Killing and dying for nationalismEven though nationalism has existed as long as states have existed, the construction of nations is not unchanging.
Sagun S. Lawoti
People have not only willingly killed, but also willingly died, for nationalism. Human history is replete with such willingness. Many millions of people, over the past two centuries, have gone to both extremes swayed by a certain spirit of nationalism, or the belongingness to such a fraternity.
The belongingness to a nation, and the sense of nationalism attached therewith, is now a modern-day reality. Such collective belonging is not limited to frontal wars, however. The drive of nationalism crosscuts all spheres of life. Be it economic blockades, sporting events, national boundaries or any debate over bilateral and multilateral cooperation, like that over Millennium Challenge Corporation.
Such a notion is also reflected in the want for an inclusive polity, the collective sense of what beckons a nation, free and sovereign citizens and states per se. Nationalism in that respect is acutely interlinked with citizenship, often associated with democratic rights, inclusion and identity. Despite such ideals, citizenship is shadowed with contradictory origins.
Citizenship and city dwellers
Citizenship is etymologically connected to the city and to the state. Citizenship, given its origins, was exclusively intended for the city dwellers. In the Roman Empire, where the practice took form, citizenship was never for the people living off city limits. Citizenship in that respect was intended at excluding strangers, outsiders and aliens, and only including the city dwellers, citizens per se. A Roman citizen, thereby, was bestowed with a host of privileges and protections, what those who lived outside the city walls were denied. Such an intent of drawing a distinction between us and them contradicts what the present-day notion of rights, identity and inclusion may imply.
Drawing from various overviews and approaches involving the nation, nation-state and nationalism, the relevance of citizenry has shifted through time and space. Hence, the qualified sense of citizenship has remained dynamic. It undergoes evolutionary transformation often under coercive pressure of the modern state, across pressures of post-modernisation and globalisation. So to say, the relevance and implication of citizenship has differed in different contexts. But as far as modern-day structures behold, citizenship is an inevitable proposition, an inescapable truth that traverses birth and death.
Social anthropologist Ernest Gellner, in his classic modernisation argument, regards nations as completely modern constructions borne of nationalism. According to him, nations are primarily a political principle whereby a political and national unit is required to stand congruent. Nations are thus a by-product of the pressures emanating out of the Industrial Revolution.
As things evolved, close on the heels of the Industrial Revolution, people from varied backgrounds began to converge in the cities. Such a development gave way to the necessity of creating some form of common identity for such migrants so that the inherent demands of capitalism could be satisfied. As Gellner puts it, such a situation particularly required constant retraining and a common language among the workers. The void was thus fulfilled by creating a common past, common culture and common language—by turning low folk cultures into high state cultures.
For the common features, workers were more than willing to work hard, not only for personal gains but for the good of the country. This also allowed easy movement of workers around the country, for the new mobile workforce was now bound by a common culture, language and history. Such an inevitable evolution of common grounds can also be traced back in Nepali history. A sense of collective belongingness and its overbearing influence, as things unfolded, was rather evident in the times after the fall of the Rana state in 1951.
It is not only the Industrial Revolution, but even empires and imperialist states also resorted to language and education to instil a sense of homogeneity. This was particularly undertaken to expand their strongholds, further their territorial control and influence the locals therein.
The spread of language and education was instrumental in instilling what political scientist Benedict Anderson termed an imagined community—albeit with a certain sense of affinity, sense of sovereignty and willingness to identify with the same nation. Such a spurt of imagined sense of nationalism, as he points out, grew along with print capitalism. The combination of capitalism and technology hence made all the difference.
The spread of imagined affinity came by with the printing business; more so with cheap, mass production of vernacular literature and newspapers. This helped promote vernacular languages and communication, propagating a newer feeling of shared communion. Such a phenomenon, keeping with the onset of the Industrial Revolution, saw the emergence of the bourgeoisie who, despite being far apart, saw common grounds through the contents of books and newspapers.
National print languages, as evident, were instrumental in forming nation-states. As elsewhere, the contribution of language, development of lexicons and grammar, and the advent of print capitalism was well reflected in the construction of Nepali nationalism. The nationalised education system—or say the use of print technology vis-à-vis the policies of Panchayat governments between 1962 and 1990—was pivotal in creating an imagined sense of what Nepal as a nation meant collectively.
Not unchanging phenomenon
Even though nationalism has existed as long as states have existed, the constructions of nations are not unchanging. Because of the advent of globalisation, evolutionary impacts of consumerism have transformed lifestyles, values and priorities. This is an ongoing phenomenon in any way.
Having said that, the collective worldview on Nepali nationalism is replete with bravery and valour. Moreover, the influence of a common culture, language and history are well embodied in the contours of Nepali nationalism. Fast forward to the post-2006 landscape and the claims and counter-claims staked by various caste, ethnic and regional groupings when collective imagining witnessed a certain variation. Hence, it can be agreed that the process of homogenising or, per se, nationalising, people at large is a project ongoing.
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