Whatever Rahul Gandhi may think, India is a nation

May 26, 2022

Rohit Dhankar

Rahul Ganhdi, a leader of national importance (at the least for some!) and Prime Ministerial candidate of his party the Indian National Congress, is repeating again and again that India is not a “nation” but a “union of States”, and even mistakenly compares it with the European Union which is a ‘Union of Nations’, and not merely of states. In his Cambridge interview he again repeated the same stand referring to the Constitution of India. This is a very dangerous stand coming from a leader of his eminence.

One can ignore his lack of understanding of the meaning of the term “rashtra” in Sanskrit literature, one can also understand his advisors being no wiser than himself on this. It seems Yogendra Yadav is right in saying that the left-liberal group of influential people has de-cultured Indian youth through education, which they controlled and still control. Yadav is also right in saying that the same group pf intellectuals and political parties influences by them have thrown the Indian nationalism to the dust. Therefore, I will go into the history only atm the end to prove that India is a nation for a very long time, and will remain so, even if the communists and Rahul Gandhi do not like it.

I will take his statement first in the context of his own party and the constitution. Because in a silly and childish attempt to hammer his point he used the article 1.(1) of the constitution: “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.”

Staring with the preamble one can see that the constitution sees India as a nation. After declaring “WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly Preamble. resolved to constitute India into a 1[SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC]” the preamble also talks of “[unity and integrity of the Nation]”. Thus, this ‘union’ which so confused Rahul Gandhi, is India and that “India, that is Bharat” is declared a nation right in the preamble.

His own party is called “Indian National Congress”, if India is not a nation then he should change the name of his party as well. May be can call it “Indian Union Congress”.

A few examples from the constitution:

  • Article 38 talks of “national life”, it makes it a directive principle for “securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life.”
  • Article 49 talks of “monument(s) or place(s) or object(s) of artistic or historic interest, … of national importance.”
  • Article 51 talks of “national flag”, “national anthem”, “national struggle for freedom” and makes it a fundamental duty of every citizen of India “to defend the country and render national service when called upon to do so.”
  • Article 54 and several other articles mention Delhi as “National Capital Territory of Delhi”, if no nation where is the need for a national capital?
  • Article 124 mention “National Judicial Appointments Commission”.
  • “338. 2[(1) There shall be a Commission for the Scheduled Castes to be known as the National Commission for the Scheduled Castes.”
  • “249. (1) Notwithstanding anything in the foregoing provisions of this Chapter, if the Council of States has declared by resolution supported by not less than two-thirds of the members present and voting that it is necessary or expedient in the national interest that Parliament should make laws with respect to any matter enumerated in the State List specified in the resolution, it shall be lawful for Parliament to make laws for the whole or any part of the territory of India with respect to that matter while the resolution remains in force.”

One can multiply such examples from the constitution many times over. Rahul Gandhi and his advisors are confused about the idea of ‘nation’. They think that the term ‘nation’ is applicable only to a culturally homogeneous mass of people who are formed into a political community. They do not think that often cultures themselves make a ‘family’ with significant unitary thread running through them as well as retaining many important, even contradictory, differences. He also seems to think mistakenly that a federal structure contradicts existence of a country as a nation.

To quote from one of my old blog articles “the man (Ernest Renan) who called “A nation’s existence is … a daily plebiscite” was wise enough to admit that “At the present moment, the existence of nations is a good and even necessary thing. Their existence is the guarantee of liberty, a liberty that would be lost if the world had only one law and one master.” and we can add if a mass of people had no laws at all!

The historical angle

To quote some more from the same article of mine mentioned above, lets see what Prof. Habib says on this issue. Professor Irfan Habib in his lecture to Aligarh Muslim University students on 26th October 2015 states: “The first perception of the whole of India as a country comes with the Mauryan Empire. … the inscriptions of the Mauryan emperor Ashoka range from Kandahar and north of Kabul to Karnataka and Andhra and they are in Prakrit, Greek and Aramaic. So it was with such political unity that the concept of India came, and its first name was Jambudvipa a name which Ashoka uses in his Minor Rock Edict-1, … The term Bharata was also used in Prakrit in an inscription in Orissa, at Hathigumpha, of the Kalinga ruler, Kharavela in 1st century BC; that is the first instance of the use of Bharat, and Kharavela uses it for the whole of India. So, gradually the concept of India as a country began to arise and a cultural unity was also seen within it as religions like Buddhism, Brahmanism and Jainism spread to all parts of the country. Prakrit was spoken, at least literary Prakrit, all over the country, becoming its lingua franca. So, there were things which, as people could see, united us.”

He goes on to explicitly refute Perry Anderson: “I say all this because it means that the concept of India as a country was ancient, the assertion made by Perry Anderson in his book The Indian Ideology that the India is a name given by foreigners particularly Europeans in modern times, is a totally misleading statement.”

