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Nationalism, pitched well, can emerge as a powerful nudge: India is showing, how?

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It is interesting to see how Thaler’s novel change-management concept is being taken forward at a mega scale in public life of India. That nationalism could be a tool to nudge people for a targeted behavioral pattern is a fresh and interesting revelation.

Let us see how nationalism in the recent times has received traction, with a strong intent for mass persuasion and influence in the matters of governance and political action.

Demonetization was resorted to as an ‘Action against Nation’s looters’. Flagship schemes like Make in India, Digital India, Start-Up India, Stand-Up India were conceived to unlock entrepreneurial potential of ‘New India’. Economic reforms like GST, as ‘One Nation, One Tax, One Market’, power Sector reform as ‘One Nation One Grid’ (now, Gas, Water grid added), payment system as ‘One Nation One Card’, tracking vehicles on road as ‘One Nation One Tag’, have been espoused with an tinge of nationalism. The fervor was even higher in hailing abrogation of Article 370 as establishing ‘One Country One Constitution’.

Novel narrative for noble purpose                                                         

For population control, so the narrative goes, we need nudging people for small family. Those opting for fewer kids need to be ‘honored’. Choosing to restrict the size of families is an expression of love for the nation. Family planning is thus clearly linked to Nation-Building.                                                              

For achieving a 5 trillion-dollar economy, we need investment, particularly private investment. Nudging active participation of private sector and Corporates are seen as a must. If wealth is not created, it will not be distributed. If wealth is not distributed then the poor cannot benefit. So ‘Corporates are our nation’s Wealth Creators’. They should be given pride of place.

For advancing the proposal of simultaneous elections, we need to nudge Election Commission/political parties/agents/voters to appreciate the disadvantages of frequent elections- ‘draining the scare resources of the nation’. So ‘One Nation One Election’.           

For reviving demand and consumption, and creating jobs, we need to support local businesses and industry. So urging people to buy and promote local products, to be “vocal about local” is the need of the hour. This is also the time to boycott foreign (read Chinese) goods! The clarion call is “Atma-Nirbhar Bharat”.

Ek Bharat is Shrestha Bharat’ well captures the approach and narrative.

High Impact    

Nationalistic thoughts, phrases and slogans, advanced in public domain, generally act as an effective nudge to achieve consensus or influence people to rally around the narrative of the State. Nationalism, with its different reflections in nomenclatures such as ‘India’, ‘Bharat’, ’Motherland’, ‘New India’ gives meaning and relevance to the identity and  roots. With an attendant sense of pride, nationalism is seen playing a major part in determination of behavior, be it economic, social or political, both at individual and group level. The traction of Atma-Nirbhar Bharat, for a self-reliant India, is the latest example.

Points to Ponder

There are of course some questions in the popular debate. Whether nationalism with its big overriding sweep clouds judgement and restricts human choices? Whether nationalism works better for bigger goals only, like national security, sovereignty etc.? Whether nationalism, identifying with large power universe, compel people to see everything in terms of competitive prestige?

Counter questions posed are also many. Whether the debate on negative side of nationalism suffers from prejudices? Whether the dark side is overhyped? Whether such a debate undermines or undervalues the constructive impact of nationalism, arguably driven by political agenda? As high impact policy actions require public support, broad consensus and positive energy, doesn’t it makes sense to pitch nationalism, with its creative potential, to act as nudge?

Re-purposing Nationalism

Surely, we need to guard against the negative effects of hyper nationalism. Yet, blatantly undervaluing or summarily negating the nationalistic emotions and its use-value may seem far-fetched, unfair and imprudent. Invocation of imagined apprehension or purely ideological discourses on the nationalistic thoughts and action, would only weaken the creative potential of nationalism to act as a powerful nudge. Such apprehensions or discourses appear misplaced at a time when we observe absence of any bias of exclusion and discrimination on the ground, in all the policy actions of the State, when all our constitutional rights are live and kicking, and when abundant space for alternative voice is available.

It is indeed a revelation of sorts to see the creative potential of nationalism being leveraged as nudge, to advance high-impact policy actions, and meet national aspiration.

The writer is a former bank executive and lives in Mumbai. An author and columnist, he writes on contemporary issues. He is an Opinion Columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine.


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