India is a ‘Union of States’. The same principle is enshrined in Article 11 of our Constitution. As of now, in 2017, India consists of 29 states and 7 Union Territories. Each of these states and Union Territories represents a separate country in itself, not by fulfilling the prerequisites of a federal nation, but by showcasing a distinct social, political, linguistic, and ideological culture.
The idea of nation has its roots in ancient times. In and around 6th Century BCE, India had started experiencing a culture of huge kingdoms and kings; battles for women, land, and glory and nations. This led to the rise of sixteen Mahājanapadas, loosely meaning great realms, governed by strong kings and tribal chiefs, with a deep sense of kingdom and land. One such example of true territorial expansion and sovereignty, when one looks back to our history, is of Mauryan emperor Ashoka, who ruled over India from c. 268 to 232 BCE.
His kingdom covered the whole of Indian subcontinent but for the parts of modern day Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala. Ashoka redefined the concept of territorial kingdom by ruling over such large parts of lands which were hitherto considered impossible to be ruled by one king. His was a reign of brutal wars, millions of deaths and, in later years of his life, spiritual and religious devotion. But, it changed the idea of a nation forever.
Coming back to the Idea of a nation in modern times, it would be highly appropriate to say that India acquired the status of a nation, or at least in the eyes of its people, much, much before India got independence and became a sovereign nation. On the 15th August, 1947, India became India, as we see it today. Since then, India has seen a lot in such a short span of history. The question of identity is a one which most of times does not end with an answer. Who are we? What does it mean to be an Indian? Who is an Indian? All these are pertinent questions to ask.
As we discussed above, India is home to numerous languages, diverse traditions, and almost all religions. In such a conflated scenario, national identity sometimes assumes a partial role in defining one’s being and what comes to fore is an amalgamation of varied influences: linguistic, regional, family, education, class and many others. That is why, to really know who we are, we need to shed all our fragile allegiances and find a common thread, binding all of us together. Let`s us try to find that idea.
The Meaning of National Identity in Modern Times
National Identity2 is known as the sense of belonging or identity to one nation or state. In recent years, national identity is defined as the meaning of a country as a whole. Moreover, national identity may also refer to the subjective feeling that one has to his or her nation. It is more of a psychological term that is associated with awareness of difference.
In ancient times, the civilization of Babylon had correctively identified the solutions to the problem of national identity. They were quite confused at the beginning when they cannot determine the number of slaves that thronged their capital city. They formulated an easy way with the help of which they can identify the slaves. They tattooed the face of the slaves easily to identify them.
Though the population of India has passed a billion marks, many new national identities have been formed in a way to identify each citizen of the country. Nowadays, an average Indian citizen has in possession a paper-based document called the ration card. It also serves as a means to avail government subsidies and benefits.
Moreover, an Indian citizen also has election identification card and Permanent Account Number (PAN) card with the help of which the government can quickly identify the citizens. In this context, it is important to note that a more sophisticated form of identification mechanism called Aadhar has emerged.
Aadhar is a 12 digit unique number that is issued by the Government of India to every resident of India. It is an attempt by the Indian Government to have a single and unique number with the help of which the individual can be easily identified.
The Idea of National Identity at Global Level
There are three different types of documents with the help of which national identity is measured in various countries around the world. They are the stand alone documents, the integrated systems and registration systems. In this context, it is important to mention that the stand-alone documents are issued to the citizens in case of sudden and uncertain political and economic change within the nation.
In areas where military rules exist, the best way of national identity is to issue spot identification cards to the citizens. On the flipside, all the card systems that have been established to define the notion of national identity are integrated systems. The Aadhar system of identification that is prevalent in India is also an integrated system of several identity documents.
National Identity3 can be understood as a collective process. Through the system of socialization, a collection of beliefs, assumptions, and values are being transmitted from one group to another. On the other hand, the symbols of the national identity can be associated with national symbols, memories, and traditions. Moreover, the common elements of character about the nation can assume important parts of the definition of an individual.
How Does an Average Indian Evaluate Her National Identity?
In recent years, many Indians are confused about their identity. They have questions in mind in the form of whose nation is this? Moreover, they are also pondering over the fact that what cultural attitudes are needed to become an Indian. These are the questions that the Indian people faced before the era of independence. However, quite interestingly these issues are still haunting the average Indian years after independence.
The Indian people are again getting confused on myriad terms like unity and national integration. However, it is interesting to note in this context that these problems are also persistent in other countries of the world. This can come as a sigh of relief for the Indians till the time now. The prospect of globalization and change related to the social and economic structure has raised doubts in the mind of the Indian citizen about their identity.
The Principles of National Identity: Religion, Race and Ethnicity
India is a land of diverse cultures and different religions where every group of belonging to a particular ethnic or religious class peacefully co-exists. The notion of national identity depends on ethnicity, religious sentiments, and culture. As per many social scientists, an average Indian can evaluate his or her identity by these principles.
