Indian nationalism is an instance of territorial nationalism, which is inclusive of all of the people of India, despite their diverse ethnic, linguistic and religious backgrounds. Indian nationalism can trace roots to pre-colonial India, but was fully developed during the Indian independence movement which campaigned for independence from British rule. Indian nationalism quickly rose to popularity in India through these united anti-colonial coalitions and movements. Independence movement figures like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru spearheaded the Indian nationalist movement. After Indian Independence, Nehru and his successors continued to campaign on Indian nationalism in face of border wars with both China and Pakistan. After the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971 and the Bangladesh Liberation War, Indian nationalism reached its post-independence peak. However by the 1980s, religious tensions reached a melting point and Indian nationalism sluggishly collapsed in the following decades. Despite its decline and the rise of religious nationalism, Indian nationalism and its historic figures continue to strongly influence the politics of India and reflect an opposition to the sectarian strands of Hindu nationalism and Muslim nationalism.[1][2][3][4]

The flag of India, which is often used as a symbol of Indian nationalism.

National consciousness in India

The largest extent of the Mauryan Empire under Ashoka.

Among antient texts, the Indian subcontinent came to be called Bharat under the rule of Bharata.[5] The Maurya Empire was the first to unite all of India, and South Asia (including parts of Afghanistan).[6][dead link] Much of India has also been unified by later empires, such as the Mughal Empire,[7] Maratha Empire.[8]

Conception of Pan-South Asianism

India's concept of nationhood is based not merely on territorial extent of its sovereignty. Nationalistic sentiments and expression encompass that India's ancient history,[9] as the birthplace of the Indus Valley civilisation, as well as four major world religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Indian nationalists see India stretching along these lines across the Indian subcontinent.[citation needed]

Ages of war and invasion

The Mughal Empire at its greatest extent, in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
The extent of Maratha Empire (yellow), without its vassals.

India today celebrates many kings and queens for combating foreign invasion and domination,[10] such as Shivaji of the Maratha Empire, Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi, Kittur Chennamma, Maharana Pratap of Rajputana, Prithviraj Chauhan and Tipu Sultan. The kings of Ancient India, such as Chandragupta Maurya and Ashoka of the Magadha Empire, are also remembered for their military genius, notable conquests and remarkable religious tolerance.

Akbar was a Mughal emperor, was known to have a good relationship with the Roman Catholic Church as well as with his subjects – Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains.[10] He forged familial and political bonds with Hindu Rajput kings. Although previous Sultans had been more or less tolerant, Akbar took religious intermingling to new level of exploration. He developed for the first time in Islamic India an environment of complete religious freedom. Akbar undid most forms of religious discrimination, and invited the participation of wise Hindu ministers and kings, and even religious scholars to debate in his court.[11]

Colonial-era nationalism

The flag adopted in 1931 by the Congress and used by the Provisional Government of Free India during the Second World War.

The consolidation of the British East India Company's rule in the Indian subcontinent during the 18th century brought about socio-economic changes which led to the rise of an Indian middle class and steadily eroded pre-colonial socio-religious institutions and barriers.[12] The emerging economic and financial power of Indian business-owners and merchants and the professional class brought them increasingly into conflict with the British authorities. A rising political consciousness among the native Indian social elite (including lawyers, doctors, university graduates, government officials and similar groups) spawned an Indian identity[13][14] and fed a growing nationalist sentiment in India in the last decades of the nineteenth century.[15] The creation in 1885 of the Indian National Congress in India by the political reformer A.O. Hume intensified the process by providing an important platform from which demands could be made for political liberalisation, increased autonomy, and social reform.[16] The leaders of the Congress advocated dialogue and debate with the Raj administration to achieve their political goals. Distinct from these moderate voices (or loyalists) who did not preach or support violence was the nationalist movement, which grew particularly strong, radical and violent in Bengal and in Punjab. Notable but smaller movements also appeared in Maharashtra, Madras and other areas across the south.[16]


The controversial 1905 partition of Bengal escalated the growing unrest, stimulating radical nationalist sentiments and becoming a driving force for Indian revolutionaries.[17]

