‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam,’ the Hindus say. That says it all. Hindus recognise the entire world as a family. When the entire world is a family, a concept of a nation, protected by military, that can as much defend the nation, as much can attack other nations should essentially be an anathema.
However, we live in imperfect world, where there often is huge gap between the ideal and reality. We live in a world where humans are not perfect, and while the ideal of ‘all the people, living life in peace’ is admittedly very inspiring, nations have existed since the beginning of time and would continue to exist for a foreseeable future. Perhaps the origin of nation lies in one king being able to acquire so much territory through army and by extension administer so much.
Dilution of concept of nation has always come in form of imperialism, either of the Alexander variety or the Mughal variety or recently of the British variety, with Adolf Hitler being thrown in some good measure. Thus the concept of nation is not entirely a xenophobic one, but one that assures a community of people a freedom to live their life in the way their indigenous culture educates them and allows them to. Any ideology that has sought to distance itself from such non violent and indeed benevolent nationalism has been derived out of imperialism that seeks to dominate world through military in earlier times or economy in modern times. Nations are here to stay; the most one can hope is cooperation between nations – economic through trade and political through international organisation.
Once we have accepted the concept of nation as a necessity we must question what constitutes a nation. Of course a territory is the most important aspect of nation. Without land, there cannot be a nation. Surely it can’t be argued that in these times of Internet, a nation can be created that transcends boundaries, formed of people with similar views. People of different nations can collaborate through internet, but they cannot create a ‘Virtual Nation’ on Internet. Territory and that largely means land, as in part of earth is the foundation of a nation.
But that is the basic building block; but nations cannot be submerged by coalescence of territories. Surely, there has to be more to nation than just territory. There are three possible building blocks and each has certain degree of validity.
First is economy. Clearly since nation is governed by a Government managing its economy, that constitutes an import aspect of nation. Usually in modern times, a nation has one central bank, one currency, a common fiscal policy and so on. So clearly economy as distinguishing factor between one nation and another is a strong argument that must be taken cognisance of. Indeed Economy is as basic a building block of a nation as territory.
Yet, economies can be integrated. We have seen such integration between European Nations in form of European Union to start with and common currency – Euro. There is certain integration of economic policies in such a union. While European Union represents extreme level of integration of economies, organisations like GATT or WTO, seek to reduce trade barriers. Indeed there are economists all over the world who earn a life time of livelihood merely by advocating removal of trade barriers even as there are economist who advocate protectionism. So economy, especially considering instances of economic integration cannot be all that constitutes nation, though it certainly is an important component of nation, just as territory is.
While territory and economy are two ‘Hard’ aspects of nation – as in tangible parts of nation – a nation also has soft parts, something of intangibles. Could Ethnic origin be determining factor in nation. It seems an acceptable choice. However, ethic intermixing not necessarily marriage, but nations containing people of different races and different ethnic origin has become so common that ethnic nationality is impractical in 21st century and beyond.
That leaves only culture as another aspect of nation. Culture of course is composed of language, religion, food, dress, habits, and ways of living. Culture does define nation to some extent. It is culture that is as important aspect of nation, as most certainly territory and economy is.
And governments, however selected – through elections, or any alternate means, cannot entirely be neutral to culture as defining aspect of nation. Hence cultural nationalism is a truism – an axiomatic truth that we must humbly concede as inviolable and perforce be required to accept.
In Indian context organisations leaning towards right are facing stiff opposition for their adherence to cultural nationalism. However, given that fact that nation is as much defined by culture as much by territory and economy, one is compelled to submit that Governments perforce must exhibit certain preference to some culture, even if that requires Government to deviate from ideals of secularism.