First published in Urdu in Zindagi-e-Nau in September, 2022 Translated by -Shayma S

God created human beings via one man and one woman. Despite differences of race, caste, color and tribe, different classes and groups of people around the world depend on each other for their different needs. If people of the same race, the same language or the same cultural background have some values and some social demands in common, then such a shared experience is also possible with people beyond their race and language.

The concept of civic nationalism

These ideas made this postmodern concept of nationalism – that is, civic nationalism – more popular than integral nationalism or extremist nationalism. This concept is not a new concept at all, but it was also discussed at the same time when nationalism was in discussion in the era of modernity. The ideas of nineteenth-century thinkers such as John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) [14] and Joseph Renan [15] (1823-1892) are also marked by a distinct opposition to the principles of integral nationalism, while being similar to the principles of civic nationalism. Some academics have distinguished between German and French concepts. The German concept was the concept of integral nationalism (i.e., the formation of a political nation based on the unity of race and uniformity of civilization), while in the French concept, the basis of nationality was merely the wiilingness to live together. [16] The ‘Republican Society’ conceived by the French Revolution was a society based on certain values and principles, and it was understood that consensus on certain such principles would result in the formation of a nation and a state based on it. Unfortunately, in the emotional atmosphere before the World War, the French concept did not gain popular consensus, and by the middle of the twentieth century, nationalism in the world was generally taken to mean German nationalism or integral nationalism.

After the middle of the 20th century, during the Cold War, when multi-cultural societies began to form in most Western countries, the concepts of civic nationalism began to be accepted. In practice, it started long ago in the United States, later this trend also became common in European countries. German sociologist Jürgen Habermas (born 1929) presented it in detail and clarity. [17]

The proponents of the idea of civic nationalism recognize the need for a nation-state, but do not consider the unity of civilization, race, language, etc. as necessary for this. For them, the state or ‘nation’ is not a cultural entity but merely a political arrangement. Sharing the citizenship of a democratic state in civic nationalism connects individuals to each other. It is not determined by nationality, language, race or culture, but by the constitution of the country and some agreed upon principles.

In the concept of civic nationhood, individuals have full freedom. Different cultures, languages and customs have equal opportunities to flourish. The scope and jurisdiction of the state is very limited. The democratic process does not mean the opinion of the majority, but the consensus of different cultural groups. That is, there is an attempt to limit the scope and jurisdiction of the government to issues on which all groups agree, and in the rest of the cases, individuals and groups are given freedom. People of any race or language can become members of the nation i.e. citizens. In this way, this nationalism connects individuals on the basis of certain social contracts rather than race, language or civilization. The constitution of the country is the status of a mutual agreement and by participating in this agreement, the people become part of the nation.

In modern societies, many small forms of gathering and co-existence of individuals have become prevalent. All these forms are based on contracts. Marriage is a contract that connects a man and a woman to each other. Even in commercial companies, individuals connect with each other through the Article of Association. Charitable societies, literary and cultural associations, professional organizations and parties all connect individuals on the basis of their bylaws, documents, or articles of association. The concept of civic nationhood extends this trend nationwide, declaring the country’s constitution as a treaty, which is the basis of the assembly of individuals.

In European countries where modernist ideas of nationalism were born and where the worst wars in human history were fought in the name of nationalism, the situation today is that the above concept of civic nationalism has now become fully accepted. The best example of this is the European Union. Major nationalist countries such as Germany and Italy, surrendered large parts of their national sovereignty and agreed to be part of a large supranational European Union. These ‘nation-states’, which were once thirsty for each other’s blood, promoted a common currency by sacrificing their own national currencies. The European Union today is not just an organization of cooperation or only provides free movement and free trade to citizens, but it has its own parliament, its own central bank, its own laws, which have now expanded to matters of justice and governance and interior affairs. It has its own court to enforce these laws. The Treaty on The European Union or Maastricht Treaty enjoys almost the same status as the constitutions of these countries [18]. The truth is that when the European Union was established in its present form in 1993, it was a declaration of the end of the modernist concept of nationalism, in its own homeland. Not only are independent debates taking place in certain countries of different regions of Europe, but even referendums are happening – for example, in the Netherlands, France, New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom have all held such referendums in the last fifteen and twenty years [19]. They show that the concept of the state throughout Europe is now linked to public opinion and their facilities rather than national culture. There has now emerged popular perception that the state will be formed on the basis of a contract and the nature of the contract can be subject to change [20]. In the debates that took place in the Scottish referendum, there were no emotional issues of culture, etc., but the direction of the debate was that in economic terms and other economic aspects, would it be more beneficial to have a presence within the UK or would separation be more beneficial? Scottish voters voted to stay with Britain, keeping in mind the economic aspects. [21]

At present, in the entire civilized world, this concept, that is, the concept of civic nationalism, is actually the basis of states. On the one hand, multi-cultural societies have come into existence everywhere, and on the other hand, the countries of the world have become so connected to each other and dependence on each other has increased so much that the concepts of integral nationalism have become utterly irrelevant to contemporary realities. In such a situation, every conscious person can imagine how disastrous a reversal towards these outdated ideas would be.

