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The terms “national”, “nationalism” and “nation-state” came into vogue in Europe after the Westphalian Peace Treaties in the 17th century. But European concept of national and nationalism had three major characteristics. First, it was never inclusive of the entire population even within the territory of the “nation”. It always invoked an “enemy within” (example, the Jews).
Second, it was necessarily imperialistic. Within months of the Westphalian Treaties, Oliver Cromwell had attacked Ireland (the first ever colony of conquest) and acquired for England the possession over its entire land area. In the subsequent decades, European powers, even while “peacefully co-existing” within Europe, were engaged in bitter wars in far-off places like India, with each trying to carve out an empire for itself. Third, the “nation” was apotheosised for its own sake; the idea invariably was to make the “nation” strong. This was not just a notion of mercantilism to which it has been obviously ascribed; it underlay even classical political economy.
India as a whole had been ruled by emperors like Ashoka and Samudragupta in ancient times and Akbar to Aurangzeb in Medieval times. But, it was only in the 19th century that the concept of a national identity and national consciousness emerged. This growth was intimately connected to the anti-colonial movement. The social, economic and political factors had inspired the people to define and achieve their national identity. The concept of national and nationalism that developed in countries like India during their anti-colonial struggle was of an altogether different kind. It was was sui generis, essentially a democratic and egalitarian concept of national as opposed to the aggrandising European’s one. Central to this concept is tolerance, accommodation and negotiation in the event of differences, not the use of brute force to enforce silence and assert hegemony.
The laws introduced by the British Government across several regions led to unit Indians politically and strengthened the concept of citizenship and one nation among them. The social and religious reform movements of the 19th century also contributed to the feeling of being national. In this regard Swami Vivekananda, Annie Besant, Henry Derozio and many others played a great role.
They revived the glory of ancient India, created faith among the people in their religion and culture and thus gave the message of love for their motherland. The intellectual and spiritual side of this concept was voiced by persons like Bankim Chandra Chatterji, Swami Dayanand Saraswati and Aurobindo Ghosh.
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