Discussion on National Character
If we consider the progress and development of countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, Japan et al. in the past fifty years, we find that these countries have made tremendous strides, whereas a country as vast as ours and rich in natural resources has lagged behind. One of the most important reasons for this is the lack of national character. Most shortcomings one finds today can be traced to this basic drawback.
In simple terms, national character is the capacity and will to hold the interests of the nation above everything else. Whenever there is a clash between individual interest and the national interest, the former should be subordinated for the greater good of the country. Whenever a nation has made steady progress, it is due to the spirit of nationalism. Without this, it is virtually impossible for a nation to progress quickly. After independence, although the Indian nation came into existence in the political and geographical sense, at the psychological level it was still in the embryonic stage. To promote national reconstruction, our leaders proposed a plan based on the concept of common heritage with three main parts: religious unity, historical unity and cultural unity.
Religious unity implied that all religions were essentially the same and it was believed that if this concept could take root in the minds of people a sense of unity would prevail throughout the country. However, history is replete with evidence of the number of times co-religionists fought each other fiercely, be it the war of Mahabharat, where both the warring groups were Hindus or Babar's invasion where he confronted his co-religionists and inflicted decisive defeats on them. It is an undeniable fact that there are differences between various religions and, given this fact, it is difficult if not impossible for believers of one religion to accept the beliefs and practices of another. Only if the believers of various religions consider humanity above religion will they start respecting each other's religions, But faith in one's own religion is so overpowering that one tends to despise other religions.
As far as historical unity goes, it is assumed that even if there are people of different persuasions, a common sense of history will produce a common sense of nationhood, and where this is lacking, it can be inculcated. However, this is easier said than done. All nations whether small (Singapore) or big (USA) are inhabited by diverse races and ethnic groups with different historical backgrounds and in no way can one force people into sharing a common sense of history. Instead, one has to acknowledge the individuality of each citizen. That is how, despite being imbued with diverse backgrounds, various groups lead a harmonious life engaged in the common cause of nation building.
Acceptance of a common culture is totally impractical. Culture inevitably involves a long historical process and can never be imposed. A movement launched both in the USA and Canada to inculcate a common culture ended in failure and both these countries have come to term with their multi-culture.
Patriotism is the sole aspect on which a nation can thrive and patriotism - to quote John F. Kennedy - is: "Think not what the country can do for you, but what you can do for the country. " Sadly, the sense of patriotism seems lacking amongst most Indians who have become very self-centred. Only during national emergencies do we come together for a cause for a certain period of time, as witnessed during the Kargil war or the Gujarat earthquake. But these stray efforts are not enough to build national character.
It is desirable to launch a movement for economic unity based on economic justice for every individual or at least for the vast I majority of groups and individuals. This is one way to generate a sense of patriotism based not on the past, but on the present so as to lay a strong foundation for the future. This might also be the only way to instil a sense of deep-rooted love for the country.