Feb 14, 2015

The distinction between nationalism and jingoism

Some years back I was speaking in Mangalore. It was at a time when the nation was hooked on to the magic of Special Economic Zones (SEZs). Without even ascertaining the economic potential of these specially-carved out export zones, and without even evaluating the socio-economic costs involved, these SEZs were being pushed aggressively as the engines of economic growth.

Addressing a huge gathering of farmers, villagers and civil society activists I was trying to explain the irrelevance of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) given the extent of land grabbing and displacement of people. There was a huge social cost involved which often outweighs the gains that are projected, but rarely achieved. But after finishing my talk, when I walked out of the auditorium, I was greeted by posters labeling me as a ‘naxalite’ and ‘anti-national’.

Seven years later, the SEZs have turned out to be a big scam. A damming CAG report has however gone unnoticed. But in the meanwhile, there isn’t any word of sympathy expressed for those lakhs of poor who were forcibly evicted in the name of development. They are simply measured in numbers, as if the poor and marginalized are nothing more than a statistic.

I was reminded of this incident when I read a news report about Delhi High Court’s remark in a preliminary hearing on Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai’s well publicized case of being offloaded and denied permission to travel abroad. The court told the government representatives that holding a different opinion to the government does not constitute being ‘anti-national’. In a later hearing, the court told the government to distinguish between “nationalism and jingoism”.

At a time when the world is witnessing massive social and environmental fallout of economic growth, when the international community continues to grapple with global warming and warn of the disastrous consequences of climate change, I don’t see any effort being made to bring some amount of sagacity into the mainline discourse on achieving higher growth. The narrative of the popular discourse on the unfettered gains of economic growth measured in terms of rising GDP are often drummed up by the mainline media, backed by the academic curriculum. The popular narrative has reached such a level of jingoism wherein the moment you question or point to a negative repercussion, you face a loud and abusive tirade. This has become easy with the advent of social media.

Not that it didn’t happen earlier but twitter and facebook has made this much more easy, loud and aggressive. Let me share with you another incident. Some 20-years back, I was invited to address the 1st world Food and Farming Congress in London. This is an event of the international agribusiness industry.  I spoke in the inaugural session on why genetically-modified crops are not the answer to food security, highlighting the health and environmental consequences of cultivating GM crops. In one of the following sessions, a proponent of GM crops went to the extent of accusing of me of being linked to ‘Al-Qaeda’. It was only after a protest from some of the WTO Ambassadors who were in the invited audience that this particular scientist was made to apologize before he could proceed ahead.

Anyone opposing GM crops is also branded ‘anti-development’ . But because the narrative has been well-defined by the academic curriculum and the media, policy makers find it politically incorrect to question the risky technology. Moreover, knowing that the commercial interests are very powerful, it becomes easy to look the other way. All kinds of innuendoes are then thrown at those who talk of simple, cheap and effective alternatives available. In other words, when you run out of logic, and fail to provide any scientific reasoning, the best way to put an end to debate is to label your opponent as ‘leftist’, ‘anti-development’ and finally ‘anti-national’.

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the other day critiquing requires a lot of research and analysis. I agree. In an age of mediocrity not many of us have the time and inclination to look beyond the obvious. A newspaper headline is all that we believe in, and helps form our opinion. Not many of us even care to go beyond the headlines. With the fundamentals laid out in the college/university, and with the mainline media buttressing the narrative, we refuse to look beyond. I have often faced this on TV debates where I confront panelists from only one school of thought. Alternate viewpoint is either suppressed or is ignored.

All those who raise questions and critique are also nationalist. These are the people who are working towards making the planet a better place to live in. They are for sustainable growth, wanting development to be pro-women, pro-people, and pro-environment. Growth is possible without ruthless exploitation and appropriation of the natural resources leading to wanton destruction of the environment, without acerbating climate change, and without creating inequality. That is what each one of us looks forward to. 

Let’s therefore make the distinction. Those who raise their voice are actually the conscious-keeper of a nation. And those who indulge in jingoism are not nationalists. They only push us towards fascism. #

SourceThe distinction between nationalism and jingoism. ABPLive.in Feb 11, 2015

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