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PATRIOTISM AND THE PEOPLE




































Kargil fighting and its aftermath, including the downing of the Pakistani aircraft near the Gujarat-Sind border, have generated an orgy of patriotic hype among the establishment elites in both India and Pakistan. Vested interests in both countries, whose entire careers, fortunes, and lives have been constructed on a foundation of maintaining an unending and eternal hostility between India and Pakistan, have naturally been at the forefront of this brand of patriotism. Their views are aired endlessly over the media, TV, radio and newspapers in both countries and it is hardly surprising if people become affected to some extent by this ceaseless propaganda. More fanatical religio-political elements who are at the fringes of the ruling parties in India and Pakistan have been driven into a frenzy by these events, as can be expected. Overt hostility between these countries is grist to both the Hindutva and the Islamist mill; actual fighting is no doubt nectar from their own peculiar version of Heaven. But do the ordinary people of India and Pakistan and the many thousands living abroad in the South Asian diaspora have anything to gain from participating in this patriotic orgy?

A group of South Asians (of Indian and Pakistani origin) met on August 15 (the Indian Independence Day and one day after Pakistan’s Independence Day) in New York and pondered over this question. Differing views were exchanged on various subjects ranging from the peace movement to Kashmir, over the reaction of common people in Pakistan and India to the hostilities, etc. But on one point there was no difference. No one in the room felt any compulsion to defend the views of the establishment in either country, echo Their Master, and slide into the frozen hostility characteristic of mindless patriotism. All agreed that their respective Governments, who are drumming the mantra of defense of their sacred soil into the ears of their populace night and day, have hardly any moral authority to speak of patriotism when the only soil available to millions of their people is a piece of city pavement or a shanty to sleep, when the additional billions of rupees devoted to the military will further shrink the meager allocations to education and health. All were also agreed that there was, infact, a deep desire for peace, friendship and amity among the common people in India and Pakistan.

Samuel Johnson, the English writer and compiler of the first dictionary of the English language, described patriotism as the last refuge of scoundrels. His definition is certainly an apt description of the ruling groups currently ruling India and Pakistan.
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