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Nationalism is often a pejorative word in the West because it emphasises internal strength and cohesion of the nation. In doing so, it gives more importance to the nation rather than to the larger picture of the world: the nation-state in the context of other nations. The nation-state concept that solely promotes nationalism is inward-looking and isolationist. Historically, when nations remained in isolation, with no modern technology available then to communicate or transact business, they usually did not prosper. This was the condition in the 1930s and before. Even, the mighty Americans had to face economic recession and untold hardships when they adopted protectionism policies. Trade has to take place across the globe, as all nations do not have sufficient natural resources and reserves.
However, the opponents of nationalism or nationalist feelings have another issue with it, unless the nation designates an inimical ‘other’ at home (for instance the Jews in Nazi Germany) or an external enemy (any other nation, for instance, India according to the Pakistani ruling class to secure internal cohesion), inner unity cannot be achieved. They do not see the intrinsic merit in positive nationalism i.e., nationalism unifies the country and that unity is good for the nation-state’s happiness and well-being. Without unity, progress is not possible.
There are several other reasons for opposing fierce nationalism in the West. Historians and social scientists opposed nationalism on the basis of another theory. According to them, nationalism irons out the diversity within the nation to bring about kind of unity/uniformity by adopting and enforcing one language, as the national language. They seek minority languages to submit to the major language. For example, after the U.S became independent in 1776, French and Spanish-speaking people who became citizens of the U.S had to adopt English as the national/official language.
However, in India, in the linguistic domain too, diversity is encouraged. Unlike in the West, though Hindi was declared as the national/official language soon after independence, the other provincial/state languages were given official status. India from the beginning, as a nation, promoted multilingualism. India treats multilingualism as a strength, not a weakness. From the first National Educational Policy to the latest NEP 2020, India is promoting a three-language formula for children in the schools, right from primary education. Many nations disowned colonial rulers’ languages considering them symbols of oppression but India has made use of English to its advantage and set an example for liberal thinking and pluralist perception. The West associates the nation-state concept with one shared religion and culture. Whereas, in India, there are many religions, though most of them predominantly Indic in origin. In this way, pluralism is prevalent, defying the prevalent Western definition of nationhood.
It’s indisputable that nationalism minimises differences within the nation among the various castes, creeds and regional groups by stimulating loyalty towards the nation, as a larger goal, and opposes any external threat. Nationalism also discourages conflicting loyalty to other nations. Undoubtedly, without nationalism, a nation cannot survive. A huge body of people cannot be united to defend their country without nationalism. In fact, India needs more nationalism than any other country, as it has hostile neighbours on both sides. Island nations such as the U.K. and Japan have no shared land borders. Hence, the threat perception is lesser.
The countries of the East have old civilizations. Benedict Anderson, an Irish-born academic and renowned internationalist called American nationalism as Creole nationalism, because of the United States’ distinctive history and a demographic blend of foreign settlers and indigenous people. Rightly, India, with its thousands of years of history, with a homogenous population, has well-developed nationalist feelings. The Indian freedom struggle was born out of territorial, cultural and religious nationalism. Now, given the speed of travel and communication worldwide, more and more Indians settled in distant lands are manifesting nationalism in their attachment to their country of birth or origin, India. This can be rightly called Long-distance nationalism. Hence, nationalism has left an indelible impression on the Indian mind despite the regional and ethnic diversity in the country.