More, if certain other things work out.
There are good reasons why the citizens of the USA consider their country to be the greatest in the world. The biggest reason is that Fox TV tells them so. To be fair, their present President does not repeat this statement as often as some of his predecessors. This may be because, in any speech by Obama, B.H., at least 30% of the time is spent in striking a statesmanlike pose and looking at a point about 3 feet above the left shoulder of the cameraman on Centre 1, which leaves less time for uber-patriotic affirmations. Most Americans take this as an indication of (a) statesmanlike intentions, though not necessarily ability or (b) a malfunctioning teleprompter. But any public figure in the USA must, in any public pronouncement, work in a reference to the USA as the leader of the free world and the guardian of democracy. This helps in building public consensus, patriotic fervor, even national unity. The method has been tried and tested by other world leaders such as Hussein, S., Hitler, A. and Dzugashvili, J. It seems to work.
Do these affirmations lead to an overwhelming question? Or does rhetoric lead to a blind acceptance of the maxim of “My country, right or wrong”? My question is limited to the context of our own country. Do we Indians believe in our country because we are told to do so? Or is there a deeper basis – whether rational or emotional - to our patriotism? As far as I am concerned, I live in India because I would not fit in anywhere else. This is my country. I would have no peace or comfort in a country where I can’t buy tea in an earthen cup. But I have sense enough to know that this does not make India the greatest country in the world (as, indeed, “Mom’s apple pie” is not sufficient proof of American superiority). One of the good things about my country is that I can still say this on a public forum without fear of the outcome.
Come to think of it, everybody says this. In the international media the concept of India, incredible or otherwise, exists in the future. We Indians agree. We’re getting there, we may be world leaders some time soon (a decade? A century?), but we’re certainly not there yet. Indians abroad (especially in world heritage sites like New Jersey) tend to have an extreme version of this objectivity. For them, practically nothing about India is acceptable. Not the infrastructure, food, medical facilities, education nor even the air. Not for them the empty rhetoric of world domination. (Curiously enough, this is the demographic that is most likely to buy into the Fox TV view of the USA. But we shall examine this phenomenon anon.) This clear-eyed pragmatic view, alas, rarely extends to Indian icons. The same Bangali who derides the work-culture of Bengal is most likely to get emotional over any criticism of Netaji. Or Swami Vivekananda. Perhaps Bangalis are not a good sample, since they can get equally emotional over Suchitra Sen and (on the evidence of lady friends from DSE) Kaushik Basu. No, let us examine the Indian at large.
Can you criticise his national icons in public and get away with it? Ambedkar, Bose, Nehru, Rajaji, Shivaji – can any of us afford to be less than respectful in our public utterances, without fear of an immediate and often physical reaction? The Americans are quite the opposite in this regard. They are as comfortable with depictions of Jefferson’s peccadilloes with the domestic staff at Monticello as they are with Jay Leno’s wisecracks about the current President. They accept the fallibility of their leaders and icons while maintaining the myth that their country is, by and large, above criticism. Those who do venture to criticise the country as a whole disguise it as criticism of a particular administration, of individuals rather than the collective. Doing otherwise would invite being labeled as a “Liberal”, which as we know is polite American usage for “wacko pinko Fascist Commie faggot”. In India on the other hand, the revered Arundhati Roy can write a brief 82-page essay in a leading weekly about the various ills of the Indian state, but a historian who suggests that the pride of Maharashtra was less than perfect must face a book ban.
I find this strange. What I find even stranger is that the efforts of one man were the single largest factor in creating this system whereby we live in a (reasonably) free and democratic nation, yet this man’s memory is reduced to dry paragraphs in history books and poorly painted portraits in government offices. This man’s life and even his views are beyond the realm of public scrutiny, despite his own experiments with truth which he recorded in frank and sometimes self-flagellating detail. It is sacrilegious, or anti-secular, or just plain traitorous, to suggest that despite his political acumen he made mistakes that led to bloodshed and misery. The real tragedy of the man’s legacy lies in this, and not in those three gunshots at a prayer meeting in 1948. By placing him above and beyond criticism, we have placed him beyond reality. And in the process denied his legacy the light of the truth that he believed in.