Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Concept of Nationhood

India has been, is presently and will continue to be at crossroads…so said somebody. Well, we have to constantly make choices for our collective journey through time. As we stand today, pausing and wondering on which path to take, I would like to discuss in this post the concept of nationhood that confronted us and our struggle to grapple with this new idea. Read on…..



An ancient civilization donned robes of a new-born nation at the stroke of midnight of 14-15th August 1947 hoping to wake up from its long slumber and make its “Tryst with Destiny”.


An ancient race that was spread over a vast multitude of kingdoms and jagirs woke up a new reality of a vast nation – India or Bharat desh or Hindustan to many more. This, probably, was an abstract and a scary concept as against the cocoon like security of one’s small kingdom.


A population that owed allegiance to a central figure – the King and his family suddenly came alive to the vague concept of State and distant rulers.


People used to a certain form of governance for ages had to suddenly learn an alien concept of “Democracy” and come to terms with the niceties of debate and consensus building.


A rigid and feudal structure and a society divided along caste lines were confronted with the frightening possibility of having to live the rest of their lives practicing “Justice - Liberty – Equality and Fraternity”. This value was sought to be transplanted by those who had access to modern education and had a dream of how this young nation should shape up in the decades to come by.


Till we attained our Independence, the sole focus of our people was to attain Independence from the British. Naively, people believed that all our ills were just due to colonial rule and once independent, they would just vanish into thin air as wisps of smoke, if you will. No thinker, probably, recognized the many inherent contradictions existing and simmering just below the surface.


A pan-Indian identity was as alien as sharing the same bench in a school with an “untouchable”. We grew up and limited our identity to our jagir - Kingdom or Province.


These and many contradictions came to the surface and in fact still keep doing so at repeatedly at regular intervals severely testing our faith and patience. Many wring their hands in despair and are convinced about the futility of our experiment with newer ideas and in some extreme elements the idea of nationhood.


Are we close to writing the final verdict? Where and how do we go? Is the political process over-shadowing everything else? Is there hope at all for us? These and similar questions arise in our minds and torture us as we stand almost decade in this new millennium.


I am more sanguine.


What we see today and what depresses and disturbs us should be seen in the light of what I have discussed above. The last sixty two years have been a process of overcoming these inherent contradictions, assimilating newer concepts, learning a new way of life.


We began as a group of nations and commenced the journey to meld together as a cohesive whole. Our society is grappling with many known and unknown currents and evolve it will. This belief is not based on foolish hope but on a study of human behaviour. Given the diverse background, a sense of identity and reconciliation will emerge in due course and all divisive and disruptive elements would quieten down and merge into the mainstream.


After all sixty years is just a small patch across a canvas stretching over tens of millennia or more.


Give India time…..we will sort ourselves out.


Edited to add:


Priyank made a very pertinent observation. We began an experiment six decades back that EU has just started a decade back and the complexity, religious and social diversity is much more that what EU can imagine. Let me add here - all this has been done without two world wars and tens of millions of human casualties. This is amazing and very creditable and we should be proud of ourselves.



18 comments:

manju said...

Mavin, you have nicely analysed the problems that confronted us as we gained Independence.

I agree, the Democratic way of governance was alien to us. A rigid structure of society and a deplorable caste system was also in existence.

However, can we say that there was not the concept of one nation? Though there were many small kingdoms, I think that it can be said that they together made up one nation.

We have said from many centuries- " Uttare yat Samudrasya, Himadreschaiv Dakshinam, Varsham tat Bharate nam, Bharati yatr Santatihi."

Mavin said...

Yes Bharat existed as a cultural entity.

Politically India/Bharat has evolved as a single entity for the first time ever.

As a resident of say the Mysore kingdom, one never went and sought opportunities or bothered about what Gwalior did or Baroda or Indore did. Punjab was a distant as the moon and it did not matter as wheat never came from there.

Yes people went on pilgrimages and trade between geographically contiguous areas and probably some trade between far away states for say some famed items like silk, gold, handicrafts, saris....

One had limited perspective of one's own kingdom. The nation never existed beyond that.

Final_Transit said...

Nice post! I couldn't but mention here that India has more languages, cultures, religions, races, geographies etc than EU, but we did it 60 years ago what they are still struggling to do.

Mavin said...

Yes Priyank

That is a very important observation. The best and extremely creditable part is this has been done without two world wars being fought and tens of millions of lives lost.

Vinod_Sharma said...

Yes Mavin, till the British came over, a pan-Indian political identity was alien. We were divided into many kingdoms and jagirs. But, as you and Manju have observed, India has always existed as "one".

The Land of King Bharat, the island of the Rose-apple (Bharat Varshe Jambudwipe) runs from Kanyakumari to the Himalayas since time immemorial.

In fact, the concept of nation-states is a recent Europoean creation. Most scholars agree that it was only in the 19th century that states with boundaries defined mainly by language and culture began appearing in Europe. Before that political units were based on multi-ethnic empires and kingdoms whose boundaries were flexible and depended solely on the relative strengths and ambitions of kings and emperors.

