Nation and Nationalism – Realizing the goals of democracy

By | January 26, 2018
The relevance of nationalism

Last Updated :

In the lap of democracy it is necessary that the people express themselves and if they are not allowed to do so they will find other ways for expression and that can be communalism or maybe communist philosophy etc.


The concept of nationalism arose from the sepoy mutiny which took place in 1857 against the British Colonial Era and the national sentiment started developing among the people across the entire nation. In India, the sentiment of Nationalism is correlative to religion. There was a time when Hindu Dharamgurus started uniting people for the sake of one nation and so did the Muslim Clerics. Many nationalist movements collectively were started to free our country from the British Rule. That nationalist spirit was somewhere transformed into that of Patriotism.

Nowadays, the term nationalism is often used to reflect the desire of nationhood. Nationhood means the aspiration and bonding among the people of an entire nation. Now also it is more likely to be compared with patriotism, which is not true in the current scenario as the situations and circumstances are entirely different from that of the past. Both the concepts are entirely different from each other but in general, as a once common fallacy, we use both the terms as synonyms. Nationalism in itself can be positive and negative. When it is used with the great zeal like taking all collectively it’s positive nationalism and when it’s forcefully implied on others it becomes negative i.e. when we call it Forced Nationalism.

Meaning of the term ‘Nation’ & ‘Nationalism’:

The word ‘Nation’ is derived from the Latin word ‘Natio’ which means “people, kin, tribe, class, flock”. According to Black’s Dictionary the term Nation means, “a people, or aggregation of men, existing in the form of an organised jural society, usually inhabiting a distinct portion of earth, speaking the same language, using the same customs, possessing historic continuity, and distinguished from other like groups by their racial origin and characteristics, and generally, but not necessarily, living under the same government and sovereignty.”

Meaning of the term Nationalism as per Merriam Webster Dictionary, “a feeling of being loyal to and proud of their country often with the belief that it is better and more important than other countries”.

Nationalism in its true sense is a spirit, consciousness and the sentiment among the people of the nation to unite on any occurring. Say, for example, Japan is a country having the true spirit of nationalism, their people practice positive nationalism i.e. the national sentiment in them is imbibed in such a manner that nobody has to tell them to honor their country and countrymen.

Categories of nationalism:

Nationalism in common parlance is misunderstood with patriotism but there is a hell lot of difference between the two terms. These two words are used as synonyms of each other, but both the concepts are entirely different from each other. Where the term ‘patriotism’ stands for affection and willingness for defending one’s country on the contrary the term ‘nationalism’ is broader and extreme in nature. There are certain categories of nationalism which have prevailed and are still prevailing in India, which can be described as follows:

  • Nationalism as per leftist ideology:

Leftist approach nationalism is based on the Marxist theory. Leftists talk about the social equality, be it for any class, true sovereignty and self-determination and are totally against fascism and imperialism. Leftist considers that the basic rights must even be given to the downtrodden and the humiliated class i.e. the right to livelihood, honor to sustain in the society etc. In India, there are certain communist parties which practice the ideology which is just opposite as of the right-wing approach. We have certain States practicing left wing Nationalism like for example Chattisgarh and they believe what they are doing is in true sense Nationalism.

  • Nationalism as per rightist ideology:

Right-wing nationalist considers humans as a property of the State and also as the weapon to be used against the enemies be it internal or external. Right-wing nationalists are basically considered as Conservatives and also are called as anti-communists. Right-wing nationalists’ tries to defend the true national identity from the elements who want to corrupt that identity. These people follow the socialist pattern of the development and believe in democratic socialism and secularism.

