By Parnika Deora:
A large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory is called a nation.
A state is an organised political community living under a single system of government and may or may not be sovereign. With these terminologies clear we can now focus on the hackneyed concept of a ‘nation-state’ that stresses on people, living in a particular state, having or sharing the same history, tradition and language.
This may haunt the patriotic side of some but John Strachey, a British colonial administrator, had once said that there was no ‘India’ and that the people of Bengal, Madras, and Punjab would never feel that they belonged to one nation. This statement may seem blasphemous to some and pragmatic to others. India is not a nation-state because it does not have uniformity on the basis of history, culture, language etc. To move somewhat away from the shades of grey, one can call India a ‘state-nation‘ because a state-nation does not need to proclaim uniformity but it accepts that cultural boundaries do not have to coincide with political boundaries and diversity can be celebrated within a country.
19th century Europe was not very liberating and easy for its people. Diversity was discouraged and if there came such a case then political boundaries were shifted either by creating new countries or merging existing states. Some who feel for the cause of nationhood or nation-state are trying to now mould India’s diversity to forge a unity that comes under the ambit of shallow standards set by a few.
The politics of Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan came about and showed how an idea of a nation state based on Hindi as the national language, Hindutva as a way of life and the north-Indian belt as the heartland could do if propagated with full force. With the backdrop of being fascist in nature, the Hindutva ideology is feared to be dealing with cultural hegemony, that is, omnipresence and domination of a certain way of life or culture. As we know India is a diverse country, we see people dealing with this homogenisation in their own way. Localisation and heterogenisation of culture (interpreting and practising their own culture within the homogenised majority) is a good example that works well against the theory of homogenisation.
Nationalising any one language in a country like India is a recipe for a disaster. With more than hundreds of languages being spoken in different parts of the country, sharing one language with all the citizens seems a bit of a stretch. Just to fit the ‘nation-state’ model one country does not have to trample on the basic ingredients and ideologies that constituted the formation of the country in the first place. Different ethno-racial groups living in different geographic regions in one shared country speaking different languages and sharing different cultures is a cause for celebration. If we have made it this far without having the need to alter our country’s diverse ethos, then we can make it till the end of the road.
Talking about the ‘state-nation’ policy, India sets a good example:
1) States like Kashmir, Nagaland and Mizoram are given a special status and special legislations.
2) Minorities and socially disadvantaged communities have rights that protect their individual rights.
3) We see regional and national parties coming together and forming coalitions.
4) Cultural nationalism in states does not give rise to secessionism due to the prevailing federal and parliamentary system.
There are many more such factors that set a good example.
Till the French Revolution, not all people in France spoke French. This was enforced by the French government in order to make their ‘nation’ uniform by having one particular language that would be spoken by all. If the same vigilantism crawls back into the sphere of the Indian society then not only would it be unethical and against the law but it would also create havoc among different religions, communities etc.
Our country’s law has been able to move past the issues of caste, language, religion etc. but it seems that our political set up still thrives on the above-mentioned points to work its way through. Political parties often capitalise on caste politics and make use of these things to increase their popularity among different communities and people.
In conclusion, I feel that India is a ‘state-nation’ and it should be a cause for great pride because we Indians are united by our identity but cultural, linguistic and religious differences do exist amongst us in humongous proportions. The need to be a nation does not fit in the Indian context because India has such a vast diverse cultural reservoir that trying to fit it into the ‘nation-state’ theory would consequentially hamper our country’s image. Let’s not be swept away by caste politics or certain forced ideologies but have an open mind, which is necessary for the present scenario.