Nationalism and Nation building: the idea of post-modern India

M N Panini

Formerly Professor of Sociology, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Email:

 Volume 10, Number 1, 2018 I Full Text PDF


Significance of nationalism is rapidly changing in this global age. Globalisation threatens sovereignty of nation states and renders them vulnerable to forces that they cannot effectively control. In this global age nationalism is tending to become an outmoded concept. Yet, India needs to redefine its nationalism to suit this global age. Although non state actors have gained salience in global geopolitics, nation states have a vital role to play in global governance. We need the existing system of nation states to coordinate their actions and cooperate with each other to confront the new challenges that might threaten national and global security. India has to become a strong and smart nation state to be able to nudge the world to a vision of coexistence and cooperation.  And as the nation state demands a culture that requires citizens to transcend their cultural moorings to work for goals that promote the collective interests of the nation state, the ideology of nationalism retains its salience in this postmodern age. We only need to reinterpret nationalism to suit contemporary global and local concerns.

A new interpretation of nationalism has to take account of the pressures to open up nations to global economic, political and social influences. The classical notion of sovereignty needs revision. National sovereignty cannot be based on state monopolising violence and coercing its citizens into submission. The state has to rely on its communicative and persuasive capabilities to nudge citizens as well as other nation states towards the goals it charts out. A smart state works like a default computer program that ensures maximum scope for private initiatives and enterprise even as they conform to the tacit goals set by the state. The state has to set regulatory norms and set up appropriate institutions that monitor social and economic affairs. The state has to deliver on the expanding array of citizens’ rights efficiently in order to retain its legitimacy. Like commercial banks would dramatically collapse when its customers lose faith in their work and queue up to take back their deposits, in this age of digital media that enables almost instantaneous mobilisation of people, a state can lose its legitimacy if it does not deliver on its promises to its citizens. To retain legitimacy the citizens should share the vision and goals; an ideology of nationalism that suits the global age is required.

Indian nationalism has to be inclusive and at the same time accommodate and promote multiculturalism. It should cater to values of universalism even as it nourishes its cultural endowments to meet national aspirations. Indian nationalism should also be sufficiently non-threatening to fit into the system of global interdependence and induce cooperation from other nation states that do not necessarily share its priorities and goals. Indian nationalism has to be relevant to the emerging global order and at the same time cater to its indigenous cultural aspirations to ensure that India can take advantage of its unique heritage to influence world affairs…Full Text PDF