Friday, January 2, 2009

Idea of India- Whats in a nation?

During the recent Mumbai terror carnage, folks in the media questioned whether the very idea of India is under attack. The phrase was quite a catchy one and set me on a never ending trajectory of thoughts.

First and foremost the question arises as what constitute a nation? By nation do we only refer to the geographic territory? What do we mean by the rhetoric "to defend the nation"? What are we defending here? Is it only the geographic boundary? Or are we defending more than that, like a nation's values and honour?(remember the French were vanquished in both the World Wars from the homeland, but then remarkably the idea of France did not disappear by it) Adding to the confusion is that for many of us (that includes me) have still no idea on what the "idea of India" actually means.

The seminal seeds of a nationhood was perhaps sowed in the mid-nineteenth century Europe. German unification under Kaiser Wilhelm I (lets not forget Otto Van Bismarck too), Italy under Emmanuel and the French under various Republics facade, are some the poioneering examples of nationhood in the making. In fact the idea of nationhood is not that old in many of the Euorpean nations today. In fact less than a century of emergence of nation states in Europe (Germany for example in 1871), the idea of an Indian nation was born. (in 1947 of course)

Imperialism has sowed these seeds to many of colonised and third world countries too. As Winston Churchill once notroiously remarked, "India is no more a nation than the Equator", the idea of India sprouted very rapidily. It indeed a miracle that by 15th August 1947, 565 Princely Kingdoms united with the British India, to form the India that we know today. ( once again due credits Sardar Vallabhai Patel, India's answer to Bismarck)

In as much as the idea of India emerged, the idea of Pakistan- the homeland for Muslims of Indian sub-continent also sprouted. The merits or demerits of Partition of course is beyond the scope of this trajectory of thoughts. But the example of Pakistan's partition( or Bangladesh emergence in 1971) highights one important lesson. A nation cannot be founded upon unifying trait or characteristics. In 1947, the founders of Pakistan assumed that Islam would unite the East and West Pakistan together. But the idea of Pakistan failed miserbly in this case. (partly India's mischief is to be blamed for the dissolution).

Therefore for a nation to survive, it cannot be based on a uniform trait. Belonging to a nation does not imply that every individual should possess a homogenous attributes.(say language, religious beliefs etc.) Rather my gut feeling says it is the diveristy that strengtens the idea of nationhood. Any nation that fails to accomodate this diversity is only paving way for secession tendencies. Sri Lanka's Sinhala only policy, "standardisation" of marks are examples of a nation trying to impose a homogenous identity on its population, under the guise of social empowerment.

(to be continued...)

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