Nationalism as an ideology


Global phenomenon

Nationalism is a political, economic and social ideology adopted by nations to mark their supremacy over others or as an ideological slogan to stimulate the people to defend the political, economic and social sovereignty of their country against any aggression. The concept of nationalism developed from the earlier primordialism, tribalism, ethno-symbolism which were limited in nature and scope and could not serve the purpose of modern states. Nationalism signifies the fundamental right to freedom, self-determination and sovereignty of ethnically homogenous people or a cluster of ethnically heterogeneous people living within a defined geographical territory bound by a common language, culture, history, a sense of pride in their historical heritage and shared aspirations for grandeur and prosperity.

Nationalism is not synonymous with patriotism. While nationalism is a tool with the state to deal with external situations, patriotism is employed to overcome internal difficulties within a state. Rather, the patriotic feelings are whipped up to strengthen nationalism in a given situation. Nationalism is also different from sub-nationalism in its connotation. The former is ignited by apprehensions of foreign military aggression or ideological and cultural invasion, economic sabotage or overpowering acquisitive designs for territory and economic resources. The latter is a ramification of the former and fueled by unjust, arrogant, disdaining and condescending attitude of the majority ethno-cultural and religious community towards the relatively smaller components of a nation.

Nationalism as an ideology gained prominence in the eighteenth century. Much earlier the Westphalian Agreement of 1648 had ended the 30-years long wars in Europe and defined state and the principles governing the co-existence of nation states – big or small by geography or population – and their independent right to political development and economic prosperity. The Westphalian concept of state as a sovereign entity sustained the political coexistence for quite  some time but always remained vulnerable to the hegemonic designs of major countries and finally gave way to the growth of nationalism and wars within Europe basically triggered by the irresistible expansionist designs or accessing to economic resources.

Growing tide
Various angles

The devastating military conflagrations that included the Napoleonic wars pulverised Europe. The defeat of Napoleon in Waterloo by the Duke of Willington-led grand military coalition brought respite to Europe but failed to extinguish the smoldering embers of nationalism. It resurged in the form of disenchanted Europe and subsequently, the disastrous Nazism and fascism whose cumulative result was two World Wars to the detriment of humanity and human civilisation. This proved the tendency of nationalism to transform into military aggression, economic avarice, ethnic chauvinism and cultural arrogance – unbounded by any faith or principle.

The two World Wars compelled nations to realise the dangers inherent in nationalism as an ideological concept. This resulted in the establishment of the UN as a means of collective responsibility to help sustain the international order that was emerging from the ashes of the Second World War. Unfortunately, the European continent once again is veering to nationalism or ultra-conservatism. The recent wave of nationalist politics poses formidable challenges to the mainstream political parties in the continent despite the fact that massive migration has transformed many countries in North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific into multi language, multi cultural and multi ethnic states.

White nationalism

There are many ethno-cultural groups living in different countries against their will which harbour strong feelings of nationalism but do not possess separate territories or their territories are occupied. These ethno-cultural groups are bound by common descent, language, culture and history. Given their pride in their language and culture, these ethno cultural nationalists resist assimilation into the mainstream polity causing fissures in the society. The states require just political, economic, social and administrative systems to blend such sub nationalists with the national stream. The example of Scots, Welsh, Catalans, Basque, Andalusians, Sicilians and Ire landers in Europe, Twaregs in West Africa, Sub Saharawis in North Africa, Kurds in the Middle East, Uighurs in China, Kashmiris in South-West Asia could be well cited to explain the ethno cultural nationalism. These people at some stage of the evolutionary history of nations have had independent entities and continue to feel so.

South Asia is well familiar with the phenomenon of nationalism and sub-nationalism. The rise of the people of the subcontinent for freedom from the colonial yoke was stirred by feelings of nationalism. The mainstream parties spearheading the movement for independence failed to prevent this nationalism from steeping into ethno-communal nationalism. Three strands of nationalism emerged from this fragmentation – Hindu nationalism vying for Swaraj, Muslim nationalism aspiring for an independent country comprising North-Western Muslim majority territories and Bengali nationalism asserting itself in Bengal and Assam. These national feelings were so strong that various constitutional schemes – some very feasible – for having one successor state after the departure of British, failed to mollify them.

Finally, the subcontinent was partitioned into two states. The original scheme of the partition of the subcontinent envisaging the entire Punjab in Pakistan, and the whole Bengal and Assam as a separate country was conspiratorially altered at the last moment by the British Viceroy, Mountbatten in connivance with the Congress leaders, dissecting Punjab and Bengal. This prompted Mr. Jinnah’s famous remarks that he had received a moth-eaten Pakistan. The mutually antagonist communal national feelings have since continued to mar bilateral relations between the two successor states.

Both the countries have had to grapple with the sub-nationalist feelings of many ethno-religious groups like Sikhs, and ethno cultural and linguistic sub-nationals like Kashmiris, Tamils, Goanis, Nagalandis and Assamese in India, and Bengalis in Pakistan. India, after many years of hard struggle against these sub nationals, acquiesced in their demand for maximum political and economic autonomy within the Indian Union. However, the sub-national feelings in these lands remain alive and come to the surface from time to time. A veteran Indian intellectual MJ Akbar in his ‘India – a siege from within’ has well elaborated the growth of ethno-cultural nationalism in India. He credits democracy as the shock absorbing tool to prevent ethno-religious and ethno cultural nationalism to fragment India.

The other ethno-cultural nationalist might have been pacified but the valley of Jammu and Kashmir has been simmering with insurgency since the early years of independence. Kashmiris have made it abundantly clear that nothing less than self-determination was acceptable to them. There are scores of precedents in recent history to show that a people so determined and so resolved to freedom have finally succeeded in realising their dream. The precedent of Bosnians, Albanians, Kosovars, South Sudanese and East Timorese will be pertinent to quote here.

Matter of pride

Pakistan has also suffered from ethno cultural nationalism or sub nationalism. The use of the state’s coercive apparatus in annexing certain territorial entities into the country and the  denial of pre-partition status to regional languages, the imposition of one-unit scheme, the adoption of parity in the division of economic and financial resources and the discriminatory dispensation of political and administrative positions between provinces of the country, extra constitutional interventions in the political process, gave an impetus to the ethno-cultural nationalism in Pakistan.

Pakistan was in its infancy when Bengalis challenged the declaration of Urdu as the national language of the country; the Pashtun ethno nationalism manifested itself in the slogan of Pakhtunistan, the Baloch demonstrated their  anguish on the unjust treatment of the Khan of Kalat by revolting against the central authority, the Sindhis rebelled against the demotion of their well-developed language, declaration of Karachi as a federal city, imposition of one-unit and concentration of political, economic and administrative powers in the central authority. The subsequent years laid bare the disastrous repercussions of the political and administrative schemes imposed by the ruling aristocracy in utter disregard of the sub national aspirations of the federal constituents.

The restoration of the 1973 Constitution and the unanimous adoption of the 18th Amendment have largely resolved the issue of the distribution of financial resources from the divisible pool among the provinces and the thorny question of provincial autonomy. These two good parliamentary acts may possibly balance the disastrous performance of the fourth PPP Government under Asif Ali Zardari in Islamabad. Sindh and Balochistan still harbour apprehensions against the annulment or non-implementation of the 18th Amendment, ignited by the non-serious attitude of the previous Sharif Government. The new government would be better advised to address the concerns of smaller provinces over 18th Amendment, fair distribution of waters under Water Accord of 1992, adoption of provincial languages as national languages like India and many other countries. This will curb centrifugal tendencies in the country and defang sub nationalism. TW

Rimsha Brohi is a budding scholar


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