Nationalism: A Calculated Risk

By | March 6, 2021
Nationalism: A Calculated Risk

Nationalism conventionally is perceived and seen as one of the great driving forces ostensibly the most powerful of all the movements in modern history. From the French Revolution to India’s Independence Struggle, from the Civil War in the United States to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the proposition or postulation of nation and nationalism has steadily grown as an inspirational driving force for mass movements and not kept itself restricted to a political ideology. The seeds of this very theory of nation and nationalism were never sown, they developed out of masses, particularly among those seeking revolution and their evolution to a free and prosperous society.

This essay argues how the conceptualization of nationalism and the notion of collective identity albeit diversity, behind the formation of nations. This essay also rejects the concept of rising divisive majoritarianism and the endeavour of making India a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ and, asserts the fact that majoritarianism is all about tolerance and amalgamation of diversity transcending across religion, race, ethnicity, or colour.

I. Introduction | Nationalism: A Calculated Risk

Traditionally there have been two central theories around which the world revolved: liberalism and realism. But, as complexity grew and people of different school of thoughts got together, there was a rise in ideas and demands in different sections of the society which believed in something so much that it became of part of human personality and social lifestyle. Theories and hypotheses are always emerging, resonating among people and striving against another supposition albeit, this can be disorientating and as soon as you think you have taken your stand, another appears.

It is fundamental to contemplate how theories play a character in explaining the world and how, based upon different periods and our state of affairs, one modus operandi may speak to us more than another, influence and adapt in our environment. By analyzing how a certain understanding of an issue becomes dominant, the aim is to expose and uncover the hidden assumptions it is based upon and open up other possible and pragmatic ways of being, thinking, and doing.

II. Nationalism

Nationalism is an ideology and crusade of a particular nation[1], to all intents and purposes with the objective of emphasizing and belabouring on the principle of sovereignty (self-governance) over origin or motherland. It accentuates the doctrine of sovereignty and that each nation should govern itself, free from external forces interfering in internal matters pertaining to laws or situations in a nation[2], and that a nation is a natural and ideal basis for a group of people who have a collective identity and ideology and have the ability to mobilize resources.[3]

It further aims to build and maintain a single national identity, based on shared social characteristics of culture, ethnicity, geographic location, language, politics, government, religion, traditions, and belief in a shared history and to promote national unity and solidarity.[4]

In execution, nationalism can be appreciated from both aspects of optimism and pessimism conditional to the context behind it and an individual’s interpretation and thought process of that situation or condition. It is responsible for independence movements such as the collapse of the Soviet Union[5], the Indian National Movement, the Greek Revolution, the Zionist movement that laid the genesis of the modern-day Jewish state of Israel. On the contrary, the contentious and tendentious annexation of Crimea by Russia and the radical rise of nationalism in addition to racial hatred towards the Jews predominantly the key factor in the Holocaust perpetrated by Nazi Germany.[6]

English historian J.P.T. Bury argued: Between 1830 and 1870 nationalism had thus made great strides. It had inspired great literature, quickened scholarship, and nurtured heroes. It had shown its power both to unify and to divide. It had led to great achievements of political construction and consolidation in Germany and Italy; “but it was more clear than ever a threat to the Ottoman and Habsburg empires, which were essentially multi-national.

European culture had been enriched by the new vernacular contributions of little-known or forgotten peoples, but at the same time, such unity as it had was imperilled by fragmentation. Moreover, the antagonisms fostered by nationalism had made not only for wars, insurrections, and local hatreds they had accentuated or created new spiritual divisions in a nominally Christian Europe.” [7]

III. The Birth of the idea of Nation

A nation can be expressed as “a fully mobilized or institutionalized ethnic group”.[8] The foundation stone of some nations was laid on the idea of ethnicity or religion (nation-state) and some are associated with an affiliation with a social and political constitution (civic nationalism and multiculturalism).[9] Theories apart, the fundamental visualization of a nation has been seen as an amalgamation of a culturally and politically diverse community that is compos mentis of its sovereignty, independence, and self-sufficiency. [10]

The notion of a nation cannot be separated from the doctrine and ideology of nationalism. The very essence of a nation lies in “unity and diversity” which is the basis of the idea of nationalism. Nationalism is one of the key factors playing a role in the formation of nation-states across the world, undertaken in countries as a revolution for progressive evolution and was calculated risk towards freedom, take for example the Greek Revolution or the Indian National Movement. ‘Ultimately, communities are nations when a significant percentage of their members think they are nations’.[11]

A nation is the people and not a piece of a landmass. From an impressionistic point of view, history, culture, language, religion, ethnicity is accountable as strong pillars of the foundation of a nation but appreciation, cognizance, integration, and approval of a declare that Y is a nation among the people of that presumed collective team and the belief of integration, of being a participant in it – is the crucial ingredient which became the reason for the formation of nation-states.[12] ‘A group of individuals united in and by the false belief that they share a common history might act collectively and thereby initiate a common history’.[13]

IV. Nationalism and the Idea of India

Nationalism in India bloomed as a belief during the Indian freedom movement which led to the fight against British rule for independence. Nationalism in India didn’t develop with the notion of people coming together and forming an alliance that may own/occupy a piece of land and declaring themselves as a nation but grew as a form of territorial nationalism which is accepting and inclusive of the ever-growing and dynamic diversity despite differences in linguistic or religious backgrounds. India became a sovereign nation on 15th August 1947 with the partition of the country into India and Pakistan.

