Patriotism is a noble virtue and supreme quality that every proud and law-abiding citizen of a nation wears like a medal of honour. An article of faith, patriotism is an ingrained trait that gives those living in a country a national identity. It binds people into a cohesive body and coalesce them into a unified driving force for the survival and development of a nation. It occupies pride of place in an array of qualities of an honourable citizen like integrity, pride and love for the state and collective self-esteem of people over and above all other commonalities such as religion, language or affinity to customs and traditions spread worldwide. The lack of patriotism in people would reduce a nation to a mere geographical landmass of zombies, distinct from living and breathing people whose patriotism is in sync with their readiness to live and die for their country.
Opportunist Politicians and Populism
In contrast, populism is tactical gimmickry adopted by wily politicians, who are desperate for power, popularity or narrow personal gains and espouse the cause of the common man who they say is exploited by the rich and the elite. Patriotism would be conspicuous by its absence in such persons for whom the larger interests of the nation or society are secondary. Even though they espouse noble aims and objectives like ridding the nation of corruption, improving the law and order situation or augmenting the standards and quality of the people, they have no vision or strategy and lack a road map and action plan. In the quest for power, they make compromises with forces interested in destabilizing the country, creating anarchy and conditions congenial for their selfish ends and purposes. Financed by evil forces with sinister designs like thwarting the Constitution or abetting communal and divisive forces for the ultimate destruction of the nation, they need a launching pad to catapult themselves to positions of political power. Populism is the Trojan horse that carries them to the highest echelons of power.
The Allure of Populism
Populism undoubtedly has a niche space in politics, whether it is regional or national. It is capable of carrying politicians on its steely wings to positions of power at dizzying heights but has no feet of credibility to stand on. The political landscape of our country has a surfeit of corrupt and unscrupulous politicians who try to quench their polydipsia for power at the fountainhead of all political authority, namely elections. Bereft of ideology and principles, such candidates try to appease the common man and promise freebies, sops, subsidies, improbable concessions and outlandish quotas for entry into government jobs and promotions in service and educational institutions for different segments of the society including on communal lines. Pandering to the demands of casteist and communal forces to grant undeserved concessions and quotas is fraught with the danger of fragmenting the society if and when such schemes are implemented. The speeches of demagogues are replete with catchy phrases and crispy slogans. Attractive promises are bandied about, sounding deceptively alluring, as well as viable and within the realm of political and administrative feasibility. Thus, they capture the imagination of the easily-swayed sections of the electorate who are gullible and naive and have them eating out of their hand. When electioneering is thus reduced to the level of a contest between unprincipled politicians who resort to the gimmick of populism on the one hand and parties and individuals who fight on the strength of political ideology and personal integrity on the other, the die is heavily loaded in favour of the former category. The electorate, weighed down with the harsh realities of the day-to-day life and yearning for immediate relief, no matter how interim, could tend to get carried away by flights of fancy induced by the speeches of the demagogue. In such circumstances, the elections could be no more than a case of the people being led up the garden path by opportunist politicos, the electorate being none the wiser.
Opportunist Politicians Exposed
Having deposited the position seekers, who had solely banked on its appeal, in high offices of profits at stupendous heights, which are notoriously fragile and unstable amid the whirlwinds of political turbulence, populism takes a backseat. Then it waits in the wings for the next set of opportunist politicians to come by and succumb to its seduction. Left now on their own, the power grabbers are precariously perched in high offices and come under the harsh scrutiny of the media and discerning people, the same ones who had voted for them on the basis of the promises and the slew of populist measures that the politicos had bandied about before the polls. Now they feel threatened and tend to get panicky about their political survival. With nary a roadmap nor an action plan to deliver on the promises made, the persons in the hot seat are exposed, and their real identity revealed – crass political opportunism, unvarnished. This tends to assume scary connotations in the post-poll scenario, in terms of economic viability, budgeting, pre and post-auditing and, above all, the compulsions of priority spending on more urgent projects and programs.
Still More Populism
Desperate to retain their offices of profit at any cost, the political opportunists, left denuded of the fig leaf of credibility and integrity, look to populism for their rescue once again. They announce more and more populist measures, freebies, sops and subsidies at enormous costs, with absolutely no qualms or compunction to explain to the intended beneficiaries as to how they propose to finance the schemes they are about to splurge on. No matter how politically well-informed, the less-than-modestly-enlightened segments of the public fall for the sweet talks of the crafty politicians. And apart from putting up with their political shenanigans, very often they keep returning the wrong ones to power time and again, hoping against hopes that the tide would turn. However, the situation keeps worsening before the bitter truth of bad governance hits the people and they look for the alternative – not any alternative, but the real one.
The Real Alternative
What is the real alternative? A party with sound political ideology, a clear roadmap for a bright future, a viable action plan, and a strong leadership with a vision and determination to succeed, tempered with the spirit of patriotism. The course and drift of the electioneering such as a campaign free from fake promises and false assurances, hate speeches along communal lines and polarization of the society are evidently indicative of a healthy trend in the course correctness of alternative governance. The speeches delivered during such campaigns are often based on developmental issues and inclusive growth.