However, the idea of love for the country or patriotism came much later according to Prof. Habib. “True, there was a conception of India in ancient times, even before Christ, but when was there a conception of love for India i.e. patriotism?” he asks. And his answer is that “The first patriotic poem in which India is praised, India is loved, Indians are acclaimed is Amir Khusrau’s long poem in his Nuh Sipihir written in 1318.”

But that makes only a country, not a nation of free citizens. That according to Prof. Babib came during the freedom movement when the aspirations and wellbeing of the masses became a deep concern and were made part of the freedom movement. And later on enshrined in the Constitution of India.

I disagree with Professor Habib that love for the country emerged only in the 13th Century and that the concept of nation necessarily demands modern kind of liberties for its citizens. Rest I think he establishes firmly that the idea of India is very ancient. But on that at some other time.

Personally I think that an idea of a social and political community with a set of common rules and principles to govern collective life should be considered at the least a beginning of formation of a nation. And such an idea and desire for strengthening it is clear even in the last Sukta of Rig Ved:

“2. Come together, speak together; together let your thoughts agree, just as the gods of long ago, coming to an agreement together, reverently approach their sacrificial portion.

3. Common to them all is the solemn utterance, common the assembly, common their thought along with their perception. I (hereby) utter an utterance common to you all on your behalf; with an oblation common to you all I offer on your behalf.

4. Common is your purpose; common your hearts; let your thought be common, so that it will go well for you together.” (The Rigveda, Translated by stephanie W. Jamison and Joel P. Brereton, X.191, page 1661, Oxford University Press, New York, 2014)

Rahul Gandhi will do well to revise his ideas of India and nation, and be a little more respectful to this nation. Otherwise, if we agree with Yogendra Yadav, he is frittering away whatever little of a key political resource in the form of nationalism his party still retains.


‘Truth’ versus ‘Truth’?: Or what is India that is Bharat?

July 2, 2017

Rohit Dhankar

Most of my short articles on this blog are ‘Loud Thinking’ as the title of the blog admits. They are not necessarily settled beliefs but explorations into ideas to form a belief. However, even ‘explorations’ have to have some basis in the form of evidence and arguments to be seriously considered as basis of a possible belief. Therefore, they sound less tentative then they actually are. This piece is one such piece. Therefore, interested readers (if any!) and especially historians and political scientists among them are most welcome to enlighten men on the issues I am about here.

Now, let me come to the point after this preliminary statement. Sometime back there was a discussion with some colleagues in connection with some academic issue: what is to be taught to students in class, to be more precis. One colleague said something to the effect that ‘India is a modern nation that came into existence with the Constitution of India. Even the idea of India is hardly 150 years old. And it is constructed around the territories that defined British Raj then. Before that there was no such thing as unified India or Bharat, there were various kingdoms and empires in the history falling within and sometimes encompassing most of the territory of India as it exists today. Therefore, the current rightist nationalist propaganda of India as a very old or eternal and immutable idea should be countered with a more reasonable historical narrative in higher education classes.’

With some give and take this is the position taken by most of those who want to counter the jingoistic nationalism unleashes by the Sangh Parivar. On the other hand many people (not all belonging to or even sympathizers of Sangh Parivar) point out that terms “India” and “Bharatvarsha” were used indicating a political-cultural-geographical region encompassing what is today often called South Asia or India, Pakistan and Banglasesh combined[1]. Irfan Habib writes that “The first perception of the whole of India as a country comes with the Mauryan Empire. Those of you, who have studied Indian history would know that the inscriptions of the Mauryan emperor Ashoka range from Kandahar and north of Kabul to Karnataka and Andhra and they are in Prakrit, Greek and Aramaic. So it was with such political unity that the concept of India came, and its first name was Jambudvipa a name which Ashoka uses in his Minor Rock Edict-1, meaning ‘the land of the Jamun fruit.’ The term Bharata was also used in Prakrit in an inscription in Orissa, at Hathigumpha, of the Kalinga ruler, Kharavela in 1st century BC; that is the first instance of the use of Bharat, and Kharavela uses it for the whole of India. So, gradually the concept of India as a country began to arise and a cultural unity was also seen within it as religions like Buddhism, Brahmanism and Jainism spread to all parts of the country.[2]

The term indicates a geographical region with cultural affinity and political ambitions even if remained unrealized most of the times in the history. To them “rashtra” is not a modern nation state as most of our historians and political scientists use the term for; but indicating a ‘loose cultural unity’ and political boundaries that somehow indicate a belongingness and ownership. And from there emerges the desire for political unification as well defense against outside forces. More or less combined resistance to Alexander in northern part of India indicates such a loose idea of belongingness. Mauryan Empire is a concrete expression of the same aspiration partially realized. Moughal Empire again comes close to realizing this aspiration. Foreign sources, especially Greek, point in the same direction.