  • Progressive Nationalism:

Whenever we talk of progressive nationalism we remember ‘Bhagat Singh’ a true martyr who pioneered this concept and once in his presidential address at a student’s conference in Lahore, he said: “If we are to bring about a revolution of ideas we have first to hold up before us an ideal which will galvanise our whole life. That ideal is freedom or azadi”. He continued, “But freedom is a word which has varied connotations and, even in our country, the conception of freedom has undergone a process of evolution. By freedom, I mean all round freedom, that is, freedom for the individual as well as for society; freedom for the rich as well as for the poor; freedom for men as well as
for women; freedom for all individuals and for all classes. This freedom implies not only emancipation from political bondage but also equal distribution of wealth, abolition of caste barriers and social iniquities and destruction of communalism and religious intolerance. This is an ideal which may appear utopian… but this ideal alone can appease the hunger in the soul.”[1]

  • Forced Nationalism:

This is a new emerging concept in the world’s biggest democracy i.e. India, in which people are compelled to show their national sentiments towards the nation. Being a democracy it gives every citizen or person certain specific rights and freedom but in the garb of that freedom and liberty nationalism is being forced on them. The concept of forced nationalism is nowhere specifically defined but it can be explained with certain incidents which occurred recently in our country which are discussed further.

Present Status of Nationalism:

The present status of the country is in a state of turmoil, where the feeling of nationalism is that of a forced one. In the recent few years, the condition of the nation has deteriorated in the name of nationhood and nationalism. The whole scenario can be described with the help of certain events which took place in the recent few years which are as follows:

  • Hamid Ansari Issue:

An issue was raised that why didn’t Hamid Ansari, the then Vice President salute the national flag on 26th January Republic Day parade. He was trolled by social media and the haters even demanded his impeachment. But the fact remained that it wasn’t his protocol to salute the National flag as it was the prerogative of the President of India who is also said to be The Supreme Commander of the Defence Forces.

  • A nation under Nation Theory:

This theory nation under nation in itself speaks a lot; this denotes the rise of extreme nationalism in certain pockets of the country like the Saharanpur riots and Malda riots which lead to the fragmented society. Whenever these castes based riots take place, this leads to divided society and this is what makes it impossible for the people to unite for the true national sentiment. People on the instigation of certain political peers forget their true existence as being Indian first than belonging to any other specific caste. The issue in Saharanpur took place between the two clans’ i.e. Thakurs and the Dalits of the Bhim army who almost burnt the city like hell and made the lives of the people miserable, similarly in West Bengal the Minority Extremist of Malda burnt the city for the sake of showing the power on other groups.

  • Cow Slaughter Incident:

Cow in India is considered as a sacred animal, because of its milching quality, there raised an issue on cow slaughter and beef ban in India. Initially, only 8 states banned the cow slaughter but now almost 18 states have made the provisions for the beef ban. The violence took place on the issue of cow slaughter in which many innocent Muslims were killed in a spate of the mob mentality. The mob attacked and targeted many Muslims in the name of religion and revered animal. The majority group i.e. of Hindus, the cow vigilantes attacked the minority groups’ i.e. the Muslims leading in the situation of distress and apathy. The index of the past few years shows the brutal killings in the name of cow slaughter making the conditions worse for the people to survive.

mob lynching

  • Bhumi Putra Scenario of Maharashtra:

Few years back there raised an issue of Bhumi putra in Maharashtra in which the head of MNS(Maha Navnirman Sena) Raj Thackeray appealed to the people of Mumbai to boycott the ‘so-called outsiders’ i.e. the people of UP and other States and for firing them from their jobs and services which resulted in many people quitting their jobs due to pressure. He further demanded from the people of Mumbai to raise the slogan of Vande Matram and said “Maharashtra mein rehna hoga toh Vande Matram kehna hoga”. He appealed to the public that they should boycott the North Indian festivals and people. The appeal made by him had its own repercussions which raised the question mark on the concept of single citizenship in India. This kind of extreme nationalism resulted in the distress and mismanagement in the State leading to the destruction of the public peace and property and supports the mob mentality.

