National Identity and Patriotism

National Identity and Patriotism

A nation is formed by the set of people who inhabit a certain geographical landmass, are a part of a consolidated political unit, have shared rights and duties, follow a common legal system, and so on. But more than all of this, a nation is an expression of people’s ideas and aspirations. These ideas have originated, condensed, changed, evolved, lost, and re-gained prominence over tens of centuries and so have the geographical boundaries and the political systems associated with them. These very ideas and aspirations of people are expressed in the various symbols and rituals which a nation chooses for itself as its motifs. The internalization of and identification with these symbols and rituals constitutes what is called a national identity at the level of political or even in day-to-day parlance. The respect, admiration, and loyalty towards these symbols and rituals, which are in turn representation of the nation- its people, is what is called patriotism.

National identity, although a collective idea, yet can be read as the most important of the multiple identities an individual subscribes to in contemporary times. It has played an immense role in the evolution of the social and the political world as it looks today. Meanwhile, patriotism has been the driving force in the formation, articulation, and assertion of the national identity. Therefore an essay on ‘National Identity and Patriotism’ becomes not only an exercise at comprehending the wider meanings and ramifications of these terms but is also an attempt to look at the debates surrounding these terms in our history and present times. In this process, we have to look at the various theories regarding their origin, the story of their growth, and conflicting prophecies about their probable future in a globalized and technology-driven world. As such this essay also offers a chance to meditate upon the lessons from history and possibilities for the future from the perspective of the present.

National identity derives itself from the idea of Nation-State. Nation-Sate themselves have their own history. While there are various theories regarding the origins of Nation-States, it is generally agreed upon that the bases of the Modern Nation States were laid after the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. It led to the formation of the Classical Nation States of Northern and Western Europe. It also laid the foundation for the growth of Nationalism. This ultimately led to the formation and consolidation of the Second generation of the Nation-States such as Italy, Germany, and countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The process of decolonization in the aftermath of the Second World War saw the emergence of the third generation of nation-states in the African and Asian Continents. The process of the formation of Nation-States continued till the end of the 20th century when several new nations emerged in the aftermath of the decline and disintegration of the USSR. The emergence of Kosovo in South-Eastern Europe and Southern Sudan in Africa highlights the fact that the process of Nation-Formation is still on, even in the 21st century.

The history of the origin of National identity illustrates the importance of political events in the formation or emergence of modern nation-states. But that politics itself has been a derivative of the interplay of diverse factors. National identity as such seems to be a superset of a combination of factors which include linguistic identities, regional loyalties, culture, religion, and history.

Linguistic identities have been a feature of several demands of national self-determination. The wave of Nationalism in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries and the more recent struggle for and foundation of Bangladesh was largely based upon this very premise. One Nation-One Language was also mooted as the idea for the basis of national identity largely based upon the European experience. Similarly, regional or ethnic identities have also acted as the foundation of national identities. The disintegration of the USSR into multiple nation-states was seen as the culmination of the struggle for freedom of diverse groups that were ethnically diverse. The making and remaking of various African boundaries is also seen as the result of the assertion of ethnic identities as separate national identity.

Culture has also served as the bedrock of various nationalisms. The diversity of cultures has been seen as a challenge to the formation of a strong singular national identity. This line of argumentation also spilled over to religious identity as well. Religion was used as the basis for the two-nation theory which led to the partition of United India into India and Pakistan. The modern state of Israel is also an example of the formation of national identity on the basis of an imagined coherence between Culture and Religion on one hand and Nation-State on the other.

All or any of these identities are given the form of National identity with the help of history. It is a history of the Nation which gives legitimacy to national identity and assertion of sovereignty by that nation. Renan has even sarcastically remarked that ‘Getting its history wrong is part of being a nation’. This is the reason all nations try to trace their history to a hoary past. Failure of being able to discover or forge one’s history is seen as an existential question mark constantly lurking upon its national identity.

Benedict Anderson has famously theorized that ‘Nation is an imagined community. It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion...Communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined’. Ultimately it is the width and depth of the imagination of this community that decides the course of a nation. A country like India, with multiple and diverse linguistic, religious and ethnic identities could claim to be a nation only because of the inclusiveness and tolerance that has been its hallmark for centuries.

When various groups feel assured that their identities would not be threatened, but will actually flourish in the idea or imagination of a nation, only then a diverse but united nation like India can sustain and grow. Only an inclusive imagination can breed patriots, since exclusivity breeds division, secession and war. As such Patriotism is not only a display of love and a deep sense of affection for one’s country; it is also a feeling of pride. Rabindranath Tagore often used the term ‘Deshabhimaan’ as a synonym for this word in his works which aptly captures one of the dimensions of this word.

