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This article is written by Prateek Singh from the Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad. This article talks about Nation and the change in the meaning of Nationalism that has come up in the recent past.


The term ‘nation’ holds a distinguished place if it is inspected from the postcolonial perspective. Ideas like nations or nation-states come into existence when territories are imagined, identified and formed. Benedict Anderson states that “Over the dawn of nationalism we also witness the dusk of religious modes of thought”, Thus nation-states adopt a political expression that emits out of the fabric of past. National boundaries are not just territorial but they are deeply rooted in the primordial memory of its natives. Memory, as a faculty, helps us to explore our identity and cultural roots. In a similar corollary, nations are also deeply rooted in the memories of a race or community. “A nation that cannot control its borders is not a nation”, quoted by President Ronald Reagan is quite ambiguous and very problematic because a nation’s definition is not limited to its territory.

It is a state’s populace which determines whether it is a nation or not. A nation is not formed spontaneously, a number of different sects and communities living in the same place and having common values and shared culture form a nation. This raises some fundamental questions: What a nation is? Is India a nation or conglomeration of provincial states? Does distortion of history play a role to spread nationalism of subgroups? What aspects do violence and hegemony play to establish a nation and influence nationalism? All of these questions are subjective and are open to debate or ‘Samvaad’. Recently PM Modi flagged off ‘Vande Mataram’ express, does this naming hold a significant political motive including the drive of renaming the states by BJP government to spread exclusive Hindu nationalism backed by RSS and the Sangh Parivar to make a Hindu Indian nation. This essay attempts to discuss these issues and reflects it to India and its problems.

Complexity of Nation

‘Nation’ as a concept is modern, antiquity was unaware of terms like nation, nationalism, and citizenship, though there was the presence of a factor of nationhood, the friendliness amongst people. Cities like Athens and Sparta were cherished but they were not a nation. A nation is not eternal, just like human life, it has a beginning and an end too. Benedict Anderson defined the nation as an imagined political community because most of its participants are unaware and strange amongst them, yet there exists solidarity which binds them all together.

The emergence or recognition of territory as a nation is very interesting and depicts various detours which a society undergoes to be one. The invasion of Germany in the fifth to the tenth century for the conquest of Norman introduced the world to the principle which today is the basis for existing nationalities. The land was conquered, their name was given to the land and military aristocracy was imposed on the people but, their races, language, and cultural identity was left untouched (Analogous to what Mughal dynasties did in India) hence, creating a fusion of population. Over time, outsiders conglomerated with the natives reducing their differences and increasing similarities, hence laying pillars of a nation.

Race, language, geography, and religion are characteristics to identify a nation and sometimes to have a unity in diversity the territory has to go through brutal violence just like King of France did to unite Northern and Southern France. As Tha’mma stated “The English know they are a nation because they have drawn their borders with blood. That’s what it takes to make a country. Once that happens people forget they were born this or that, Muslim or Hindu, Bengali or Punjabi. They become a family born of the same pool of blood”. A nation, when it tries to be built on violence and on a particular race, is difficult to subsist. Hitler’s ethnic cleansing to establish a true German nation or the splitting USSR are two of the examples of the twentieth century. This raises a question, whether a nation should be exclusively based on ethnicity, race, language, and religion or should it be inclusive of people rather than these factors?

In contemporary time, the issues of mob lynching, citizenship, refugees and territorial disputes are on the rising. The problem of Kashmir, McMahon line, NRC of Assamese, Palestine issue, Myanmar’s threat to Rohingya Muslims, North Korea’s war threat and many more issues are not hidden from anyone. We should ask a question: are Nationhood and Citizenship above mankind? Can’t these diplomatic political issues be resolved if nations do not exist at all? Do borders create nations or there are nations because of which borders are created?

After indulging with all these issues, one realizes that the nation is very problematic yet functioning. It has its own negatives and positives. With the idea of a nation, a hope is attached to achieve a welfare state and continuance of the solidarity of different groups, for faith in justice, liberty, equality and fraternity are attached to the nation and give the nation its legitimacy.

For Ernest Renan, “A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Only two things, actually, constitute this soul, this spiritual principle. One is the past, the other is the present One is in the possession of a rich legacy of remembrances; the other is the actual consent; the desire to live together, the will to continue to value the heritage which all hold in common”, this elucidates why India is a nation, at the same time having a lot of differences of religion and province. There has been a general will and past connection which ties us together compensating for the other factors for developing as the nation as explained by Neera Chandoke in her writings ‘Searching for a Narrative in Times of Globalization’.

The urge to become a nation is psychological, emotional, spiritual and subjective. It cannot be imposed on people forcefully and by violent means. As a nation, India is very complex, we comprise of Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Buddha, Dalits and other communities. There was an urge to be strong together and we threw out foreign rule to overcome all of this and made ourselves established as a nation. 

Complex Modernity in Nationalism

The credit of India’s exposure to modernism and western trends falls under the account of British colonialism. It introduced India to new corridors of nation, nationalism, philosophy, education, technological advancement but opened the gates to complex temporal imbalance. Modernity does not mean modern fashion and technological advancement but the inclusion of justice, liberty, fraternity, the modernity of mind, equal treatment of all genders and a vice decision-making ability. West, before accepting modernity, cast out all of its pre-modern traditions and practices and this is contrary to what is prevailing in India. The functioning of pre-modern and modern concepts simultaneously is causing hindrance in the efficient working of the nation. Illustrating this, in India we have modern concepts of fraternity and equality, but at the same time pre-modern practices such as untouchability and stratification are well-established in the mindset of people and this results in inefficiency of governance and development. This is one of the reasons why the West is more efficient than India.