India has seen unification under various rules, emperors, and governments. From the Gupta Empire to the Mughal Empire, from the Maratha Empire to the British Indian Empire, it has always been a state of constant war and adversity. India’s concept of motherland is not limited only to its territorial sovereignty but as the birthplace of the Indus Valley Civilization and Vedic Civilization, as well as four major religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.

India acknowledges and paints the town red of its rich past, its kings and queens, and the idea of ‘unity in diversity’. It celebrates the many kings and queens like Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi, Shivaji of the Maratha Empire, Maharana Pratap of Mewar, Chandragupta Maurya, and Ashoka of the Magadha Empire for their conquests, religious tolerance, and resistance to foreign invasion. [14]

The rise of the middle-class in the 18th century with the expanding British East India Company’s rule brought about collective and fiscal orientations.[15] The emerging economic power among businessmen, traders, and professionals became difficult for the British to digest and they became critical and intimidated by the rising prowess of certain sections of the society. The seed of Nationalism was never sown in India like in other European nations but came as a conscious desire for freedom which later fueled the fire of the rising anti-colonial sentiment.

The elite section of the Indian society (together with lawyers, government officials, doctors, and similar groups) spawned an Indian identity[16] and fed the growing nationalist sentiment of ‘Purna Swaraj’. The 1905 partition of Bengal escalated tensions between the British and various Indian revolutionaries and acted a catalyst for stimulating radical nationalist sentiments among people of all backgrounds coming together which grew into the Swadeshi movement[17].

Indian nationalism is a heterogeneous blend of nationalistic points of view as its citizens are culturally and religiously variegated. Ethnic communities are diverse in terms of linguistics, social traditions, and history across India. The rise of the philosophy of Hindu Rashtra, which later became the backbone of the nationalist movement, believes in the idea of equality of all. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar coined the term Hindutva and described India as a Hindu Rashtra (a Hindu nation).

The ideology demanded the revoking Article-370 of the Constitution that gave special status to the former state of Jammu and Kashmir, adoption of a Uniform Civil Code and ending laws that gave special treatment to anyone. On the other side, there was the All India Muslim League founded in 1906-1907 where prominent leaders of this group like Mohammad Ali Jinnah (founder of Pakistan), Maulana Azad, Allama Iqbad and various Deobandi clerics albeit backed the leadership and ideology of Mahatma Gandhi enveloped around the notion that Hindus and Muslims can’t live in the same nation and need distinct nations and identity.

V. Majoritarianism in India: It’s about tolerance

‘The term majoritarianism is the newly founded cuss word in the current Indian political scenario, a derogatory loaded expletive bandied around recklessly by a pompous cabal of intellectuals to demonize the current Indian government as a callous juggernaut that rides roughshod over the rights of minorities.’[18]

Comparing radical and divisive majoritarianism of Nazi Germany which was built around genocides and diabolic actions to this so-called idea of ‘Hindu Nationalism’ which beliefs in the idea of equality of all irrespective of cultural or economic background is like comparing apples to oranges and is preposterous in terms of accountability.

John Stuart Mill, a British philosopher used the phrase the “tyranny of the majority” to illuminate an authoritarian press in his monumental essay “Liberty”: “Like other tyrannies, the tyranny of the majority was at first, and is still vulgarly, held in dread…there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling, against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas, and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them…”

Nationalism in the genesis of a community that is conventionally non-violent, accepting, and tolerant like the Republic of India fabricates an undisputedly unusual outcome of a country so diverse as none other. Indian majoritarianism means ‘unity in diversity’.

– Vidit Baya

The author, Vidit Baya, Times School of Media, Bennett University has secured 8th Rank in the 5th National Essay Writing Competition on Nation and Nationalism 2021.

[1] Smith, Anthony. Nationalism: Theory, Ideology, History. Polity, 2010. Pp. 9, 25-30; James, Paul (1996). Nation Formation: Towards a Theory of Abstract Community. London: Sage Publications

[2] Finlayson, Alan (2014). “5. Nationalism”. In Geoghegan, Vincent; Wilford, Rick (eds.). Political Ideologies: An introduction. Routledge. Pp. 100-102. ISBN 978-1-317-80433-8.

[3] Yack, Bernard. Nationalism and the Moral Psychology of Community. University of Chicago Press, 2012. P. 142

[4]  Triandafyllidou, Anna (1998). “National Identity and the Other”. Ethnic and Racial Studies. 21 (4): 593–612.

[5] Krikorian, Shant. “The Demise of the USSR in the Face of Nationalism”. Prospect: Journal of International Affairs. University of California, San Diego

[6] Pierre James (2001). The Murderous Paradise: German Nationalism and the Holocaust. Greenwood. ISBN 9780275972424.

[7] J. P. T. Bury, “Nationalities and Nationalism,” in J. P. T. Bury, ed. “The New Cambridge Modern History Vol. 10 (1830-70)” (1960) pp 213-245, at p. 245

[8] Eller 1997

[9] Eller 1997

[10]  Anthony D. Smith (8 January 1991). The Ethnic Origins of Nations. Wiley. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-631-16169-1.

[11] Norman, 1991, p. 53

[12] Geoff Andrews and Michael Saward, Nationalism, Self-determination and Secession, Available Here

[13] Archard, 1995, p. 475

[14]  “Mahrattas, Sikhs and Southern Sultans of India: Their Fight Against Foreign Power/edited by H.S. Bhatia”.

[15] Mitra 2006, p. 63

[16]  Croitt & Mjøset 2001, p. 158

[17] Bose and Jalal 1998, p. 117

[18] Vivek Gumaste. Indian Majoritarianism. The Sunday Guardian.

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Author: Vidit Baya

Student, Times School of Media, Bennett University

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