National identity and Patriotism give a sense of belonging to an individual in the world. It helps a person feel the presence of an extended family around him. Naturally, the actions guided by such a philosophy will lead to the betterment of society and the progress of the country. It is sometimes wrongly assumed that patriotism is love for one’s country at the cost of others. Actually, such line of thinking stems from a crude understanding of the idea of National Identity and Patriotism. India has a guiding philosophy of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ i.e. the whole world is my family. Only such understanding of patriotism can bring peace and prosperity to the country as well as the world.

Apart from that, excessive pride in national identity and display of Patriotism may acquire the form of ‘ultra nationalism’ and jingoism. Ultra nationalism inevitably turns exclusionary in nature and hence leads not to the assertion but the disintegration of national unity and ultimately identity. Similarly, jingoism, by constantly falling back upon the idea of ultra-nationalism when faced with any issue or problem of past/present, vitiates the community atmosphere and starts imposing restrictions upon any free speech or dissent. Such extremism leads only to great destruction as exemplified several times in history by various totalitarian regimes such as those of Hitler and Mussolini. One should always keep in mind what Edward R. Murrow, an American journalist said in the context of the USA during one of the most volatile phases of the Cold War. He said ‘We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of the nation dies with it.’

The turn of the 20th century was seen as a challenge to the age of Nations, as it has been popularly referred to in the parlance of social sciences, due to the unhindered rise of globalization, the emergence of multinational companies with their revenues several times the GDP of several countries, and the age of the internet which connected the world more than ever before. There was also a faction of scholars that saw it as approaching a ‘clash of civilizations’ where multiple national or other identities are bound to engage in a clash, in order to emerge as the superior-most among all.

However, both prophecies can be seen to be missing the mark. Globalization has not only brought the world closer than ever, it has also sensitized people towards their own identities. It has taught the world to be more appreciative of the diversity of cultures, thoughts, and nationalities. The demands for more apt representation from different parts of the world at the United Nations and the recent reforms at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) aimed at a better representation of emerging nations at the international platform are two examples of the above phenomenon. Similarly, the increased contact between the various identities is not leading to any clash of civilizations but, in fact, has resulted in globally coordinated efforts to contain such clashes. The Foundation of various international forums and the signing of various trans-national treaties to engage with issues of security, energy, and environmental concerns are cases in point. The visionary project of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) launched by our Prime minister is an example of how multiple nations are coordinating in the contemporary globalized world to strike a balance between the global concerns of climate change and pressing national energy security concerns.

Towards the conclusion, it can be said that National identity and patriotism are deeply humane terminologies. They represent the urge of humankind to be a part of the collective and contribute meaningfully and loyally to it. Krishna says in Gita, that there are multiple paths to the same truth. Similarly, there may be more than one way of not only subscribing to a national identity but also of displaying patriotism towards one’s country. One must always be ready and vigilant to defend one’s national prestige but must not enforce one’s own ideas and ideals of national identity and patriotism upon everyone else. The essence of National identity and patriotism, in a country like India, can be best summed up in the lines of the Ancient Philosopher Sun Tzu, who said

“There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.

There are not more than five primary colors, yet in combination, they produce more hues than can ever be seen.

There are not more than five cardinal tastes, yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted.”

In these times of globalization, is National Identity and Patriotism important?

Globalization is a modern concept that emerged in the last decade of 20TH century. It facilitated interconnectedness between different nations for the sake of capital investment, technology transfer, marketing of finished products and a host of other things. With the advent of cellular phones, social media and ultra-fast internet this interconnectedness trickled down to the level of personal relations between different nationalities. But still national identity and patriotism run thick in our veins as is evident from the soaring popularity of the ongoing FIFA world cup. Despite of strained finances, elevated ticket prices, and pressing inflation due to clashes in the middle-east regions, high fan turnout in support of home countries is being observed. Although we cannot justify that as an act of nationalism, it motivates the players and proves that national identity and patriotism are alive and growing in these times of globalization.

Without a feeling of patriotism, we will not dedicate ourselves to our country which will kill our competitive spirit and survival instinct. Darwin said "survival of the fittest". Today it is not about muscle power but about intellect, dedication, hard work, and motivation. One of the main problems in India is the inability to retain our best brains. Though they are groomed in our country using public money and the best resources, they move to foreign nations in search of greener pastures. This brain drain is somewhat due to a lack of patriotism.

Another trend that is being seen is that billionaires accept citizenship of countries that charge fewer taxes. Though they are increasing their family coffers, they are betraying their country. When they shift business focus to some other country, they take jobs, technology, and investment from their home country. This adversely affects the employment and financial health of the country concerned. This is one of the adverse effects of globalization.