The advocates of integral nationalism argue that powerful emotional bonds are needed to connect individuals. The formalistic, dry and lifeless concept of civic nationalism cannot provide that emotional bond, so integral nationalism is necessary. But these people do not understand that blind emotions always have a short lifespan. God created human beings via one man and one woman. Despite differences of race, caste, color and tribe, different classes and groups of people around the world depend on each other for their different needs. If people of the same race, the same language or the same cultural background have some values and some social demands in common, then such a shared experience is also possible with people beyond their race and language. Whether it be a scientist in Europe or an environmental activist or a businessman, he can be connected to his colleagues in different countries of the world and has extraordinary dependence on them. Blind emotions can neither fill his stomach nor satisfy his professional needs. After the way technology has connected people, modernist notions of nationalism no longer have any practical significance. At best, they have become political slogans and or populist tools for garnering votes.

Even if a ‘nation’ is created on the basis of an emotional wave and fake history, fabricated stories, the creation of enemies and hatred and propaganda, it amounts to nothing more than a fragile castle in the air. Noble human values, a better society, the dream of a better world and its principles are the bases for connecting individuals. The concept of civic nationalism provides opportunities for state-building on these grounds. It may have less emotional intensity, but there are more opportunities for consolidation and consistency. That’s what India needs.

Nationalism in the Indian Context

The specialty of our country is that there have always been many communities, races and languages. The multi-cultural situation that the United States faced in the 19th century and Europe after World War II has existed in our country for centuries. Therefore, regardless of the moral and ideological aspect of nationalism, the ideology has never been feasible for this country in practice. This country is made up of many races, castes, languages, cultures and religions. There are more than 100 ‘major languages’ in our country, while according to the Census report, the total number of languages is 19,500. [22] There are six major religions. There are many regions and regional cultures. Region, religion, language, caste, sect and tribe, all these identities overlap and intersect with each other. All these identities influence cultural realities. These distinct identities have very little in common and many differences. In their social demands there is little common, and more of difference. In such a situation, how unrealistic and far from reality it is to form the ideology of nationalism based on the European concept!

That is to say, in a country like India, there is no shared basis by which emotional bonds can be forged easily. Without a common history, a common hero, a common cultural tradition, a common language or a common literature and culture, there is no foundation for integral nationalism. The solution is being carved out in such a way that efforts are being made to create these shared bases artificially and impose them. Since there is no common language, efforts are being made to forcibly give Sanskrit the status of a common linguistic heritage. Common heroes are being created through films. By distorting history, attempts are being made to label groups residing in the country as foreign invaders and external enemies. There are desperate attempts to draw the most banal commonalities between people as a sign of unity. Commonalities that are being propounded as unique to people in India can easily be found across the rest of the South Asian subcontinent as well.

So, the truth is, the concept of ethnic or cultural nationalism has always been an alien concept to India, something that has nothing to do with India’s social realities. Now, in this era of post-modern notions of nationalism, it has been rendered meaningless. The concept of integral nationalism was introduced to India during the colonial period. Commenting on this situation, Maulana Maududi has said a very important thing:

“The conflict (between English power and India) is not just political but also intellectual and social, and it is strange that the outcome of the intellectual and social conflict is quite the opposite of the outcome of the political conflict. The tyranny and economic loot of English politics taught the people of India a lesson of freedom and instilled in them the spirit to break the bonded slavery. But English sciences and arts and English civilization made them completely slaves of the West. And they controlled their minds so strongly that they can no longer think of any route-map of life against the one presented to them by the Westerners. The kind of freedom they are fighting for is simply that India should be politically independent, manage its own affairs and use its own resources and the economy, for its own benefit. But after achieving this independence, the route-map of managing one’s affairs and shaping one’s life is essentially foreign. All the collective ideas they have and all the social principles they have, are derived from the West. Their perspective is Western. Their minds are Westernized minds. Their mentality is completely molded into the Western frame. Rather, the chaos of revolution has made them (or at least their overzealous classes) overtake even the Western nations in the competition for extremism.’’ [23]
It was this dull intellectual slavery of Europe in the colonial period that sought refuge with alien ideas in order to re-organize India that had nothing to do with the ground realities of our country. There is no trace of this concept in ancient Hindu philosophies or in medieval Indian political concepts. At that time, most Congress leaders became captives of European Romantic ideas of nationalism and tried to make it the basis of the freedom struggle. Some radical elements of the Congress (whom Maulana Maududi RA called the overzealous classes) took this concept to its extreme and the Hindu revivalists created a new poison by linking this concept to the Hindu-Muslim clashes in the country.

