Friday, May 25, 2012

Nation-States vs. State-Nations

. India has always defied conventional definitions of a Nation-State. Accoording to Max Weber (Politics as a Vocation), a State is a "a sovereign entity (that rules itself), within a defined/specific territory (in defined borders), that holds a monopoly of the legitimate use of violence in the enforcement of its order". Since it just about meets all the three criteria it qualifies to be called a "State". However, a Nation is a body of people who share a real or imagined common history, culture, identity, religion, morality, language, traditions, ethnicity or ethnic origin. It is here that things get a bit wobbly. There is not much that is shared across the whole subcontinent. And yet, it would be quite absurd to claim that India is not a Nation, let alone a Nation-State. So, if available theories does not match with existing realities, you need to have new theories and concepts. This is exactly what is being done by Alfred Stepan, Juan Linz and Yogendra Yadav through their book, "Crafting State-Nations: India and Other Multinational Democracies". The authors invert the common, hyphenated term 'Nation-States' into 'State-Nations' to explain the dominant role played by the State in forging national identities. It makes so much more sense, if you think about it: Otto von Bismarck used his guns & cannons to unite all the Germanic tribes into a State-Nation, and then went on to enforce a common identity through a common, compulsary education system and by creating new symbols of national identity. The exact same model was used by the Meiji oligarchs to unite Japan's warring factions. Ditto with Garibaldi's Italy.

In all these cases, statesmen forged states and then, nations. Once a national identity was ready, new 'nation-states' emerged. In India the process seems to be happening at a slower pace, without much of the internal turmoil or wars that accompanied the European and Japanese experience. The credit for this should perhaps be equally shared between the national civil & military services, Bollywood, the national-level universities and sports.


* Varshney, Ashutosh (2012): ARE THE STATES TOO STRONG? IE, 24May12 p10 - URL - 
* Wiki -
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