Diversity is one of the essential components of our existence. If all the nations come under one umbrella, it will be difficult to understand and satisfy all. There will be a feeling of betrayal and unequal treatment. There are problems within nations that are causing clashes between sects, religions and regions. It is distressing and frightening just to imagine the magnitude of these clashes if the entire seven million people of the world are under one government. So, national identity and patriotism which are the progenies of the nation need to exist.

Defense is not a high-paying job. Despite of the risks involved people go to the borders to serve their country due to love for the country. They sacrifice their lives by virtue of their patriotism and bravery. When the British established their supremacy over a major portion of the world, it was not only due to supreme armaments and organized army but also due to lack of dedication, patriotism, the fighting spirit among our regional leaders. They were reluctant to shed their comfortable and luxurious life in favour of battle and self-respect. Some of the rulers betrayed their counterparts and helped the British. This resulted in years of torture, inequality and fierce freedom struggle. The only way to avoid such a predicament is to guard our national identity.

Social media as the agency of globalization has virtually encompassed all walks of our life. It has penetrated into national and international security establishments and threatened their stability. It has negative consequences on economic spheres and the geopolitical military security environment. The terrorist organizations use it as a method of spreading their clandestine propaganda, hacking into government agencies, and harming nations. They usually include gullible, unpatriotic, and greedy individuals in their mission. So, patriotism is important in the face of globalization to protect our country's integrity.

Globalization is changing our way of living like feeding habits, dressing style, social conduct etc. Our food, culture and dresses have evolved over centuries keeping in mind our home-grown culture, climate, and body's needs. Though we need to modify ourselves according to shifting times and job requirements, we also need to keep in touch with our roots as it is an important recipe for success. We can retain our individuality only by virtue of national identity and patriotism. This makes national identity and patriotism important in these times of globalization.

Concept of National Identity and Patriotism

Benedict Anderson, a notable historian, and political scientist has defined the nation as an ‘imagined community. It implies that a nation is formed on the basis of many factors that many individuals come together and imagine.

The foundation of this image is the deep-rooted camaraderie that the people share with each other. No matter the size of the country, or the foul exploits and inequality that might prevail in the community, it is this imagination that binds them together. Quoting Anderson to solidify the statement,

“Over the past two centuries for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willing to die for such limited imaginings.”

As earlier mentioned, national identity is a social concept that man generated which includes self-categorization and effects. When a person categorizes himself as a part of a nation, he is affecting his emotions by inculcating the sense of belonging, identification, and emotional attachment to the idea of the nation.

These emotions charge the individual positively, which is not only beneficial to himself, but to the community as a whole. He is able to generate acknowledgment from his fellow citizens, which comes in the form of recognition, appreciation, and motivation. This reinforces his feelings and makes him work selflessly towards the betterment of his nation.

National identity builds as a collective phenomenon that stems from the nation’s history. Beliefs, values, assumptions, and expectations are networked around society and mold a person’s perspective towards himself and the world.

But the concept of patriotism has fluctuated down the timeline of our nation. When the first signs of maltreatment began to erupt during the early British rule, those who revolted against them were considered to be the first patriots. Subsequently, the idea of patriotism that was prevailing in the pre-independence society was those who selflessly fought for the freedom of the nation.

Figures emerged all around the countries with ideologies varying from radicalism to non-violence, but a common goal of eradicating the colonial rule in the country. Contemporary to them, there existed patriots who worked for the empowerment of the oppressed in the existing Indian communities.

Two examples would be Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, who worked in the fields of social upliftment and educating the masses to help develop the community socially. Once they were successful, our independent nation was not yet devoid of enemies.

The torch of exemplary patriotism was passed down to the soldiers of our nation, who laid down their lives in wars to maintain the sovereignty of our nation. By the end of the twentieth century, the definition of patriotism was included those who contributed to the development of India socially, economically, and technologically and defended the nation and national interests against anti-national organizations.

Instilling National Identity and Patriotism

India has been a model example of unity in diversity. It is a land where people practice almost all the religions in the world, speaks a variety of languages, celebrates a ton of festivals, and follow multiple heritages and traditional practices. To bind such a country into a nation where cultures vary every few hundred kilometers, it is important to establish a common ground that will instill national identity amongst the citizens.

The preamble of our constitution defines an Indian citizen as sovereign socialist secular democratic. Hence, using specific religion, language, cultures and traditions is beyond the thought to be used as a factor to inculcate national identity. Instead using geographical, historical, and abstract ideas as symbols do the work.

