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The State-Nation Theory- Utopia or Reality?

The State-Nation Theory- Utopia or Reality?

By Atharva Pandit

Edited by Namrata Caleb, Senior Editor. The Indian Economist

Everybody today knows Yogendra Singh Yadav. Or at least, everybody has heard of him. Maybe not everybody, but some, those who have had and continue to have a tiny bit of interest in politics, or the politics of the Aam Aadmi Party, to be sure. But let’s say most know Yadav as a part of the crusading team led by Arvind Kejriwal that won over Delhi and then left it high and dry for its own sake. To be honest, of the lot that forms the AAP, only the soft-spoken and bright Yadav deserves any bit of attention- the rest may continue their futile attempts at changing the world.

Yogendra Singh Yadav could be called the closest thing we would come across as an Indian intellectual committed to a cause and working towards it. It is not surprising, then, that he opted to a party filled with some of the brightest minds of India- from IITians to political scientists and academics, the Aam Aadmi Party has been ushered in as the rise of a new kind of left, subscribing not to revolution but a change, a change that the nation demands and has been demanding for a long time now. However, it won’t be completely true if we state that Yadav does not subscribe to any kind of Utopian ideology- for not only does he believe in one, he has, in fact, contributed to a larger extent in the formation of such a utopia.

With the arrival of Narendra Modi in the national and international political scenario, questions began to be raised- the Left, as usual, smirked and warned that the nation was going into the hands of the Fascists; the Right, also not unusually, began to play trumpets in the praise of Modi and his developmental governance aimed towards an economy that they felt- and hoped- would lessen the economic inequality that rages throughout the world, and especially in India. Both the Left and the Right were far-off the mark in their assimilation of what Modi was, what Modi is and what Modi will be- and, whether he will, indeed, be the torchbearer of Hindutva, that contemporary word which has come to define communal politics to a large extent in modern India. What, you may ask, has Hindutva to do with this theory of Yadav’s? And I may answer- a lot. Because Hindutva as an idea for the right-wingers denotes cultural purification of India- there shall be no universal culture except the Hindu culture, they say. And Modi, unlike moderates like Vajpayee or Parrikar, firmly believes in it, even though he has hidden it all behind the coat of developmental politics- cliched but largely true.

This is where Yadav concentrates. Cultural purification and the discourse on how two or more cultures can stand together, shoulder-to-shoulder, in one geographical space. That Modi was catapulted to India’s highest political power for Yadav raises many rhetorical questions, and a few among them he asks in his article on the theory in Forbes India Magazine.

According to Yadav, the term nationhood is not Indian but European. Before and after the World Wars, especially after the Second World War, the theory of nation-states emerged in Europe. Efforts were being made by leaders to accommodate the several different cultures spreading throughout Western and Central Europe into one political and geographical notion. The cultural boundaries of a nation, as Yadav writes, were being matched with political boundaries of a state. The European unease with diversity having a long history, it is not a surprise to know that it took great efforts to see this idea succeed comfortably. In cases where the cultural diversity did not accommodate with the political ideologue, different nations altogether were carved out or, in many cases, culture was simply cleansed off. Examples are many, and citing these very examples, the leaders of our Independence decidedly were against the cultural dominance in India- something that has long irked the Right.

India’s unity in diversity has been long-praised, but in recent years, the inner workings of such a diversity don’t really boast of unity, as various examples of regional violence against migrant communities and, of course, religious fanaticism right since the independence have gone on to show. Deep down, however, weaving through all of this, India has, to a certain extent, gone on to create for itself a democratic form of tolerance towards the regional and ethnic diversities- and this was possible only because, says Yadav, Indian political system followed a ‘state-nation’ theory.

This is highly debatable. Whether India followed the theory or not is open for the audience, but if India indeed did, then it didn’t seem to be highly successful. Can it, however, be successfully if it be applied in the future? Can this theory- as opposed to the current nation-state structure- actually work for the future Indian society or is it, like the Revolution of Left, a largely Utopian concept? Both. The first answer propounds that indeed, if every state becomes a Nation and Nation a State, every distinct ethnic group will have its own, different country, “separatism” without any separatist problem to deal with. That India is a multicultural democracy- for which this paradigm was originally intended- helps. The theory projects a new form of Sovereignty, as if to plug holes that are left completely open, and offers a newer dimension to justice and nationalism discourse in India.

The theory certainly seems to be the need for India and other such established democracies carrying along the weight of multiculturalism to accommodate ethnicity within its framework- but by accepting a large chunk of their customs, and by tactically rejecting unethical ones.

This will tend to invite problems, of course, for what would be unethical for some would most probably be moral for the other. This will serve to reject the very basis of why state-nation theory was proposed- which leads us to our next question and its answer. Is state-nation a utopia? To me, the theory of accepting multiculturalism and ethnic diversity all the while maintaining national coherence sounds, at least in the first half of what is going to be a long 21stCentury, Utopian and fantastical (and if pushed, I wouldn’t pin my hopes on the second half either).

But Alfred Stephan, Juan J. Linz and Yadav in their book, Crafting State-Nations: India and other Multinational Democracies, try to make us believe in this- one has to admit- rather unique and spectacular idea of theirs. To support their dogma, they conduct a survey, which according to them is “the largest and most original surveys ever designed and employed for comparative political research.” And Yadav and his gang are capable of undertaking such expeditions in order to present to us a better solution to the ethnic problems that India suffers from. The book is not a masterpiece, for sometimes it tends to falter and move away from the original points, or even the whole originality factor, but is written in simple and engaging prose (most probably by Yadav himself, for his prose in various articles and essays, and his prose in the introduction to journalist Ashutosh’s Anna: 13 Days that Awakened India– probably the only readable material in the book- resemble the one flowing gracefully over the pages of Crafting State-Nations).

To me, this theory of the trio seems to be an effectual way out of the ethnicity problems and India’s trouble with diversity and cultural-political history. But to implement such a theory, the Constitution will have to be re-framed, and the states that we live in be separated. The entity will remain one, but once-states-now-nations divided on ethnic lines will be largely responsible for themselves. All this, without a doubt, presents to us the simple hard fact: that state-nation is a hypothesis which indeed is a utopia in present times, and will probably remain one in our lifetime.

 Atharva Pandit is an FYBA student at Ramnarain Ruia College, Mumbai, and intends to major in Politics. He is a close observer of international politics and is an advocate of free speech, all the while following social evils plaguing the Indian society. Apart from his journalistic ventures, Pandit also reserves an interest in foreign languages, and has cleared two advance-level Spanish exams. He is interested in reading, and recently presented a paper titled “The Role of Literature in Latin American Resistance.” 

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