Nationalism is dynamic and has different perspectives. Gandhi’s nationalism campaigned for Swadeshi Samaj, women empowerment, and recognition of Dalit, on the other hand, Savarkar promoted hyper-modernism and exclusionary Hindu nationalism. The nationalism of Gandhi is different from Tagore and the same is true for Savarkar, but all of them are credible and are appropriate within their scope but it raises a question, whether nationalism should be inclusive or exclusive just like nations? 

Waving of the flag and celebrating Independence Day is not nationalism, but an individual or a community striving together for a better cause or development is. Inclusivity should be the trait of an ideal nation, a nation which takes into account all the sects and communities and is there to help them in their problems is a good trait of nationalism. To throw out colonial dominance, Indian nationalism emerged out from the countrymen to unite together establishing an Indian nation. This resulted in high solidarity amongst all the sects of the country compensating for their differences. But now, this Indian nationalism is under threat to fall in the traps of sub-nationalism or rogue nationalism as Etteien Baliber states “…many decolonized nations have undergone the painful experience of ‘seeing nationalisms of liberation turned into nationalisms of domination”.

Recently, the debate on nationalism is taking a toll and people are framed anti-national for baseless reasons and there is a greater political motive behind all these incidents. The rise of Hindu nationalism and ideologies of VD Savarkar to establish a complete Hindu Nation as opposite to Pakistan- a Muslim nation, which the present BJP government is latently approving taking its roots from `the Sangh and the RSS, is a threat to democracy and secularism in India. It is creating the Hindu community as ‘self’ and Muslim community as ‘other’ or enemy. This is achieved by altering the past and narrating a different story as Renan stated, “To forget and I will venture to say – to get one’s history wrong are essential factors in making of the nation.” Relations and bonds get changed due to altered perception and resentment are drawn towards others. The cases of mob lynching and attacks on the Muslim community, renaming of cities glorifying Mughal dynasty, saffronization and the issue of Ram Mandir are all the pieces of evidence to a rising hatred towards the ‘other’ and to establish a dominating Hindu nation.

Is Hindu nationalism or any sub-nationalism greater than Indian nationalism? Cultural nationalism by any definition is rogue nationalism. Its agenda is to evacuate all ideas of political rights from the idea of a nation-state and transplant in its place ideas of cultural rights and identity. Existence of sub-nationalism is a threat to Indian nationalism of unity in diversity and democracy. Its mere existence implies devotion to one’s own community or sect prior to the interests of the nation and when there is a dominance of one community over others then, ‘We The People’ enshrined in the preamble is violated and India as a nation will fall.

The Patriarchal Nation

Patriarchy is also deeply rooted in the debate of nation and nationalism. Women are being suppressed and dominated prior to modernism not just in India but even in the west. Equating women and slaves on the same pedestal by Aristotle is just a single example of this and in philosophy too, no woman philosopher’s voice was there till the 18th century. This depicts how biased the world has been to women but in India, the problem is still existing and deeply rooted.

If one observes closely, he would find that Indian nationalism is quite patriarchal. The way India is personified as ‘Bharat Mata’ and the call to save and protect Bharat Mata is body politics. It implies women are weak and cannot protect themselves from external aggression and there should be male to protect her and contrary to it Indian women are the ones suffering from internal aggression of discrimination, domestic violence, sexual violence, trafficking, honour killings, and rape. Out of 207, only 9 women were part of the meeting of the constituent assembly, Therefore, laws which were made to govern them were also framed by the majority of men violating the idea of equality in an independent India at time of its foundation only. Women are being dominated and suppressed even before India got independence. Cruel rituals like sati, outcasting of widowed women and even during menstruation period shows how orthodox and male-biased our Indian society was and is even now.

It was the leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Raja Ram Mohan Roy whose hardship resulted as a hope for women to be an integral part of the society. It was Gandhi, who introduced and appealed for women in politics and to join the movement of freedom struggle and Roy who fought for inhuman treatment of women and made rituals like sati abolished from India.

Indian nationalism cannot be exclusive of women and influenced by the male populace. A nation which does not respect its women, take into consideration their contribution in the freedom struggle and sacrifices they make in daily lives just to see their family members happy and nourishing, cannot utilize the essence of democracy to its full potential. It’s the women who have to break the fetters and prove everyone wrong to get free from the pre-modern mindset of society. Kiran Bedi, Justice M Fathima Beevi, Kalpana Chawla, Sarojini Naidu, PV Sandhu, Mithali Raj and many more are some examples which proved the society wrong by showing their calibre and potential and one needs to look into their past not present to learn from their experiences and improve the space for women in India.


In a nutshell, this essay emphasizes the ambiguity of the concept of nation and nationalism and how problematic they are. The existence and establishing of the nation from just a territorial state and how India transcended all the limiting factors of race, religion, culture, language, and others to be united to dethrone colonial rule and be a nation. The other bonds of common political and economic interests helped in this to unite them as one. It was because of the British that exposed India to modernism and nation establishment. However, the nation which our freedom fighters dreamt of is under threat by rising sub-nationalism only.

The rise of Hindu nationalism and propagandizing of its legacy by altering the historical facts and narrating a different story instigating communities against each other to establish a Hindu dominating India as opposite to Pakistan- a Muslim dominating nation. The essay also divulges in the patriarchal aspect of the nation and atrocities women face in Indian society. Even after all the differences and perspectives, the Indian nation is still functioning because of the institution of democracy and hope attached with it that someday voices of the neglected ones will be heard and high solidarity could be established. The essay also raised certain questions which have varied and subjective answers but the answers will decide how far India’s legitimacy as a nation will stand.



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