Moreover, as per them, national identity is often constructed around several principles of race, religion, and language. These types of policies include the average Indian, and this is why they favor these principles to be known as an Indian. On the other hand, other social scientists argue that religion has often been the main force behind nation building.
Hence, if an average Indian wants to evaluate his or her national identity, they can always refer to how their religion peacefully co-exists with other faiths.
It is a widely observed fact that since the time of pre-independence, Indians have struggled with their national identity. After the rule of the British got over, the social classes who were deprived of basic amenities were given importance. In this way, these backward classes of people were able to shun their previous socially unacceptable identity and embraced a new identity that boasts providence of equal opportunities.
Thus they were able to ward off the tag of “untouchables” and came under the umbrella of a broader identity called “Indian.” The newly formed constitution terms this class of people as Scheduled Castes and has several schemes for them for their overall development. Moreover, it is kind of interesting to note that national identity is more concerned about understanding the political prowess in the nation.
It is so because they demand recognition. Furthermore, many also agree to the fact that national identity is crucial to develop the various aspects of a nation. It is so because if a person can relate him or her with their respective national identity, then they can actually contribute to the development of their nation.
Challenges in Identifying and Accepting Our National Identity
National Identity is usually known as a broad term that is often associated with a tinge of emotional fervor. In recent years, it is a widely accepted fact that the development of identity is crucial in today’s society as it encompasses the feeling of certain individuals.
Moreover, the concern about national identity depends on the factors of sustainability and adaptability. If the elements of resilience and sustainability are not adequately addressed, then there are chances that the average Indian people can have problems recalling their actual identity.
On the other hand, knowledge also plays a vital role in making people aware of their identities. Furthermore, it is kind of interesting to note that all these essential aspects are crucial to giving birth to the idea of national identity. In recent times, India has seen substantial growth regarding economic and social development.
But still, there are some underlying issues that need to be addressed in making sure that the pathway to prosperity is hassle free. National Identity is one such issue that needs proper highlighting. There are mainly three factors that can influence national identity.
A Lack of Accurate Information
A significant experience on nationalism and its subsequent beliefs is well documented by the fact that this knowledge plays a vital role in developing the sense of national identity in us. In recent years, India has gone leaps and bounds in the path of development.
One area where India needs development is in its educational sector. Since, pre-independence times, the school sector of India has languished under the tentacles of old syllabus and improper curriculum. Hence, the need of the hour is to make sure that the ordinary Indian citizen has a proper knowledge on the issues of national integration which can substantially help them to be aware of their national identity.
Lack of Plurality
India is a diverse country and is also known as one of the individual countries in the world to house such a vivid population of different religions. However, we as an ordinary Indian often forget to lay stress on the fact that we should be aware of our culture to make a realization about our national identity.
In other words, the national identity of India is comprised of these small cultural groups, their religious practices, and ethnic sub-divisions. If an average Indian is not aware of the number of states that constitutes India, then building skills and abilities can be termed as the primary challenge to describe our national identity.
Conflicting Ideas and Ideologies
An average Indian has to be passionate and dedicated to comprehending National Identity. She has to be aware of the facts and interesting trivia that lay stress on national identity. In the quest of identifying one’s nationality, they must be dedicated and passionate enough to learn about the exciting things so that they are not confused about their national identity.
How to overcome these challenges?
It is a widely accepted fact that in recent years, the concept of national identity is a much-debated topic. Hence, there is an ardent need to overcome these challenges4 to make sure that the problems related to national identity do not interfere with that of national development.
In many cases, it has been seen that the challenges associated with national identity can severely hamper the growth of a nation. The developmental aspects of a society depend greatly on the citizens of a country. In this context, it is vital to mention that if the citizens of a particular nation cannot realize their national identity, then they cannot contribute to the development of their respective country.
Hence, the need to develop a proper national identity is of utmost importance. The intellectuals of the country are more aware of the developmental aspects, but they are unable to comprehend the true essence of national identity.
Eliminate Religious Differences
Though India is known as a land of diverse cultures and religion, individual religious differences need to be smoothened to ensure that the Indians can relate themselves with national feelings. The sense of belonging to a particular religion can come in the way of developing the national identity.
As a nation, the Indian citizens have to emphasize on the fact that their religion is their country. National identity is often known as a jingoistic feeling towards a country and the need of the hour is to revive this sense. By making sure that no political parties are utilizing religious sentiments, the notion of national identity can be developed in an average Indian with higher propensity.
Many politically affiliated institutions are plying on religious views to attract voters. This must be stopped immediately to ensure that every Indian can relate himself or herself with the feelings of national identity.
Emergence of an Absolute Secular State
It is well written in the constitution that India is a secular state and all the communities and religions are given equal priority. However, there are instances where this statement has been proved wrong. On the other hand, religious diversity is another salient feature of India’s approach towards a secular state.
But, the peculiarities and anomalies in this social structure project several problems that ultimately stand as a challenge to the proper development of national identity. On the flipside, it is also important that all the parameters related to the measurement of national identity are properly taken care off. In other words, intra-religious sentiments within the secularism of the Indian state can also pose a major challenge in realizing the need for national identity.
