India is not a Nation of Many States But a State of Many Nations

Published: 2021-09-13 08:50:10
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A state is a nation or territory considered as an organized political community under one government. Alternatively, it’s an organized political community living under a single system of government and may or may not be sovereign. A nation is a large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory.
India is a very deeply diverse nation. It has multiple cultures. It is astounding not just to people living out of the country, but to Indians themselves, the extent of this country’s diversity. When the political boundaries do not and need not coincide with cultural boundaries, then that entity is called a state-nation. Different ethno-racial groups living in different geographic regions in one shared country speaking different languages and sharing different cultures as in the case of India, is a most definitely cause for celebration. Thus, India is a state-nation. The Constitution of India itself calls India a ‘democratic republic constituted as a union of states’ in Article 1(1).Alfred Stepan, Juan J. Linz, and Yogendra Yadav introduced the idea of a ‘state-nation’. They call that class of political entities, those with strong ethnic diversity, some of it territorially concentrated— not “nation-states” but “state-nations.” Belgium, Canada, India, and Spain are state-nations, as are Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. Each has geographically concentrated ethno-communal differences.
A nation-state however, is a term which refers to a territory where the cultural boundaries match with the political ones. Modern France is viewed as the best historical example of such fusion. The concept of nation-states which is, the aspirations of the people that constitute a nation are best served by a common political entity is considered a relatively recent idea in Europe from the 18th century. The main constituents of a nation-state include: A shared culture – Similar food, clothing, behavior and so forth; a shared history – The sharing of a common past; a shared language- The same language spoken by all citizens which is the national language of the country and many other necessities that our country does not fulfill. India is not a nation-state because it does not have uniformity on the basis of history, culture and language.
In his classic 1976 study Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870–1914, Eugen Weber showed how the French central state, using military conscription and compulsory public schooling, turned Catalans, Corsicans, Gascons, Normans, Picards, Vendéens, the aforementioned Basques and Bretons, and a host of others into Frenchmen. As part of this project, the diversities that once so vividly characterized France were deliberately and systematically flattened. Almost all of India’s current states could be viable independent nations as most mid-sized countries of the world exist, each of them having unique cultures, languages, food, geographic features, clothing and histories.
The colonialists believed that the differences between the different parts of India ran so deep that it would be almost impossible to integrate it into one whole functional unit. This was quite a difficult task for them. However, even after our Independence, this problem persists. This belief of the colonials was not shared by our freedom-fighters like Gandhi and Nehru. Not only did they view India as a country with multiple cultures, they saw the one-nation, one-culture idea as narrow and non-desirable. They believed in the rejection of the idea that India’s unity requires uniformity. As a result, India’s identity did not seek after cultural homogeneity and stayed compatible with cultural diversity. Thus, the Indian Constitution and politics after the Independence recognize the unique situation of various states and fairly deal with deep diversities.
After the French Revolution, many policies were devoted to creating a unitary nation state in France in which all French citizens had only one culture and one political identity. Till the French Revolution, not even 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 such a policy would have been adopted in India, it would definitely have wreaked havoc across the country between different sects and surely led to the destruction of the Indian democracy and the Indian nation. Thus, nation-states tend to be assimilationists. Among their key features is the erasure of ethnic and cultural diversities. State-nations, by contrast, work on two levels: They strive to create a sense of belonging with respect to the larger political community, and at the same time they put in place institutional protections for politically salient diversities having to do with language, religion, or sacrosanct cultural norms. If such diversities are territorially specific, they normally require the protection afforded by federal arrangements.
According to the state-nation view, one can be both, a Catalan and a Spaniard, a Québécois and a Canadian, or a Punjabi and an Indian. Undifferentiated and singular Spaniards, Canadians, and Indians do exist. But a lot of citizens in such countries tend to have multiple, though complementary, identities. The wisdom of the state-nation approach is the recognition that trying to hammer together these various identities into a single national identity would not solidify the state, but instead would shatter it. India is an especially complex case. It has diversities of caste, religion, language, and tribe, the latter two of which are territorially concentrated. Because of this, language and tribe—the former, especially—have become Indian federalism’s main concerns. Each state in India has its own official language, a language that is barely spoken outside of the state. Official matter between states or between the centre and state take place in English or Hindi. Hindus, Muslims, Christians can be found in most states, but speakers of state languages such as Gujarati, Kannada, or Tamil are found only in small numbers outside their respective home states.
The nation-state model presumed that only a culturally unified people could be loyal to the state. But the opposite has been proven time and again by the people of India. Shielding diversity whilst building unity is not always an easy double role to play and, India’s record is not perfect, and secessionism has not been unknown. There have also been insurgencies in Kashmir, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Punjab. So yes, it has not always been smooth sailing and it never will be. But, democracy in India has lasted much longer than most imagined possible for a country housing such culturally diverse people and that state-nation policies in India have yielded remarkable success.
In nationwide surveys, more than 85 percent of those polled say that they are “proud” or “very proud” of India and only about a fifth of randomly sampled Indians say that they consider their identity to be mostly or completely drawn from their home state rather than India as a whole.
Thus, India is not a nation of many states because, if being a nation needs people living within a given political boundary to have one language, one faith, one culture and one race, then India can most definitely not qualify as just a nation, but much more. The fact that India is so diverse is a cause for great pride because we Indians are united by our identity but cultural, linguistic and religious differences do exist amongst us. 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. In the end, it comes down to this. India is not one country. It is a group of many different countries that have come together and, any attempt to paint all of India with the same brush will be a disaster.

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