A short take on ‘Nation/alism’

Disclaimer — The opinion is personal. And I regard ‘Nation/alism’ as one of the most difficult political theories to take on.

A nation is something one has historical ties to. Those relations could be based on homogenous nature ranging from the way of life, cultural similarity, civilizational bond, thinking, aspirations, etc. I assume all members of our species on the planet belong to a particular nation. It need not be limited to any form that could restrict its broader definition. On the other hand, I perceive a nation as a sense of belongingness. For instance, I am a member of a particular nation where my belongingness is noticed and respected. To provide another example, we can also consider any organized ethnicity with a similar background of civilization as a nation. A sense of belongingness binds people as far as there is no contrast and conflict with people of other nationalities. It is not that any nation is an absolute and utopian concept free of any problem. Within some nations, there are intra-subjective problems. And on the other side, the inter-subjective problem also occurs between two or more. Meanwhile, I may watch the game of Football Club Barcelona late at night. I may take membership in the University study circle of my interest. I may also enjoy the motion picture of Tom Hanks and Dev Anand. These instances encircle me to be a part of a certain community or nation. However, it is not the exact definition of a nation. Nation, after the Westphalian order, has been made more political. So, it has also been aligned with the state. All the people who belong to a particular nation have not made their state but the state is inspired by a particular nation/nationals. The fact is that a particular nation/orientation(linguistic/cultural) has been in the power of the state and ruled their subject. The European nation-state was formed more or less based on language. The problems arise in the multiethnic country only when the dominant nation/al is subjugating, oppressing, and subordinating other nations/backgrounds. After they are sidelined, a sense of belongingness in particular geography gets lost, and they live as a stranger in their territory.

When it comes to nationalism, Benedict Anderson is someone we must not avoid. The author of ‘Imagined Communities came with groundbreaking work reflected in the same book. My procrastination habit is such bad that I haven’t read this masterpiece yet. But as far as I can remember and recall from reviewers and intellectuals across the various platform, It is parallel relation with different people at different points of time. One may or may not know the other, but their preference will be to imagine individuals in a homogenous manner among variability. Despite the differences, they assume certain historical, cultural, and social ties forming a community. This is what a former Cornell professor calls ‘Imagined Communities.’ He remarks the development of print media and capitalism became crucial for nationalism to flourish. Literature, mythologies, and stories could bind them. Meanwhile, normative theorists argue that nationalism was a tool for the powerful elite and rulers to rule others by subordinating. During colonial times, it is valid that the project undertaken by colonial powers outside Europe explains the cause of things. There must have been many motives, among which one is nationalism. Post-structuralist definition of nationalism could critique Anderson’s work in a highly intellectual manner. However, we cannot deny that nation and nationalism are different. In the paragraph, I will try to critique nationalism. I have taken into consideration the problems of the subject while writing it.

Nationalism is an extreme form of ideology considering the love of the country, or its mainstream features and components over everything. If it were patriotism, it would not take as much strange form as nationalism does. When nationalism exceeds its limits, it sees those, unlike the mainstream, as totally different and regards enemy spreading hate over them. Six million Jews were killed because of anti-semitism in Hitler-led Nazi Germany. We cannot be sure and say exactly when nationalism started progressing. Although we can assume that it was developed in Nepal parallel to the rise of the Gorkha Kingdom; It was more or less led by King Prithvi Narayan Shah. But it was also the unification campaign. It took more than 180 years after Prithvi Narayan to emerge extreme form of nationalism that Mahendra established in the 2020s (BS). When we trace the history, we find it was done to save his reign and legacy by prioritizing the things that could affect everyone, regardless of cultural orientation, ethnicity, or geography. It was a homogenizing campaign. People speaking the Nepali language were only emphasized in that particular period, and “Dhaka topi” & “Daura Suruwal” was regarded as national dress. Other linguistic and cultural groups were cornered. Meanwhile, only one curriculum was continued in education institutions. This had a profound impact on a multi-ethnic country like Nepal. It helped Khas-Arya” of Nepali speaking community to the larger level and ignored indigenous & marginalized community. From Governance to every field of the societal sphere, the Khas-Arya community got the opportunity while others were ignored. Nepal was the last Hindu state until 2063 BS. In that regard, nationalism was also pursued in religion, King was regarded as the 11th Incarnation of Lord Vishnu. We can imagine how it degraded the unity in society as Dalits were considered untouchables’ and only one identity was legitimized where the presence of different communities was profound. The most affected ethnicity are Dalit, Janajati, and Madhesi. Because of race and background, culturally backed oppression rose from the mainstream community, furthering prejudice, leading other communities to be ignored in every sphere, be it governance, policy or anywhere. Nationalism took its roots in the eighteenth century, subsequently after the American & French revolutions. Nationalism during world war time witnessed the most violent forms. Meanwhile, in Nepal, anti-Indian sentiment & stand during the blockade established KP Oli as a nationalistic leader that helped him come to power.

What we must keep in mind is that leaders in different times have led the country by implanting chauvinistic attitudes with jingoism. They divide society because they don’t want to change the status quo. Those political elite are pro-establishment. We often have heard them favoring the mainstream ethnicity at the helm of power. On the other side, Hindu-nationalist sentiment in India and “Make America Great Again” in the United States were a new form of nationalism that affected a vast amount of the population led by Modi and Trump. The latter did not re-elect, but the former is warming himself at a fire overlooking the atrocities and different forms of violence inflicted on minorities on daily basis. In the quarter of this century, nationalism, as expected will take place in many parts of the world. Factors that are affecting can be civilizational, economic, or political but when they are institutionalized, it will disregard humanity and human values and more or less it will take back to the stone age. To prevent this, inter-cultural debate, inclusiveness, and a holistic level of tolerance are needed. They are not only sufficient at a time when misinformation and hate speech are widespread. The vast amount of the youth population must be provided an employment opportunity to prevent any outfall and most importantly every government must work on economic reform & development goals rather than limiting themselves to narrow domestic walls and their national pride. For this, education can play a significant role in sustaining a tolerance culture so that there won’t be chances of unprecedented events that will take the form of chronic nationalism and jingoism. I am not of the opinion that education will eradicate all the problems, but it will certainly make a difference. There must be such policies that will help in eradicating the vast gap and facilitating those who are unheard. If Nepal focuses on inclusiveness, education, and economic reform, this shift can make this south Asian multi-ethnic country vibrant and progress-oriented in many fields. Because multi-ethnicity and diversity have been the strength of any country. When any issues of the country are democratized politically with the consensus of every society without fear or favour, every state succeeds.

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