Patriotism presupposes the evil of dividing people along the rich-poor lines and the virtue of inclusive growth. At the best of times, like during peace and economic stability, it lies dormant as a spark in the heart of every law-abiding and proud citizen of the country. The spark of honour and love for the nation flares into a torch of patriotism, more often than not, in times of trials and tribulations in the course of the country’s history, like during external threat or wars. On such occasions, spurred on by the patriotic fervour every citizen pitches in for the nation’s unity and integrity. During times of peace, however, patriotism remains shrouded in the psyche and sub-conscience of the individual. While electing the government or evaluating its performance, patriotism becomes the touchstone. The patriotism of the individual citizen does not brook wrong doings on the part of the symbols of authority, political or bureaucratic, just as the government or bureaucratic machinery does not condone anti-national activities by the individual citizen.
Patriotism is a fire of river that everyone must swim and cross for redeeming his honour and pride when his integrity is challenged. This is especially so in the case of political parties and individual candidates fighting elections. Allegations of anti-people or anti-national stances leave a slur or stigma on a candidate to his utter detriment. This is the reason why election campaigns are full of speeches surcharged with pop patriotism to vindicate one’s own integrity and all sorts of allegations against rival candidates to besmirch their reputation.
Party of Principles and Patriotism
Political parties that get elected to office on the strength of their development programs, economic policies, inclusive growth and non-divisive approach to a multilingual, multi-religious and multicultural society, cannot but be guided by patriotism in all their policies and actions. Their policies and actions are bound to be in stark contrast to those of the opportunist politicians who ride the wings of populism to power and hold offices of profit solely on the strength of their populist policies that are counterproductive to sustained economic growth. Some of their actions based on the hard options available to the government like taxation, stopping or curtailing of subsidies, withholding of concessions that cause an excessive drain on resources, etc are like bitter pills for a healthy economic growth. In such cases, the Opposition parties do not miss an opportunity to criticize the government for taking measures that are described by them as anti-people.
All the same, even a party of lofty policies and noble principles, with a highly motivated leadership, endowed with a vision, determination and will to succeed in its mission for the restoration of the nation’s lost glory and the upliftment of the society, cannot afford to abruptly scrap or withdraw, while in power, certain populist measures that have been already introduced by the previous governments. This is because of the apprehension that such a course correction will draw avoidable flak. For the people such tightening of belt hurts; more so when decreed by law. Such a predicament does not, however, make the party any less principled than when it started off in power and definitely no less patriotic. Thus, the party of principles in power is saddled with the twin responsibility of providing good governance and also convincing the people about the course correctness of the non-perfect alignment of its policies and actions owing to the prevailing political conditions taken with the larger interests of the nation in mind. This situation is exploited by the Opposition parties by projecting it as a sign of weakness, if not a downright failure, on the part of the ruling party in implementing its policies and programs. Beyond a limit, the party has to be reconciled to grinning and bearing the accusations, leaving it all to the better judgment of the thinking public.
The Poll Scenario
While contesting bitter polls, participated in by mealy-mouthed politicians who stoop to mudslinging and casting aspersions on the integrity of the representatives of the party with principles, politicians whose strongest asset is patriotism and the most effective poll plank developmental programs and inclusive growth, are hard put to fight their case on what is evidently not a level playing field. In pockets of constituencies that are economically lagging behind in comparative terms, focusing on long-term projects, programs or goals for the development of the State’s economy is a hard sell. Where there are crunching poverty, rampant unemployment, deep-rooted communal divide and deplorable rates of literacy, midterm and long-term economic programs do not resonate with the people as much as populist schemes and announcements of freebies and sops, which have immense appeal in the short term. As such, the people who trade their invaluable votes for cheap material gains cannot be faulted for lacking patriotism in the discharge of their fundamental democratic duty of electing their representatives to the legislature. However, the opportunist politicians who exploit the miserable conditions of the people should most certainly not escape the charge of compromising on their patriotism.
Patriotism Flourishes, Populism Flounders
While populism has feet of clay, patriotism is deep-rooted. While one vacillates, the other is resolute and unyielding. Populism survives on the crutches of falsehood, tall talks and empty promises, whereas patriotism thrives and flourishes on honesty and truth. When the immediate appeal of populism wears off, the crafty politicians are exposed for the men of straw that they are. The true leaders of the people whose hallmark is their unwavering patriotism, bide their time. And by the sheer dint of determination and uncompromising stand on their policies, they prevail over all sorts of odds and adversities to emerge as farsighted visionaries or courageous statesmen.
On their part, people realize that patriotism and populism are as different as cheese and chalk. Political maturity and sagacity gained over a period, combined with hindsight, enable them to ward off the spurious stuff and settle for the genuine option in the service of the nation. In short, individual members of the society should put the collective welfare and development of the country above their personal interests. Ultimately, voting judiciously and electing politicians known for their patriotism and dedication to the service of the nation is the collective responsibility of the people in the interests of the nation as well as in their own interest.