The most important of all of these symbols is the national flag, designed by an ardent freedom fighter from Andhra Pradesh, named Pingali Venkayya. The national flag had risen in the face of a huge crisis, the atrocities of the British Raj. It had united the oppressed Indians across the length and breadth of the nation to rise against the evil and achieve a common goal of independence.

The national flag is not only an iconic representation of our nation, but it also acts as the spirit of our nation. Hoisting the flag to mark an achievement is not only a proud moment for the individual who does so but for the whole country that shares the same pride with him.

Be it soldiers capturing enemy bunkers, mountaineers reaching summits, sports personalities winning the first place, or reaching the moon. Every time the tricolor is unfurled in such situations, it sends an immense feeling of pride across every Indian heart.

In a similar way, our national anthem, as well as our national song, binds the country into one melodious harmony. The verses penned by two of the greatest figures of literature’s Rabindranath Tagore and Bankim C. Chattopadhyay capture the essence of the nation and the responsibility which each and every citizen has towards it.

Additionally, our leaders decided to create more symbols and ideologies that would function as the said ‘common ground’ to instill national identity. The peacock, the tiger, lotus, and the lion capital- all are the said examples that every Indian should be familiar with and must honor.

While passive devotion and love for one’s nation arise out of national identity, proactive display of selflessness towards the nation will only be undertaken by a patriot. Patriotism is an attribute that is derived from the deep empathy that lies within every human being. In some, it is active, while in some, it is dormant.

Patriotism can hence, only be induced in a person once he understands that his well-being lies in the well-being of others. If from a tender age, a person is made aware of the rich heritage of our country, the struggle for independence, and the sacrifices that people have made for their nation, they will start valuing the moral of selflessness and keeping the nation first.

The brightest and the most successful of the leaders that have emerged be it during the 100 years of war that we fought for our freedom or developing our nation into a powerful economy, all have patriotism as a common aspect of their personality.


The ideas of national identity and patriotism have existed for centuries together on this planet. The first nations that had developed in the western segment had initiated this ideology and ever since it has been always utilized to cater to the public interest. But the flow has not been smooth. There have been many issues that have arisen and challenge the viability of national identity and patriotism.

Ethnic Identity is one of the major threats to national integrity, especially in our country. The varieties of ethnic groups that exist in India have often come into conflict when it comes to empowering their ethnic identity. The history bears witness to the Khalistan Movement that originated around 1971 amongst the Sikh diaspora.

It was subdued by operation Bluestar but it cost us our first woman prime minister’s life. Even in modern times, there are separatist organizations continuously batting for the country-hood of their ethnic states in the northeast. The ULFA, Naga National Council, NLF Tripura, etc. are some examples.

Another problem that arises is due to immigration. India has seen two massive scale immigration’s, one on the western front during the partition, the other on the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971 on the eastern front. Immigration leads to the in-flow of people from other countries or regions outside the governance of the nation they are arriving in. They bring their own lifestyles and culture with them, which may or may not be shared by the people of the country.

It gets difficult for a nation to encourage immigrants to develop a national identity. For India, it has not been a big problem since both times, immigration had occurred from parts of territories that once belonged inside its borders. So the cultural gap was not unbridgeable. Still, the fact that immigrants might be considered outsiders and stand a probability to be alienated looms as a threat to a healthy national identity.

Globalization also is a major challenge to national identity. This ideology promotes the ‘global community’ through various actions like foreign exchange, trade, tourism, and education. It instills the sense of common values that the people of the world possess and view themselves as world citizens.

While morally, it sounds very compelling, this trend makes it difficult for the prevalence of national identity as it undermines the importance of being a citizen of your own country.

Finally, the aspect of a person’s civil identity clashing with his national identity can cause a massive problem in keeping the integrity of a nation. The biggest example of this is the Kashmir issue, which has been exploited by both the contesting countries and remains unresolved.


Today, after more than seventy years since we were liberated from colonial rule, India has once again come under the fire of multiple crises. Ranging from security issues like terrorism, Maoism, civil riots to social problems like poverty, unemployment, women’s safety to economic scams and corruption.

There are a plethora of maladies that India suffers from. This is not because modern Indians are devoid of national identity. Every Indian, no matter where he is, will never deny his origins and nationality. But that is not enough for us to solve the problems. We have to take responsibility and become self-driven in tackling the issues that we face today. Our ancestors fought the British so that we could live in an independent nation.

The patriotism that they had in their blood, serves as a model source of inspiration for us. Our main goal is to free our nation from the socio-economic issues that are eating through it from the inside. Simultaneously, we should also focus on developing our nation so that it can stand as a world power and commands the respect of other countries around the globe.

And for that to be achieved, the youth should be selfless, self-driven, and sedulous. It should be clear in their mind- Serving the nation, is serving ourselves.

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