Nationalism is a concept which was conceived in the 19th century according to which states and principalities come together, often by use of threat or oppression to form a larger institution with a defined geographical limit, called as a nation. In India, the idea of nationalism has always been confused with what could be called “sub-nationalism”. Sub-nationalism is a policy of asserting the interest of one’s own state/region/province, as separate from the interest of the nation and the common interest of all other states/regions/provinces. Sub-nationalism in India is being used to overpower the feeling of “we-ness” created long back during the freedom struggle and is consequently considered as a component that urges people to search for an identity completely different from the one offered by a sovereign state.[1]

Nationalism in India was born as a result of opposition to British despotism. In the early phase of the freedom struggle, Hindus and Muslims revolted together against the   foreign enslavement. The most sensational and effective political strategy by the Britishers was the ”Divide and Rule Policy”. It used the most wicked ploy to divide India into different sections. But, before we criticise the Britishers for dividing India, it has to be understood that ‘India’ was never really “one”. Rather, it was a group of princely states, who actually got an identity of oneness only after the British took over. This identity of oneness could not sustain the stark differences between the states that existed as India has always been considered to be a “state-nation” which appreciates “multiple and reciprocal” socio-cultural selfhood and provides constitutional safeguards to accommodate various political ideologies and claims arising out of these identities.


How the States Reorganisation Act, 1956 Led to Rise of Sub-nationalism in India[2]

Until independence, everyone had the common objective of attaining freedom from the Britishers and it was pretty much a case of “Bharat Mata ki Jai everywhere. A defining moment that instituted the idea of sub-nationalism was the States Reorganisation Act,1956 which lead to reorganisation of states on a linguistic basis. It remains the single most extensive change in state boundaries since India attained independence 1947. These key legislative reforms ensured that the national identity is not homogeneous.

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in his book, Thoughts on Linguistic States, says “A linguistic State with its regional language as its official language may easily develop into an independent nationality. The road between Independent Nationality and Independent State is very narrow. If this happens, India will cease to be Modern India; we have and will become Medieval India consisting of a variety of States indulging in rivalry and warfare.”[3]

Reorganisation of states could have been based on administrative competence, capital availability, natural resources, etc., and not on the basis of language. It is just a medium of communication, and can’t form the basis for re-organisation. The upliftment of people is far more important than nurturing the idea of linguistic division.


The Tales of Sub-nationalism in the Present Context.

Sub-nationalism in the present era has emerged as a political idea that has been growing in communities, societies, individuals, ethnic groups, and also in the people. It is a culture of hate that is being perpetrated in the name of nationalism, as politics is no more about nation-building, but has become a game of power. Emerging most strongly from Karnataka is another example of how nationalism in India is being shaped into sub-nationalism. The difference of opinion is about a separate state flag demanded by the state government of Karnataka[4], in spite of having an unofficial state flag as a symbol of Kannadiga pride for over half a decade now. The idea of a separate flag is not restricted to Karnataka, as a separate flag for Nagas is also one amongst the 33 demands made by the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (IM). The other controversy is about the imposition of Hindi on the signboards at the metro stations in Bangalore[5]as the perception is that the new settlers in the state are apathetic towards learning Kannada and insist that the others original settlers spoke Hindi.

Be it flags or any other symbol, the people of India will devise creative ways of attaining their cultural freedom. Greater the differences between the states, the more severe is the attachment to their individual identity, principles, and desire to form an autonomous homeland where those values can easily be implemented.

This idea of sub-nationalism in a multi-ethnic state like India is becoming a threat as it looks after internal frailty, liberates people from control, and promises greater personal freedom, all at the cost of the nation. Sub-nationalism has made it too easy to brand somebody as an anti-national if he is found to have differences with the homogeneous ideology prevailing in a particular state. Sub-nationalist feelings in states like UP have also resulted in repeated lynching, thrashing and condemnation of people in the name of cow protection.


Sub-nationalism isn’t Just Bad, it’s Ridiculous

Sub-nationalism is just used as a weapon to haul fragmented groups of people with a strong cultural identity and to parade them around with an absurd idea of them wanting to have a separate homeland. One has to understand that nationalism is not limited to any one ethnic group, language or nation-state. Rather, it is a national identity which could coexist and co-operate fruitfully.

The problem with sub-nationalism is that, apart from its inherent cumulative coercion, it also inspires rivalry. What often starts off as a populist measure for vote bank politics leads to the strengthening of regionalism over nationalism. Even in its purest form, sub-nationalism kills the objective of a democratic state and, gradually but firmly instills secessionist tendencies within the people. In India, the right to secede has not been guaranteed under the Indian Constitution and for this reason precisely, it is imperative that violations of the constitutional provisions in this regard be discussed at length.

With a pluralist democratic perspective, I strongly believe that actions like these effectively forcing the idea that personal identity is separate from the collective identity compromises any feelings of unity. Any attempts to weaken the collective conscience, whether through an idea, or lingual homogeneity or through an undemocratic single-party dominance , it will all be fought and won against over the course of time.


Who are you? A Patriot or a Nationalist?

While nationalism can unite people, it must be noted that it unites people against other people.”

                – George Orwell 

Nationalism and patriotism are often used synonymously to denote the feelings of an individual towards the nation. But, they connote different meanings. Firstly, while patriotism is a feeling, nationalism is an ideology. Secondly, nationalism focuses on the ”State” whereas patriotism focuses on the ”People”. A nationalist would give more importance to unity with respect to culture, language, or territory, whereas a patriot would show his affection for the nation with more significance on morals and beliefs.

But the fact remains that in the wake of changing ideologies, a very impressive artifact remains, which is embedded with liberal values and binds everyone together. This artifact is the Constitution of India. Justice, liberty, equality and fraternity are the principles that it propagates May our dream of a new tomorrow come true for all of us.

”I will join in paying salutations to “Bharat Mata” — but as a symbol of the country, not as the divine mother.”


-Himanshu Thakur, V-II



[1] Ernest Gellner ”Nations and Nationalism”, Cornell University Press; 2nd Revised edition, 10 February 2009.

[2] Henry Vincent Hodson, ”The great divide: Britain, India, Pakistan”, Hutchinson Radius,1997.

[3] Ambedkar, Bhimrao Ramji. ”Thoughts on linguistic states”. Bheem Patrika, 1989, pp 48.

[4] “Congress-led Karnataka govt wants separate state flag, like Jammu and Kashmir; BJP terms it polls gimmick”, First post, July 18,2017.

[5] ”Naga accord-agreement leaks: Preamble contains 8-point agreement”. Imphal Times, Aug 13,2015.

[6] ”Kannada authority asks Bangalore Metro to remove Hindi signage”, The Hindu, July 26, 2017.

[7] Madhav Khosla, Indian Constitution, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012.