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The mercurial temperament of the masses facing host of predicaments; convenient and subjective interpretation of history; flamboyant histrionics constituting the core of delivery meant to be made on chosen occasions before the millions charged with jingoism and in complete absence of anything creative and productive fed over a malodorous version of muscular nationalism – were a few easily discernible factors that propelled the rise of Hitler. For a short while though –however, nudging both the humanity and humaneness into abyss, he could rule over the hearts of millions in parts of Europe. Besides, the sophistry and savoir faire of this saturnine God man of the Nazi ideology combining with the precise understanding of psychology of  frustrated millions – which owing to a tacit diversion of anger to some other well thought of channels like the alleged deprivation of the dues that they otherwise deserved counting on their supposed racial superiority –could facilitate a whole generation of dour fanatics who, despite the short lease of life their ideology could have, did succeed in writing one of the bloodiest chapter of human history.

Essentially, the Nazi ideology was to the extreme right of the centre. Nationalism bordering to jingoism was commonplace then. Irving Berlin’s God bless America, Cocorico (cock-a-doodle-doo) or viva-la-France  –the French awakening call, the German Blunt & Boden, Credere, Obbedire, Combattere from Italy or the British pax britanica were all meant to boost the myopic nationalism, zealotry and ethnocentricity- the attributes that often lead to nationalistic balderdash (as differentiated from patriotic sentiments) tilting the mood of the masses to the right of the centre.

Our country has the history of being a geocultural entity than a geopolitical one –which most of the countries in the western world did become following the revolutions of the 18th century in Europe and America. A markedly namby-pamby perception of nationhood that we always had is betrayed even to this day by our regional loyalties;   strong cultural legacies that we find difficult to quit or alter despite an ostentatious disapproval of the same before others; an otherworldly demeanour and fatalism consequent upon the lack of resources and also the absence of certain positive common traits that may be grouped as national character.

I often feel that the edge that our geocultural identity had since time immemorial over its geopolitical counterpart must have been responsible for the swing that majority of our leaders had since the pre-independence days towards internationalism. The Nehruvian era is replete with the incidents of the votaries of internationalism being mollycoddled by Nehruji himself and others of his ilk. I don’t think that it was the alleged pusillanimous attitude that deterred Panditji from opting for a thoroughly belligerent stand. A visionary Fabien as he was, his faith on internationalism and essential goodness of mankind must have been unshakable. It was his disillusionment with the infallibility of the values he had been an ardent believer of, that probably hastened his tragic demise.

Realisation of the limitations of nationalism must have been inherent and intuitive with our country, while majority of nations in the rest of the world had to have enough of pause before they could do so. The disillusionment set in there as the fallout of the second Great War and the formation of NATO, SEATO, CENTO, Warsaw Pact and other such treaties of mutual distrust. The glum affair of cold war gave further fillip to it. The consequent rise of liberalism with growing prosperity and globalization finally knocked off its bottom. Worldwide contemporary phenomena of great consequences like climate-change, Islamic insurgency and the recent pandemic of course do have their own ramifications in this context. While strengthening the faith on the common destiny of those inhabiting and sharing this planet they have been instrumental at places in effecting the resurgence of bigotry- a hidden arm of nationalism.

Reviewing the kaleidoscope of the socio-political scenario in the past two-three years, I apprehend that quite a few of us (no comments on politicians whose intents are conspicuous enough) have fallen victims to the latter ramification. Semiotic approaches to religion often determining our conduct, food, dress, identity and at times even the interpretation of past, our history etc. seem ominous to me. When in the process of making decisions, in listing our priorities the thumb rule of the greatest good of greatest number is relegated to the background, the need is there not only to introspect ourselves but also of taking a stock of what has and is being done by our elected representatives and policy makers.

Kumbh in Hardwar, Bengal elections, huge hoardings of a temple in offing; blowups of an angry Rama with clinched  bowstring and the stickers of a ferocious Hanumana on the back screen of cars; a somewhat photo shopped version of history and a maligned and out of context interpretation of events from the past; branding dissenters as traitors and bending them to their knees; managing media to such an extent that that without any moral compunction it starts playing second fiddle to ruling elites… in fact the surfeit of so many such things at times makes me suspicious, lest we should lose our grand legacy of internationalism.

The stage is all set for the emergence of a Fuehrer but equally true and consoling is the fact that bullets pumped by Godse’s Beretta had failed to kill Gandhi.

Rajshekhar Pant is a political commentator


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