The statements and writings of some relatively moderate leaders of that time show that they considered the European concept of integral nationalism irrelevant and inappropriate for the Indian narrative. For example, many of Gandhiji’s writings show that he laid the foundation of nationalism on the basis of the common and shared values of India. He described Indian villages as a manifestation of the nationalism of the country and considered simple lifestyle, conformity to nature, spirituality, shared moral values – or his tripartite principle of Swadeshi, Satyagraha and Swaraj as the basis of Indian nationalism. He was critical of the concept of nationalism that violated the concepts of human equality and unity. This is his famous quote.

“Just as the cult of patriotism teaches us today that the individual has to die for the family, the family has to die for the village, the village for the district, the district for the province, and the province for the country, even so country has to be free in order that it may die, if necessary, for the benefit of the world. My love, therefore, of nationalism or my idea of nationalism is that my country may become free, that if need be, the whole of the country may die, so that the human race may live. There is no room for race hatred there. Let that be our nationalism.’’ [24]
Similarly, Rabindranath Tagore, the author of India’s national anthem, wrote:

“This history has come to a stage when the moral man, the complete man, is more and more giving way, almost without knowing it, to make room for the political and the commercial man, the man of limited purpose. This process, aided by the wonderful progress in science, is assuming gigantic proportion and power, causing the upset of man’s moral balance, obscuring his human side under the shadow of soulless organization. We have felt its iron grip at the root of our life, and for the sake of humanity we must stand up and give warning to all, that this nationalism is a cruel epidemic of evil that is sweeping over the human world of the present age and eating into its moral vitality.”

In another place, he says through the character of his novel:
“I am always willing to serve my country, but my worship I reserve for a right which is far greater than my country. To worship my country as a God is to bring a curse upon it.’’ [26]

These words of these great men are closer to the ideas of civic nationalism that came into existence in later times. But in the emotional atmosphere of the time and in the backdrop of immense fascination with European thought, these ideas received little attention, and different forms and different levels of nationalism continued to operate in the country’s political scene.

Today, while the pitfalls of integral nationalism have become very clear, there is a need to promote an alternative narrative of civic nationalism among the Indian people and to spread an alternative concept of nation-building based on the values of equity and justice.

To be continued in Part III…


[15] Ernst Renan; What is a Nation; English Translation from ‘Qu’est-ce qu’une nation?’, Oeuvres Completes (Paris, 1947-61), vol. I, pp. 887-907. at retrieved on 6-08-2022
16. اس بحث کو سمجھنے کے لیے اس کتاب کا مطالعہ مفید ہوسکتا ہے:
R.Brubaker. (1992) Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany; Harvard University Press; London.
17. Jürgen Habermas (1998); Struggles for Recognition in the Democratic State; MIT Press; Cambridge; p. 228.
18. تفصیل کے لیے یونین کی ویب سائٹ ملاحظہ ہو:
19. Matt Qvortrup (2021) The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Independence Referendums in Comparative Perspective in retrieved on 16-08-2022
20. Eze Ozlem Atikan; The Shifting Will of People: the Case of EU Referendums; in Julie Smith Ed. (2021) The Palgrave Handbook of European Referendums; Palgrave Macmillan; London. pp. 109-132.
21. اس ڈبیٹ کی تفصیل کے لیے ملاحظہ ہو:
.Issues of Independence and Union in the 2014 Referendum; Oxford University Press.

23. مولانا سید ابو الاعلیٰ مودودی(1963)؛ تحریک آزادی ہند اور مسلمان؛ حصہ اول؛ اسلامك پبلیکیشنز (لمیٹیڈ)؛ لاہور؛ص 59
24. M.K. Gandhi (1927) Indian Village p. 170 as referred in Shriman Narayan Ed.(1968) The Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi; NavjivanPublishing, Ahmedabad. pp. 247-248.
25. Sir Rabindranath Tagore(1917) Nationalism; The book Club of California; San Francisco; pp. 27-28.
26. Rabindranath Tagore (1985). The home and the world; Penguin; London; p. 29.


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