“Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”, meaning ‘the world is one family’, (Vasudhaiva is a compound of Sanskrit ‘vasudha’, meaning ‘the earth’, and ‘eva’, meaning ‘indeed is’; ‘kutumbakam’ means ‘family’; conjoined, it translates to ‘the world is one family’) is a Sanskrit phrase occurring at beginning of a verse in the Upanishad exhorting humankind to live in the consciousness of oneness, as an extended family drawing on shared resources, devoid of discrimination and affording equal opportunities, nurturing all legitimate aspirations in the true spirit of universal oneness. The entire verse, engraved at the entrance hall of the parliament of India, translates to, ‘The world is a family / One is a relative, the other stranger, / say the small minded. / The entire world is a family, / live the magnanimous./ Be detached, / be magnanimous, / lift up your mind, enjoy / the fruit of Brahmanic freedom’. Such lofty thoughts guided earlier generations of leaders, not only within the country but across geographies, resonating in words such as Harambee and Ujamaa (Swahili, meaning ‘pulling together’ and ‘extended family’) in the African continent, in The Declaration of the rights of Man and of the Citizen, in the slogan liberte, egalite, fraternite enshrined as the national motto of France, and subsequently that of American revolution, propelled by inspired visions of Lafayette, Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, Washington, and, nearer home, Mahatma Gandhi.
From the visionary heights of those revolutionary years that gave rise to newly independent democratic governments in several countries, with USA and India at two ends of the spectrum respectively as the world’s oldest and largest democracies, it may be worthwhile looking at current scenarios as played out in various parts of the world. On the one side is the burgeoning communalism, with organized religions ostensibly involved in the task of refining lives of people but actually machinating as power centers seeking to divide societies and exercise influence over as large swathes as possible. On the other side is the spectre of communalization vitiating and hijacking the democratic process, with political parties readily willing to appease religions by dispensing favours in return for votes. In the emerging situation, nationalism is not a glorious ideal as widely believed to be, but another garb of communalism when it is used as vehicle to advance a communal agenda.
Nationalism and communalism are thus turning out to be the ominously unpalatable flavor of the times, not merely in India but in many countries of the world, if the deep and atavistic passions that are being whipped up in the name of religion, politics, culture, ethnicity and regional affiliations are any indication.
Nationalism is the belief that one’s own country is better than all others. It sometimes leads people into a xenophobic disinclination to work with other nationalities to solve shared problems or pursue common endeavours.
It is important not to confuse nationalism with patriotism. Patriotism is a healthy pride in your country that brings about feelings of loyalty and a desire to help other citizens. Nationalism is the belief that your country is superior, without question or doubt. In some cases, nationalism can inspire people to break free of a foreign oppressor, as in India’s independence movement or in the American Revolution, but nationalism can also lead a country to cut itself off from the rest of the world.
Nationalism is a shared identity in the significance of a geographical and sometimes demographic region seeking independence for its culture and/or ethnicity that holds a particular group together; it can expand as an expression of a belief or political ideology involving individuals identifying with or becoming attached to a larger constituency of nationals and consequently a nation. Nationalism involves national identity in contrast with related concept of patriotism which involves the social conditioning and personal behaviors that support a state’s decisions and actions.
The political convulsions of the late 18th century associated with the American and French revolutions massively augmented the widespread appeal of patriotic nationalism. Ultra-nationalist parties sprung up in France during the French Revolution. Johann Gottfried Herder, the prophet of a form of this new creed, originated the term nationalism. Herder gave Germans new pride in their origins, and proclaimed a national message within the sphere of language, which he believed determines national thought and culture. He attached exceptional importance to the concepts of nationality and of patriotism – “he that has lost his patriotic spirit has lost himself and the whole worlds about himself”, whilst teaching that “in a certain sense every human perfection is national”
From a political or sociological standpoint, there are two main perspectives on the origins and basis of nationalism. One is the primordialist perspective that describes nationalism as a reflection of the ancient and perceived evolutionary tendency of humans to organize into distinct groupings based on an affinity of birth. The other is the modernist perspective that describes nationalism as a recent phenomenon requiring the structural conditions of modern society in order to exist.
According to social scientists, the alternative perspective to both of these lineages comes out of Engaged theory, which argues that while the form of nationalism is modern, the content and subjective reach of nationalism depends upon ‘primordial’ sentiments.
There are various definitions for what constitutes a nation, however, which leads to several different strands of nationalism. It can be a belief that citizenship in a state should be limited to a single ethnic, cultural, religious, or identity group, or that multi-nationality in one state ought to necessarily comprise the right to express and exercise national identity even by minorities. The adoption of national identity in terms of historical development has commonly been the result of a response by influential groups unsatisfied with traditional identities due to inconsistency between their defined social order and the experience of that social order by its members, resulting in a situation of anomie, or social normlessness, that nationalists seek to resolve. Anomie results in a society or societies reinterpreting identities, retaining elements that are deemed acceptable and removing elements deemed unacceptable, in order to create unified and harmonious communities. This development may be the result of internal structural issues or the result of resentment by an existing group or groups towards other communities, especially foreign powers that are or are deemed to be controlling them.
“Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception”, opined George Orwell. Jiddu Krishnamurti expanded the thought further in stating that, “When you separate yourself by belief, nationality, tradition, it breeds violence. One who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind”. Elaborating the observation in greater clarity is Rabrindranath Tagore, “There is only one history – the history of man. All national histories are merely chapters in the larger one…. I am not against one nation in particular, but against the general idea of all nations. What is the Nation? It is the aspect of a whole people as an organized power. This organization incessantly keeps up the insistence of the population on becoming strong and efficient. But this strenuous effort after strength and efficiency drains man’s energy from his higher nature where he is self-sacrificing and creative”. Almost echoing the sentiment nearer time is the statement of Daniel Fried, an American diplomat, “Nationalism is like cheap alcohol. First it makes you drunk, then it makes you blind, then it kills you.”
With such a multiplicity of profoundly perspicacious views overwhelmingly weighing against nationalism, it prompts the question as to why there are so many nations on the face of the earth? A hundred and ninety-five sovereign states, according to recent count of the UN. The list can expand to 201 if another six partially recognized states that include Taiwan are added. The obvious answer is it stems from the basest human lust for power and pelf, in addition to the primordial and modernist theories cited as causative factors giving rise to formation of nations, virtually ring-fencing planet earth into innumerable borders, enclosing nation states of various sizes, engendering the apparent feeling in smaller states of being stymied by larger countries. With the end of Cold War a quarter century ago, the predominant feeling was that the world would trend towards greater coalition and unity, setting the stage for confederations and liberal democracies to flourish. Glimmers of hope were seen in demolition of the Berlin Wall culminating in unification of Germany, and in the grouping together of disparate countries across Europe into EEC. The salutary effect of these developments started wearing out with parochial considerations dictating division of few countries in eastern Europe and the air progressively filling up to gathering beats of Grexit, Brexit and other discordant sounds. The largest two democracies are witnessing surges of nationalistic passion and ‘trumped’ up demands in support of racial purity and supremacy, and protectionism. Large sections of population are feeling isolated, unable to come to terms with higher levels of competition in a globalizing world, unable to reconcile with mass migration of humanity from war torn regions to havens of safety, unable to perceive that real strength lies in inclusiveness and diversity. Some of the monotheistic religions are finding it difficult to reconcile with erosion in larger numbers of followers drifting away, disenchanted by too much ritualistic sermonizing and dogma and too little spirituality. Yet others are intent on wreaking havoc using religion as camouflage for nefarious activities of crime syndicates, calculated at building territories of power and riches.
A doctrine that a particular national culture and interests are superior to any other, or that nations should act independently, rather than collectively, to attain their goals, can only be borne out of divisive mindsets which over a period of time assume the forms of chauvinism, jingoism, super-patriotism and ultra-nationalism militating against the aspirational concept of a closely knit world of increasingly closer associations and information highways, where the need to work co-operatively on common goals assume greater significance than obsessions over narrow differences and vested interests. Today the world is on the cusp of what can really be considered to be the fourth industrial revolution, that is changing lives everywhere with all speed. Billions of people are already linked like never before through electronic devices enabling unprecedented connectivity and access to information. There is a staggering confluence of emerging technology breakthroughs, covering wide ranging fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the internet of things, biotechnology, 3D printing, nanotechnology, energy storage and quantum computing, to name a few. Many of these advances are reaching an inflection point as they build and amplify each other in a fusion of technologies across the physical, digital and biological worlds, resulting in profound shifts across all industries marked by emergence of new business models, disruption of incumbents and transformation of production, consumption and delivery systems. On the societal front, a paradigm shift is changing lifestyles, behaviours and attitudes where the only compulsion is growth, consolidation, and further growth. There is a steadily expanding tribe of global communities focused on driving growth and prosperity and building sustainable environments.
Given the trend towards higher scales and globalization, and the need for stable environments to sustain it, the ideal solution would be for the smaller nation states to dissolve their identities wherever possible by consolidating into lesser number of larger countries, resulting in reduced number of borders, facilitating easier movement of people between regions. It is indeed wonderful to visualize a prospect of the seven continents progressively reducing to lesser number of countries in turn distributing resources across wider arcs, dissolving more borderlines and minimizing prospects of skirmishes and warring across borders. Reduced conflicts enable diversion of huge resources towards development and welfare measures. Sustainability of such larger confederations over long term is dependent on governance ensuring that all communities across its jurisdiction are recipients of fruits of development, also enjoying equality of opportunities. Hence let boundaries be eliminated, let the small be abandoned for the vast, as life dwells in expansion, not in contraction. As long as the feeling of nationalism remains alive, conflicts are inevitable. There are heritage monuments in India carved out of entire mountains over several millennia, the construction of which is believed to have happened with participation of extra-terrestrial intelligence, lending credence to the possibility of civilizations in planets other than the earth, also pointing to potential inter-planetary conflicts in future, narrowing down the scope of nationalism and internationalism. Our perspectives, therefore, need to widen to transcend nationalism, resting not in internationalism but universalism. The cosmic power that permeates the universe did not envisage a divisive perspective. Every event and form of life in nature is all encompassing and sustaining of a larger order; the cosmic sentiment is the true unifying force that shall strengthen humanity to overcome bondage, tear down narrow walls of fissiparous tendencies. The cosmic ideology is based on the absolute truth, which is not confined to time, space or any individual. When the limited mind accepts the infinite principle as its goal, it undergoes a 360 degree expansion in a psycho-spiritual progress attainable through regular spiritual practice. The cultivation of a spiritual outlook will not reinforce boundaries between nations but will lead to the establishment of a universal state, a borderless world bound by a common thread of benevolence and unity.