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Social background of Indian Nationalism

There are several distinctive conceptual formulations of Indian nationalism both by Indian and foreign scholars. A dominant view is that of historians and sociologists who see the rise of nationalism in the context of British colonialism and the distortions it created in social structure and ideology of our society. These distortions refer to class character of nationalist leadership and its social, cultural and economic policies. It is said these colonial distortions contributed to the rise of communalism, partition of the country and persistence of communal politics even after independence.

The colonial contact though subversive generated social and economic forces that gave rise to nationalism and national movement in our society. In this approach the study of relationship between social structure and cultural ideology forms a relatively weaker link. It focuses on macro-historical processes, their intricate movements and patterns in the society. Some historians and social scientists show sensitively to the problem of linkages. They find macro-analysis of nationalism and national movement in India to be dominated by elitism either of liberal or Marxist variety. Such historiography of Indian nationalism suffers according to them by colonialist-elitism or bourgeois nationalist elitism an ideological product of the British rule in India. They suggest an alternative model for understanding national movement and nationalism which derives its inspiration from structuralist theory.

The national movement and the ideology of nationalism according to this view suffered in India from structural cleavages between the mass mobilization on horizontal lines and its vertical mobilization by elite nationalist leadership. The mass movement was located in principles of kinship, caste, class and territory; it was spontaneous in making and allied at social resistance against exploitation. Its mobilization was not based on formal ideological or legalistic strategy and it could change course and operation in midstream. The national movement led by elite leadership made use of such subaltern mobilization selectively. The subaltern could not forge national movement all by itself. Yet the elite leadership did not help forge these movements into a united front for social mobilization due to its own class ideology. Nationalism is a process a product of historical conjuncture of social forces through which the linkages are not only established or expanded but also qualitatively strengthened. Nationalism is therefore not a finished product nor a formal structure or normative model but an organic historical process through which civilized societies strengthen themselves by qualitative differentiation from within and their superior integration organically within a territorial boundary. According to Louis Dumont nationalism refers to the nation as a tendency inspired by its existence or as the aspiration to build up a nation.

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