that too is questionable, obtaining benefits isn’t the point. If we keep competing with other countries and keep improving our GDP, healthcare infrastructure, defense systems, technology, and standard of living, what will be left to differentiate us from everyone else? We will just become a part of an increasingly homogenous world, with nothing unique left for our patriotism to defend. Would a different language and lines on a map be sufficient to keep the Indians feeling ‘Indian’? And even if it did, would it have any meaning?

Reading about totalitarian concepts may have provoked an internal bias compelling me to search for how these concepts could be playing out in today’s world. But regardless, I’m beginning to see mindless nationalism as an effective tool for mass control. It first hit me when my friends and I went to watch a movie in the genre, historical fiction. It was about two hunks who despite their differences became very good friends and all on their own ended up destroying the British government which was ruling over India. It was an action-packed movie filled with illogical subplots, a consistent disregard of physics, cheap attempts at pulling heartstrings, and, overall, a movie that anyone watching from a rational perspective should have found pathetic. I’m not saying that it would have been a crime for someone to like this movie, but it would have been inconsistent for a person who prides himself on being logical to try to justify the movie’s obvious shortcomings. 

Is Flag-Waving Emotional Nationalism Really Nationalism?

But this is what one of my friends did, and it was obvious why. He considers himself to be a nationalist and claims to have a deep love for his country. The last part of the movie had a few patriotic messages, the national anthem, a waving Indian flag, and a few shed tears in service of the glory of the country. I don’t have an issue with someone loving their nation, but I do have an issue when that simple love trumps all other facts and logic. My friend’s reaction to the movie could have been “I loved the angle of India’s independence, but a lot of the movie was rubbish” instead of disregarding my nitpicking and saying “Didn’t you see the part about the glory of India, the movie was amazing.”

While people talk passionately about India, I’ve always questioned what it really means to be Indian. I know for a fact that our country’s development on a global scale is not something that gives me a feeling of originality concerning my country. When I think of India, I imagine cows and dogs roaming peacefully on the streets, the geriatric population drinking tea and resting beneath banyan trees, and people going to temples. But free animals bring out the image of a third-world country; a lack of activity is anti-capitalistic; religion is not scientific or progressive. So if India needs to develop, my core associations with my country need to end so that we become more like the rest of the world. But if we’re becoming more like them, how will Indians be unique?

During India’s struggle for independence, the nation’s united fight with the British was what brought out patriotism and gave Indians a sense of brotherhood. After independence and original India’s partition into the newer India and Pakistan, we managed to find an identity that excluded that of Pakistan. This identity consisted of a rejection of their religion, as well as an imbibed sense of a need for conflict. 

One of the largest surges of nationality in India occurs during international cricket tournaments, especially during a match against Pakistan. Winning a match or a tournament against other countries adds no direct value to India, and yet Indians feel as if they’ve won some sort of ideological victory or war. I perceive this phenomenon as a strong indication that manufactured conflict is one of the strongest tools that is used(voluntarily or involuntarily) to hold people dear to their country. And this is probably why people bring out all sorts of comparisons with other countries to prove their patriotism. 

With dispute being the basis of nationality, it would be impossible to hope for a united world, where all people think of each other with fondness. If there was a basis for disagreement between countries, like a developed country using a developing country for cheap labor, the developing country’s dissent could even be justifiable. But using dispute for the sake of dispute is just a farce.

However, disagreement should provoke the need to become better than the other. This persistence of global dissent stimulates competition, thereby making it consistent with the stated ideals of capitalism, where competition is considered necessary for growth. So perhaps nationalism can be equated with capitalism. If so, with respect to India –– whose core values I don’t consider capitalistic –– the very basis of our nationalism could be considered anti-nationalistic.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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