  • JNU Issue- Nationalism V. Anti-nationalism:

This incident was a result of an outrage against the capital punishment of the person behind the Parliament attack i.e. Afzal Guru which was held on his 3rd death anniversary. Their students raised the slogans like “Kashmir ki azadi tak, bharat ki azadi tak, jung rahegi jaari”, “afzal tere kaatil zinda hain, hum sharminda hain” pakistan zindabad, hindustan murdabad”. The seditions charges were slapped on few students and again the situation of duress occupied the National capital, such incidents are worth raising the question of what true Nationalism means. People from different strata expressed their views on the issue, some of them said it is sedition and some of them said it’s not sedition. The whole debate raised the question on what activity comes under the purview of Nationalism and what comes under anti-nationalism. No definite answer came into existence but leaving the whole nation in the state of Dilemma.

jnu protest7591

Local residents of Munirka area protest outside the gates of the JNU, against a function that was allegedly anti-national in nature praising Afzal Guru on campus, in the capital New Delhi.

  • Returning of Awards:

After the death of M.M. Kalburgi and the Dadri Lynching case in 2015 approx 40 Sahitya Akademi Prize Awardees returned their awards on the rising issue of intolerance in the Country. Their act also raised the question on whether returning such prestigious is not insulting the national sentiment of the people? Had not been the prize awarded to the people who do not feel that sense of Nationalism within themselves? Such issues raised in the country create ruckus and lead to the incompetence of the Government and on the part of citizens it lead to the lack of national sentiment among them.

Impact of Case Laws :

There occurred certain incidents which make us think whether people of India are in true sense nationalist or the feeling is being imposed on them. Certainly few people lack the national sentiment which is very much important for any nation to sustain. An incident took place recently, where the Apex Court of the Country had to intervene in the matter of nationalism and patriotism, where it made mandatory for all cinema theatres to play the national anthem and directed that all should stand in respect of the national anthem and further the bench called this decision as imperative. The issue was raised by the liberals that whether this is forced nationalism or not?

Another incident is that when U.P government recently made it compulsory to unfurl the national flag on each and every Madarsa on 15th August this year. Such direction raises certain questions like whether people are least concerned about the Nation or certain community is targeted indirectly.

To protect the National Insignia an Act was passed in 1971 “The Prevention of Insults to National Honor Act”. This Act extends to whole of India and S.2 of the Act states that “Whoever in any public place or in any other place within public view burns, mutilates, defaces, defiles, disfigures, destroys, tramples upon or *otherwise shows disrespect to or brings into contempt (whether by words, either spoken or written, or by acts) the Indian National Flag or the Constitution of India or any part thereof, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.

The impact of certain laws and judgments are proving out to be somewhat negative. No rules and regulations must be imposed on people for expressing their views and sentiments towards the nation until and unless required. If in every case the directions are issued then the original sentiment of the people will get suffocated and they will not be able to participate freely. Like in U.S people have the freedom to use their National Flag in whatever manner they like, that is the only reason they respect it by heart and they don’t have to restrict their sentiments for some specific day.

Conclusion and Suggestion:

In the end, it can be said that Nationalism is good if it is a circumference. Certain things have an optimum limit and must not be stretched beyond that limit, so is the concept of Nationalism, if it is followed willingly then in its true sense it is nationalism and if it is forced by any rule or by law then it comes under an ambit of forced nationalism. To ignite the national sentiment and harmony the freedom to use the national insignia and symbols must be given to the people.

Use of national signs and symbols only on the D-day i.e. 26th January and 15th August does not invoke the respect and feelings forever but are restricted to certain days or for few hours. In the lap of democracy it is necessary that the people express themselves and if they are not allowed to do so they will find other ways for expression and that can be communalism or maybe communist philosophy etc.

By – Dr. Amit Singh, Ankita Mishra [M.J.P. Rohilkhand University]

[1] C. Uday Bhaskar Bhagat Singh’s Nationalism, (March 23rd, 2016, 12:52 a.m.)

Author: Mayank Shekhar

Mayank is a student at Faculty of Law, Delhi University. Under his leadership, Legal Bites has been researching and developing resources through blogging, educational resources, competitions, and seminars.