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Nationalism: Futile exercise without understanding

Nationalism is a futile exercise without understanding

Kundan Khatri

Talking about nationalism is a futile exercise without understanding the concept of a nation. So what makes a nation? The Oxford Dictionary defines a nation as a group of people with the same language, culture and history, who live in a particular area under one government. This definition is open to interpretation and can be argued upon. If a country looses a part of its land mass, does it become less of a nation. When Bangladesh seceded from Pakistan, did Pakistan loose a part of its nationhood? Or has the relaxation of boarders between the member states of the European Union reduced the nationhood of any of its member states? When talking about population then surely the mass migration of our younger generation to the west would reduce our nationhood. Or the mass expulsion of Lohsampas from Bhutan would have hampered its status as a nation. So how can we define a nation? Differing from the dictionary meaning, surely a nation can be multi linguistic and multicultural, like Nepal or India. Besides, the loss of language or culture may not affect nationalism. Has the usage of English as the official language in some former colonies of the United Kingdom negated their patriotism? What then remains from the dictionary meaning of the word is the concept of a single government. This then is the central theme upon which a nation is built.

It follows therefore that in order to strengthen the nation, the government must be strong. For the government to be strong, its organs of statehood must be strong. The Parliament may be fragmented, there may be a weak coalition in power, but so long as the more permanent organs of statehood remain strong the nation state remains strong. A case in example can be witnessed in our southern neighbour. The ruling government does not enjoy even a simple majority. Political alliances are forged and re-forged every day, but because the more permanent organs of statehood such as the administrative service, the police and the military are strong, India remains a strong state.

In Nepal the Parliament remains very fluid, as it has done in the last decade and a half. The government is run by a syndicate of political parties. Important and far reaching decisions are made outside the assembly Nepal is perhaps one of the few nations in the world that calls itself a democracy but does not permit the existence of any significant opposition in the assembly in spite of the fact that even the largest party in the assembly enjoys only 30% of the seats. Despite the existence of this syndicate system in the decision making process, it is now over three months since the last elections, but no new government has been formed. The civil service is reeling from the onslaught of political interference and humiliation at the hands of politicians. Civil servants have been manhandled by leaders and members of political organization. Strikes are called by unions of every description, paralysing the life of the country. The morale of the police force is questionable, given the recent series of mutinies. Broad daylight robberies and kidnappings are frequent. Armed wings of political parties patrol the streets. Virtually all traditional organs of the state lie weakened or destroyed. What then remains as the last bastion of nationhood is the Nepalese Army.

This is not to say that this institution is perfect, but in spite of what so ever flaws it may have, it is an institution that the Nepalese people can identify with. This is an institution with a history that goes as far back as the nation itself. It is the one institution that encompasses all the racial and cultural diversity of the country. It is an institution that is spread across the length and breadth of the country. A recent survey by a joint research team of Tribhuvan University and Bergen University, Norway has revealed that the Army remains one of the most trusted organs of the government. Hence, for the nation to be strong, it is the duty of every Nepalese to support the Army. A strong Army can be the pillar of stability around which the other organs of state can rally.

But for the Nepalese Army to remain strong, it has to remain apolitical. This has long been one of the characteristics of the Nepalese Army. It has always remained loyal to those in power, be it under the Shah dynasty during the unification of the country, under the Ranas when they ruled Nepal or under the elected representatives of the people as it is today. No rebelling force has ever enjoyed the support of the Nepalese Army nor has it ever led a coup, as is common in other countries in South Asia. It has always been a proponent of status quo. This is of special significance today, as the media is rife with talks of large scale integration of politically indoctrinated cadres into the Army. Certain foreign powers have proposed such integration for the fulfilment of their vested interests. By compliance with such demands the very ethos of the Army would be polluted. This would thus endanger the very nationhood that we are so proud of today.

The Nepalese Army has also been a victim of subversion through the media. It is without doubt the duty of the press to make the people aware of the conduct of the organs of state. But fabricated or melodramatic articles appear in the press with growing regularity. Such malicious write ups are often printed with the aim of discrediting an honourable institution, instigating mutiny or creating either a vertical or a horizontal split within the Army It is thus a nationalistic duty of the media to prevent its columns from being misused by various groups to further their vested interests. At the same time it is the duty of the military leadership to display their loyalty to the nation by following its age old tradition of rising above their self interests in the larger interests of the nation.

When the Army remains strong, it can provide a stable base upon which the other organs of state will have the opportunity to recover. This will then create a strong Nepal that we wish for.


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