However, with the help of an efficient system in the secular framework of India, it can be ensured that the notion of national identity reaches to all the corners of the society. Equal opportunities to all and no class discrimination can also help Indians to identify themselves with public feelings accurately.
From 1947 to 2017: A Journey of Ideas
When discussing the development of the nation, one cannot agree more with the notion that the main responsibility of building a strong foundation for the nation and securing the future of all citizens, rests on the shoulders of one person– the Prime Minister of the country. He/she is the person who represents the nation on a global platform.
He/she needs to have a keen eye on the ongoing events. From planning the development scheme to listening to the issues of the common people, the PM has to do a lot. Perhaps this is the reason why the post of the PM is considered to be so powerful. India has a string of strong Prime Ministers who were able to leave their mark on the future of the nation and international politics as well.
The First PM: Jawaharlal Nehru
India suffered under the rule of the British and the East India Company for almost 300 years. During the later part of the 1940s, the British rulers were given the message loud and clear that it was time they bestowed independence to the Indians.
On the fateful day of 15th August 1947, on the stroke of midnight, people from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Kibithu to Gugariyana sang the National Anthem with pride as the Nation Flag of a new India was unfurled for the first time. The task of running and managing the affairs a partitioned nation fell on the shoulders of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru5. He was one of the main personalities who spearheaded the struggle for non-violent movements for attaining freedom.
He was born on November 14, 1889, in an affluent Indian family. Though he received his education from London, he was always eager to work for the development of the motherland. It will be safe to say that he; along with the other nationalist leaders were the main architect of a free India.
His Major Achievements
Nothing can be a greater achievement that earning the freedom of the nation and this is what Nehru did. He understood that the hold of the British rulers, on the social and political scenario, was weakening. He was always against the use of violence, and so, he joined the Moderates.
The group believed in holding talks with the British and negotiating the terms. From the Non-cooperation Movement to the Home Rule Movement, he played an active and prominent part in all events. From composing and implementation of the Constitution of India to passing social and economic reforms, he was there.
Apart from all these achievements, the only black patch in his political career is the Partition of India and Pakistan. One section of historians suggests that he could have averted the event. They say that he should not have given in to the demands of the British. On the other hand, the supporters of Nehru say that it was a price that he had to pay for achieving the freedom of the millions. Under the circumstances which prevailed back then, it was the best thing that the Moderates could have done. But no one can deny that he was the first PM who changed the dilapidated condition of the nation.
The Reigning PM: Narendra Modi
India again came under the rule of the BJP, but this time, the victory flag was held by Narendra Modi6. He is the 14th Prime Minister of Indian Union. Over the years, managing the affairs of one of the biggest developing countries of the world has become all the tougher.
Modi was born on the 17th September 1950. His father was a grocer in Gujarat. Who could have imagined that the small boy, who used to assist his father in a small tea stall would someday climb the political ladder and rule the nation? Impossible as it may seem, he won the election and was nominated as the PM. On 26th May 2014, he took the oath as the 14th PM of the nation. With his coronation on the political throne, the ordinary Indians got a determined and dedicated leader to assist the country on the path to success.
The Success of His Ideas
In a few words, the reign of Modi can be called a time of reforms. He puts stress on the fact that people of a developing nation like India needs all kinds of support from the government and it can only be provided in the form of restructuring. He also suggested that the countrymen must come forward and lend a helping hand in building and better and stronger nation.
The Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana was implemented for bringing all people under the financial system. Government support has assisted the business owners of all sizes to flourish, thereby ensuring generation of employment and revenue. The launch of MUDRA loan is a big step in this respect. The next significant step that he took was implementing the Swachh Bharat Mission.
It was started on the 2nd October 2014 and under this movement, he urged people of all sections of the society to take an active part in cleaning the nation. He was the first person to pick up a broom and swept the roads during the official launch of the program. Numerous such reforms have helped in enhancing the face of modern India. Not only new programs, but he also made sure that scheme like Aadhar Card Registration, which was originally proposed by Congress government, was adequately implemented.
Apart from the programs implemented for the benefit of the common Indians, he also gave a makeover to Indian participation in the international political arena. His foreign policies and meetings with the Heads of States with many other nations have yielded positive results. His deliberations on climate-related issues at the COP21 Summit in Paris made it clear that India will not be bogged down by the superpowers on the issues of carbon emission and other associated matters. It is only one of many such summits, and a lot is still in the pipeline.
2) Article Title: National Identity and Development: India`s Continuing Conflict (Published on culturalsurvival.org)
3) Article Title: National identity and growth (Published on Live Mint- March 17, 2016)
4) Report Title: Plural India: The Gandhian Path of Secular Democracy and Peace Building (Published on Academia.edu)
5) Page Title: Shri Jawaharlal Nehru (Published on Pmindia.gov.in)
6) Page Title: Biography (Published on narendramodi.in)