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When Chai Gets Cold, and the Debate Boils Over

When Chai Gets Cold, and the Debate Boils Over

By Shree Agnihotri

A poem was doing the rounds on Social Media recently. ‘Tum bilkul ham jaise nikle’ (Turned out you were just like us) is a wonderfully worded comment on the rise of extremism in India. Fahmida Riaz, a poet from Pakistan, echoes the oft repeated sentiment — that of the oneness of thoughts, cultures and beliefs on both the sides of the border.

Only this time, there is nothing to cheer about. The poem is the sound of the fallen laughing at those who are stumbling. She predicts the ultimate degeneration:

[su_quote]भाड़ में जाये शिक्षा-विक्षा

अब जाहिलपन के गुन गाना,

आगे गड्ढा है यह मत देखो

वापस लाओ गया जमाना,

मश्क करो तुम – आ जाएगा

उल्टे पांवों चलते जाना,

दूजा ध्यान न मन में आए,

बस पीछे ही नज़र जमाना

एक जाप-सा करते जाओ,

बारम्बार यह ही दोहराओ

कितना वीर महान था भारत!

कैसा आलीशान था भारत![/su_quote]

[su_quote]To hell with education and learning.

Let’s sing the praises of ignorance.

Don’t look at the potholes in your path:

bring back instead the times of yore!

Practice harder till you master the skill of always walking backwards.

Let not a single thought of the present break your focus upon the past!

Repeat the same thing over and over – over and over, say only this:

How glorious was India in the past!

How sublime was India in days gone by![/su_quote]

I read it to a friend, and wondered out loud something that had been gnawing at the back of my head for quite a long time. This reiterated rhetoric of ‘maintaining the Indian-ness’ of almost everything had gotten me thinking if nationalism was really as glorious as some would have us believe. Sure, Indian Nationalism got us our Independence and pride in one’s nation was a wonderful thing. But was there a slight possibility, that it had run its course or maybe underwent a complete overhaul?

Nationalism borders on Extremism?

Right from some political entities trying to demonize Mughal ‘invaders’, belittling the clan’s Indian-ness to magnify that of a perhaps more suitable ruler — someone who would fit their criteria of being an Indian — to Governors of State and Union Ministers officially asking for the removal of the black robes and graduation caps to make way for a more ‘Indian’ attire, the statements have reeked of nothing but a blind nationalism. In this era of globalization, who gets to decide what Indian-ness even means, I asked her.

After expressing so much outrage when Americans questioned Nina Davuluri’s right to be crowned Miss America, do we even have the standing to refuse to acknowledge the melting pot that the country has become? Wasn’t one’s nationality just another attribute, not chosen, but received by reason of birth? What if I identify more with another attribute by reason of birth, say my religion, and would rather support a team which has people of my religion over the team comprising of my compatriots? But I don’t wish to. I’d rather identify myself with an attribute ascribed to me by my choice. And the sudden bout of the all pervasive Indian-ness is almost stifling. Thus ending my tirade, I waited for her to reply.

Individualism borders on Indifference?

She was silent for some minutes, my friend. Sipping her cup of chai, she said two words — necessary evil. And understanding in a way only a friend can, she proceeded to indulge me in the never-ending debate between individualism and collectivism.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]Religion and region are the two most effective means of social cohesion.[/su_pullquote]

Historically, regions (barring a few cases) have been more conducive to change than religions. And unless you wish to do away with a man’s political consciousness, you cannot dismiss the bond between a man and his motherland. You talk of individualism. But what is more likely to make a man protect the natural resources around him? The love for the geographical region he was born in or individualism?

We must abhor fascism, and not just abhor it, but must actively participate to prevent it from making another Nazi Germany. In denouncing Hitler, you cannot ignore the benefits of the aggressive nationalism that Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore saw.

Economies benefit when there is an upsurge in nationalistic feelings. Nationalism often leads to stabilized democracies, which inter alia, like in India, leads to increased investor confidence.

Nationalism gives that impetus to every single individual in the country to give his best, to contribute to his nation, to share the pride. Just like with Utilitarianism, it has its faults, but nothing beats the greatest good of the greatest numbers!


I was halfway through my cup of chai. The scalding liquid had become lukewarm, intense aroma had given way to clearer tastes. Perhaps, I said.

But the key to translating increased investor confidence to economic development is not nationalism, but sound institutions with good policies. Fascism might be the other end of the spectrum. But Germany did emerge victorious from its battle with a murky past. Wary of all collective sentiments, running low on national pride, the upheaval of the German economy is proof that nationalism is not a pre-requisite to development.

I would not contend that nationalism does not have its ‘benefits’. But, I absolutely refuse to see how any form of nationalism, doing what you just described, could and should interfere with my individual liberties. Neither would I term the kind of nationalism, acceptable, which refuses to shelter the refugees just because one does not share the same accident of birthplace! What I see are countries soaked in nationalism turning a blind eye because they value their country over everything else. This overzealous protective nature has escaped Germany, and we have Individualism to thank for that.

Where one is valued not for her attributes by birth, but by worth. Into that heaven of freedom, let my world awake.

Laughing at my Utopian wishes, she got up to leave. The chai was over. But the conversation wasn’t.

It is the time to start a conversation. What constitutes pride in one’s motherland? What constitutes overzealous possessiveness? Can there be a healthier form of nationalism? Or is it just another emotion manipulated by the State to get one to believe in the cause of ‘public/national interest’? There is a difference between Personal-Nationalism and Coercive-Nationalism. The former is a gardener who nurtures his own garden, the latter, the one who gets a law passed to plant just roses in all the gardens, because roses, he sincerely believes are good for the land.

Shree Agnihotri is a Member of Executive Board, Students for Liberty South Asia. Her fields of interest are Constitutional Law, Comparative Laws, Jurisprudence, Administrative Laws and Public Policy. She strongly believes in a constitution of spirit rather than letter. The only reason she doesn’t mind keeping down a book for, is saving the world. She feels deeply about pro-liberty causes and would want her writings to make a difference.

This post was originally published on Spontaneous Order.

Featured Image Credits: Lokesh Khemani via Flickr

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