Humans have an inherent propensity for forming associations. These groupings are formed to further the interest of members of the group, and this alone is the intent. It is then understandable that whosoever says that the group, and not its members, should hold precedence, should thrive no matter how bad the condition of members is has some vested interests. The point is when the fundamental unit of the group is its member, how can the group justify its existence without having done something good for all members?
Now consider modern states across the world. Indeed, there are no natural borders that separate them and residents of two or more states often share similar features including faith, colour and race. When people decided to form these modern groups called ‘state’, the intent was good. It was perceived that by having a separate national identity, demarcated borders and by having in place a defined system of governance, all constituents would thrive. Modern states, as recognized today, owe their existence to the same concept of forming a group for the furtherance of interests of members.
But the question is whether these modern states deliver on their promise? A few of them seem to have accomplished the objective. For example, Nordic countries have proved that states do act as facilitators of personal growth of constituents given that governance is good and inclusive growth is sought. But the same idea of having a state to better manage the affairs of the constituents has proved counter-productive in many other cases. The key reason behind this failure is glorification of the concept of nationalism, so much so that the citizens of modern states have been taught, often by propaganda, to believe that their interests hold no value when a choice has to be made between their well-being and that of the nation.
While it may seem a little difficult to understand how this distorted concept of state and nationalism has deprived the ordinary man of development, let’s understand this with an easy example. When some men join forces to work for an enterprise, the hierarchy is comparable with that in the state. The manager acts as a bridge between labourers and owners, and the objective of the enterprise is to generate revenue for the betterment of all these stakeholders. Workers must abide by the norms as citizens abide by the laws of the country. The owner is entitled to some revenue and must distribute some among these workers. But what if the owner seeks absolute precedence of the interests of the enterprise over that of workers?
Indeed, the enterprise can produce and sell more should the workers opt for extended shifts. Indeed, the profits can be higher should the workers stick to same wages despite an available possibility of pay hikes. The owner, when workers commit themselves blindly and not rationally to the enterprise, becomes the sole beneficiary. And the same happens when citizens of the state are compelled to place the state above everything else. What happens is elected representatives or the monarch colludes with capitalists and other powerful men to deprive the ordinary man of what he otherwise legitimately deserves.
The revenue that is collected in the form of taxes levied on even most basic needs is spent less on the betterment of citizens and more on fortifying the state. The money that can be used for health, education, sanitation and such critical aspects is diverted to buying more weapon systems. The state that was formed by its members with a view to prosper and live a dignified life becomes more a liability and less an asset.
Consider the state of India that was formed in its present form when Indians acquired the right to self-rule from the British. The Indian Constitution begins with ‘WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA’ and then declares the intent to constitute the state with a view to further the interests of the people. Indeed, it is here that we must know that people hold precedence over the state. And when the makers decided to have fundamental rights as justiciable rights and fundamental duties as symbolic, they once again made people primary and the state secondary. It was the very intent of the makers to remind the people of India that the state was constituted for them, that they were the building blocks and not the other way around.
Slowly, over the course of years and with different political parties at the helm, the country acquired the status of being a regional powerhouse and then a strong player in the international scene. The country now has a nuclear arsenal and modern military equipment to boast of but what about the promise that was made to the ordinary man when the state was formed? Was this ordinary man told in advance that he would have to sacrifice his child’s education, health and access to clean drinking water, good roads and such other basic necessities in order to let the state achieve hegemony? Was he told that the elite and the powerful will live lavishly even as tens of millions will stare at poverty even in the 21st century?
India fared still better. Countries, for example North Korea, that chose to give the people the least and the state the maximum failed miserably. But that is no excuse for China, India, the US or others to exploit the innocence (read ignorance) of ordinary members of the respective state and further the interests of the state alone. Ultra-nationalism cannot be the tool to divert most of the resources that belong to the people for the exploitation by the elite in the name of ‘national security’ and ‘state dominance’. Citizens, often ignorant that they made the state by agreeing to be a part, deserve to be educated about the same.
PS: National security does matter and it can never be argued that this field can be left neglected. But when the choice is between acquiring latest weapon system (during peace times) and laying of roads (to connect the hamlet to schools), the latter must be preferred.