Explaining India As A Nation: Conflicting Views On The Birth Of National Consciousness

Document Type : Primary Research paper


Humanities Division, Department of Sciences & Humanities, Vignan’s Foundation for Science, Technology & Research, (Deemed to be University), Andhra Pradesh, INDIA


In the light of the recent furore over the rewriting of History textbooks, the paper proposes to examine how India as a Nation has been imagined and projected in popular historical narratives. It will look at the divergent historical accounts surrounding the birth of India as a nation, which seek to explain the early stirrings of nationalconsciousness in India vis-a-vis how nationalism took root inEurope leading to the formation of modern nation states like Spain, Italy, Germany or France. According to popular understanding, national consciousness in the modern sense of the word was largely absent in India till mid-nineteenth century, a view endorsed by many historians like Romila Thapar and RC Mazumdar. They argue that prior to European colonization, despite large parts of the subcontinent having been under the politicaldominion of powerful emperors like Ashoka and Akbar, the subcontinent was never really one nation becausethe loyalty of the people was mostly associated with their different rulers. Moreover, Indian society was highly stratified and diverse, with people tending to form narrow affinities and group identities along caste lines and religious faith rather than on geographical boundaries. Unlike the nations which came into existence in Europe, the growth of nationalism followed a different trajectory in India. Nationalism in India, as claimed by historians like Sekhar Bandyopadhyay and Bipin Chandra began to take shape in mid-19th century under the influence of Western enlightenment and widespread resentment to colonial rule. The ultra-rightwing school of thinkers, like Veer Savarkar professed that though political consciousness among its people may have dawned late, the notion of India as Bharatvarsha was very much in currency right from ancient times and they refute the theory that national consciousness in India was made possible only due to external factors like western enlightenment or antagonism to the colonisers. The paper will discuss some of the divergent views that surround the making of India as a modern nation.