The study of nationalism-ideology, organization, movement etc.—in India, has long been the exclusive preserve of the historians. In its external dimension, the discussion ranged between sheer xenophobia, on the one hand and sacred patriotism, on the other. Internally, it hinged around the axis of Hindu-Muslim harmony or disharmony. Sociologists however, have been preoccupied with movements of all other kinds, considered mainly as instances of status or social mobility, Sanskritization/Westernization or protests/transformations. Though these movements, the ‘national as well as the 'social' were contemporaneous, contributed to, and together constituted the formation of modern India, the 'totality itself was not problematized in either, leading to the ‘rarefication' and eventually ‘reification of the 'grand national within history. The 'national' became isolated, insulated, elevated and far removed from the 'social' which was often delegitimized as communal/casteist. Concepts such as nationalism and communalism along with colonialism became self-evident categories endowed with almost magical powers to reveal the mysteries of modern India.
In the course of a changing and changed socio-political situation, these master-concepts lost their usefulness. In fact, their functions became reversed and instead of opening up to social reality, they began to block its understanding. This was realized early enough. The seventies pointed out that ideology was often enough an excuse for ‘plain pursuit of power’; the eighties discovered that despite the shrill claims of nationalism, the ‘nation itself failed to emerge'. These dissenting voices from within modern Indian historiography are indeed significant. However, they could not proceed beyond a certain limit due to disciplinary constraints, narrow data-base and non-problematization of the basic concept--nationalism. This is precisely where sociology of nationalism seeks to step in.
Sociology brings to the study of nationalism two specific perspectives: one, that nationalism is not unlike other social phenomena, occurring repeatedly in different regions, cultures and contexts. Various nationalisms are capable of being classified and analysed systematically and that, it is possible to develop at least the rudiments of a general theory of nationalism. In other words, it is not necessary to consider every nationalism as a 'unique construction'. Instead, each case can be viewed as a particular instance of the general class of nationalism. Two, is contextual, according to which nationalism—the ideology, organization, and movement-of a given region or culture is to be studied in the context of the structure and change of that society as a whole. Social structure and social change are the two central themes of sociology providing the framework for investigating different spheres of the corporate life of a society and nationalism is no exception.
Viewed sociologically then, nationalism in India, is likely to appear different from what it does within traditional history. The present study is one such attempt. It needs to be taken for what it is: exploratory in nature and tentative in conclusion. However, the study is an attempt at a departure of a major kind. If the issues that have come up in the course of the study are taken up, contested and carried forward by greater minds, its objective will be fulfilled.
Professor Randolf David of the University of the Philippines introduced me to critical sociology; Professor Dipankar Gupta, of the Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, stimulated my interest in the study of nationalism; Dr Avijit Pathak supervised the dissertation out of which the present study grew; Professor C.N. Venugopal was an ever-welcoming resource person. Professor Manoranjan Mohanty of Delhi University examined my work and suggested improvements. Professor Dawa Norbu of Jawaharlal Nehru University read through the manuscript and offered recommendations. Among my colleagues M. Kiran was always there to discuss the numerous issues and assist in documentation. However, none of the persons mentioned, and scores of others with whom I have been interacting in the course of the study are to be held responsible for the views, arguments or formulations articulated in this study, which are solely mine.
The study was carried out mainly in the library of Jawaharlal Nehru University and Nehru Memorial Library. I am grateful to the staff of both these institutions for their help. I am also thankful to the Daryaganj second-hand booksellers for providing me with several important books at affordable prices.
I also thank Murali and Anoma for typing the manuscript, and Rasna Dhillon for preparing the text for publication.
Finally, the study could not have been completed but for the constant support and accommodation of Josna. To her I owe much more than I can express in words.
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