When they claim that “Bharat” is an age old idea these people are not talking of a modern nation state. They are using the term in a sense similar to “Greece” or “Hellas” when we talk of Greece in the ancient times. No one claims that Greece is a not an ancient idea, though it comprised many small city states often at war with each other. Still the idea of Greece as an age old idea is accepted universally without countering it by the modern nation state of Greece, which certainly is not the same thing as the ancient Greece. But when we talk of idea of India then suddenly the idea of nation state (Republic of India) is invoked to counter any clams of its historical unity and ancientness.

How justified are these two claims regarding the idea of India?

If we are talking of India only as a modern nation state them the first claim is fully justifies. The clear articulation of geographical boundaries, nature of the state, constitution to be followed, governance structures and rights and duties of citizens with emphasis on equality, justice, freedom and human dignity were never available in the ancient India. In other words ‘India as a democratic republic’ is a very recent idea indeed, no one can deny this. And therefore the claim is justified in the sense of a nation state.

But the other idea of India as cultural entity in a certain not so clearly defined geographical region and close political connections as well as aspirations of unity is a very ancient idea, is equally undeniable. When the advocates of this idea claim that India is an ancient nation with a certain culture, history and geography they are not wrong. They are using a concept of rashtra that is not the same thing as a nation state but still a well-defined idea that can generate as well as guide aspirations; even aspirations consistent with modern democracy with equality and justice being non-negotiable values; in spite of its history of inequality and oppression of large sections of its population. Thus, both claims are true in their different interpretations. And that can provide an opportunity for dialogue and possible consensus generation.

How is a dialogue possible?

At present both factions of the Indian population (or citizens) are shouting their own versions of the idea of India and not listening to each other. Rather are declaring each other’s ideas a completely false concoctions. No dialogue is possible unless both recognize that the real problem is that they are talking of two different concepts while believing that that are talking of the same thing.

Today we are interested in a democratic India which guarantees and safeguards equality, justice, freedom, and dignity to each one of its citizens without any consideration of caste, creed, race, gender and so on. Therefore, however glorious or true the ancient idea of India might seem to be to some people, it cannot be our aspirational ideal today. We cannot and we do not want to recreate that today. In fact most of the Indian population will oppose that tooth and nail if some mistaken elements try to re-create that India.

On the other hand modern democratic republic of India did not come from thin air at the stroke of midnight on 15th August 1947, nor is it entirely created by the British. It has been in making for at the least two and half-millennia. Denying that civilizational history and legacy is equally impossible and foolish. The democratic republic of India would not have been what it is without that history even if we do not like it. Therefore, a bland and arrogant declaration that idea of India is only 150 years old is completely unjustified and actually insulting to a very old civilization.

A dialogue can become possible only if first both the warring factions try to understand what each one of them means when they use the terms ‘rashtra’ and ‘nation’. They are, of course, using the same terms, but not the same concepts that are indicated by these terms.

The ancient rashra-vadis need to recognize that their cultural and social India is unacceptable today. And the advocates of the modern nation state need to realize the basis of their democratic India is very ancient indeed. It is not created yesterday by the British Raj, though that has contributed to it enormously.

The spirit of constitution, I believe, recognizes that. For a fuller justification of this claim one need to seriously study the debates of the constituent assembly and the constitution itself (which I have not done at this moment, but intent to do), but a very interesting indication is available in the pictures included in the first copy of the Constitution of India. They include line sketches of Gurukula, Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Mahavira, Ashok, Akbar, Gandhi, Rani Jhansi, Tantya Tope (? Or is it Tipu?), Subhash Bose and many more. Showing the awareness of civilizational and political history as well as inclusiveness. Democratic national are not built on exclusive theoretical ideas, every citizen has to be prepared to see the contribution of even those s/he does not like! Those who are interested can download a copy of the first print from here. This is a very heavy file, may be difficult to download. A lighter file containing only the pictures is here Pictures in the Constitution. I could identify some of these sketches but not all. Taking help from knowledgeable people. If you can help, please do.

Nation, as some of our liberals are justifiably fond of quoting, is a daily plebiscite, even if that is somewhat exaggerated. If that is their genuine belief the idea of a rastra (though not a Hindu rashtra) as rooted in the ancient Indian culture has to be allowed to be a contender in that ‘daily plebicite’. It cannot be banned from the contest; though has to be necessarily defeated if we want to remain a modern secular democracy. And that requires a public discourse in language that a common Indian citizen can understand. Of course it is a demand for a massive public education into democratic politics but unless that is undertaken in unrest we will continue to have CMs like Aditya Nath.


[1] उत्तरं यत्समुद्रस्य हिमाद्रेश्चैव दक्षिणम् । वर्षं तद् भारतं नाम भारती यत्र संततिः ।।

“The country(varṣam) that lies north of the ocean and south of the snowy mountains is called Bhāratam; there dwell the descendants of Bharata.” [This reference is taken from Wikipedia, I am not fully confident of its veracity, need to check.–Rohit]

[2] Habib, Irfan “Building the Idea of India”, http://awaam.net/building-the-idea-of-india-irfan-habib/