Europe is already moving towards a post nation-state model. We may be having many more diversities than the Europeans do, but we have that long memory of "oneness" that Europe does not. Therefore, notwithstanding the various fissures that cause despair, the base that holds this ancient land together is strong enough to get across this cross-road too. Of course it is important that we recognise the challenge that not only India but the whole world is facing from elements of radical Islam...there is a historical struggle on.

Mavin said...

Well we had kings and emperors fight against each other in a constant quest for power, territory and riches.

Kingdoms or nation states the idea is similar - a sense of proprietary control over some land and its populace.

An union called India would never have happened voluntarily. If you detach yourself and observe history playing itself over the centuries, the British rule was the force which bent rigid metal and ores into fine steel.

India had to be tempered in the furnace and drawn out so that it takes on its present shape.

Otherwise who would expect a completely unremarkable people from a small patch of land to play such a role.

If we start believing in ourselves we can become a power to reckon with. Almost pre-ordained....looks like is'nt it Vinod?

Vinod_Sharma said...

I agree with you in toto. We have to start believing...for that we need real leaders in various fields...

Indyeah said...

Thought provoking post sir.
This however gave me some hope in the time of despair that we indeed are facing today
''We began an experiment six decades back that EU has just started a decade back and the complexity, religious and social diversity is much more that what EU can imagine. Let me add here - all this has been done without two world wars and tens of millions of human casualties. This is amazing and very creditable and we should be proud of ourselves.''
Indeed!
and I am glad that you wrote these lines and shared them here:)

J P Joshi said...

A very nice post. India, like you say comprised of one nation, but many states. Like Vinod says, then came the European concept of nation-states, and we can thank the British for making these many states into one nation-state, and ALSO we should be proud that we gave ourselves one of the finest constitution, that has seen us through turbulent times of the last 6 decades, although it has undergone numerous amendments.

More than this political effort... what appeals to me about India is that India is an idea, an idea that is based on our ancient belief that this universe comprises of one family, "Vasudeva Kutumbam". This is the single reason I believe that helps us live amicably, despite constant provocations, in the midst of the largest diversity, in every conceivable way, that could co-exist on this planet.

"Given the diverse background, a sense of identity and reconciliation will emerge in due course and all divisive and disruptive elements would quieten down and merge into the mainstream.
After all sixty years is just a small patch across a canvas stretching over tens of millennia or more.
Give India time…..we will sort ourselves out." Very well said. Agree with you 100% on this.

Mavin said...

Hello JPJ

Welcome to My Voice.

A lot to do and lot to achieve. I can never understand why this despondency everywhere.

Impressive credentials there - JP, commending a Jaguar squadron....any tips for me who always dreams o learning to fly.

Smitha said...

Mavin, I have been trying to read your posts eversince I got back from holiday - but I somehow don't get your posts on my reader - I get HTML code instead:(

What a fantastic and beautifully analysed post!!

'After all sixty years is just a small patch across a canvas stretching over tens of millennia or more.

Give India time…..we will sort ourselves out.' These lines are so true! I was reading Ramachandra Guha's book when on vacation and he shows that right from the time of Independance, we have had doomsayers predicting the collapse of India.. Apparently the only difference is that at that time, it was mainly foreigners who were doing the predicting, now, its us, Indians! I so totally agree with your final line '
Give India time…..we will sort ourselves out.'

We just need to believe it and work towards it!

Anrosh said...

every generation will have its own articulation on nationhood.

Mavin said...

Hello Smitha...

I see on your blog you have had a great time at Waynad and other places....

Welcome back.

Strange you do not get the feed considering both of us are on blogspot. Try linking afresh.

You are right there. We need to believe and work towards it. This presumes a lot of team work. Even in small teams, they gel well only after an initial period of conflict.

The same holds true for a nation which actually is a team on a much much larger scale.

Mavin said...

Yes Anrosh,

Our generation will have a different take than probably some one who lived about three hundred years back.

Maybe, a hundred years later, the concept of a nation may not be relevant if globalisation were to spread on a basis of equality and not on basis of competition.

Krishnan said...

"Give India time…..we will sort ourselves out."

I agree 100% with your words.

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L. Venkata Subramaniam said...

You almost seem to be suggesting that our idea of a Indian state came before its time?

Kelton said...

A very nice post. India, like you say comprised of one nation, but many states. Like Vinod says, then came the European concept of nation-states, and we can thank the British for making these many states into one nation-state, and ALSO we should be proud that we gave ourselves one of the finest constitution, that has seen us through turbulent times of the last 6 decades, although it has undergone numerous amendments. More than this political effort... what appeals to me about India is that India is an idea, an idea that is based on our ancient belief that this universe comprises of one family, "Vasudeva Kutumbam". This is the single reason I believe that helps us live amicably, despite constant provocations, in the midst of the largest diversity, in every conceivable way, that could co-exist on this planet. "Given the diverse background, a sense of identity and reconciliation will emerge in due course and all divisive and disruptive elements would quieten down and merge into the mainstream. After all sixty years is just a small patch across a canvas stretching over tens of millennia or more. Give India time…..we will sort ourselves out." Very well said. Agree with you 100% on this.