The Gandhian era

Mahatma Gandhi pioneered the art of Satyagraha, typified with a strict adherence to ahimsa (non-violence), and civil disobedience. This permitted common individuals to engage the British in revolution, without employing violence or other distasteful means. Gandhi's equally strict adherence to democracy, religious and ethnic equality and brotherhood, as well as activist rejection of caste-based discrimination and untouchability united people across these demographic lines for the first time in India's history. The masses participated in India's independence struggle for the first time, and the membership of the Congress grew over tens of millions by the 1930s. In addition, Gandhi's victories in the Champaran and Kheda Satyagraha in 1918–19, gave confidence to a rising younger generation of Indian nationalists that India could gain independence from British rule. National leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Maulana Azad, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, Rajendra Prasad and Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan brought together generations of Indians across regions and demographics, and provided a strong leadership base giving the country political direction.

Beyond Indian nationalism

Indian nationalism is as much a diverse blend of nationalistic sentiments as its people are ethnically and religiously diverse. Thus the most influential undercurrents are more than just Indian in nature. The most controversial and emotionally charged fibre in the fabric of Indian nationalism is religion. Religion forms a major, and in many cases, the central element of Indian life. Ethnic communities are diverse in terms of linguistics, social traditions and history across India.[18]

Hindu Rashtra

An important influence upon Hindu consciousness arises from the time of Islamic empires in India. Entering the 20th century, Hindus formed over 75% of the population and thus unsurprisingly the backbone and platform of the nationalist movement. Modern Hindu thinking desired to unite Hindu society across the boundaries of caste, linguistic groups and ethnicity. In 1925, K.B. Hedgewar founded the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in Nagpur, Maharashtra, which grew into the largest civil organisation in the country, and the most potent, mainstream base of Hindu nationalism.[19]

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar coined the term Hindutva for his ideology that described India as a Hindu Rashtra, a Hindu nation. This ideology has become the cornerstone of the political and religious agendas of modern Hindu nationalist bodies like the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Hindutva political demands include revoking Article 370 of the Constitution that grants a special semi-autonomous status to the Muslim-majority state of Kashmir, adopting a uniform civil code, thus ending a special legal frameworks for different religions in the country.[20] These particular demands are based upon ending laws that Hindu nationalists consider to be special treatment offered to different religions.[21]

The Qaum

In 1906–1907, the All-India Muslim League was founded, created due to the suspicion of Muslim intellectuals and religious leaders with the Indian National Congress, which was perceived as dominated by Hindu membership and opinions. However, Mahatma Gandhi's leadership attracted a wide array of Muslims to the independence struggle and the Congress Party. The Aligarh Muslim University and the Jamia Millia Islamia stand apart – the former helped form the Muslim league, while the JMI was founded to promote Muslim education and consciousness upon nationalistic and Gandhian values and thought.

While prominent Muslims like Allama Iqbal, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan embraced the notion that Hindus and Muslims were distinct nations, other major leaders like Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari, Maulana Azad and most of Deobandi clerics strongly backed the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian independence struggle, opposing any notion of Muslim nationalism and separatism. The Muslim school of Indian nationalism failed to attract Muslim masses and the Islamic nationalist Muslim League enjoyed extensive popular political support. The state of Pakistan was ultimately formed following the Partition of India.

Views on the partition of India

Indian nationalists led by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru wanted to make what was then British India, as well as the 562 princely states under British paramountcy, into a single secular, democratic state.[22] The All India Azad Muslim Conference, which represented nationalist Muslims, gathered in Delhi in April 1940 to voice its support for an independent and united India.[23] The British Government, however, sidelined the 'All India' organization from the independence process and came to see Jinnah, who advocated separatism, as the sole representative of Indian Muslims.[24] This was viewed with dismay by many Indian nationalists, who viewed Jinnah's ideology as damaging and unnecessarily divisive.[25]

In an interview with Leonard Mosley, Nehru said that he and his fellow Congressmen were "tired" after the independence movement, so were not ready to further drag on the matter for years with Jinnah's Muslim League, and that, anyway, they "expected that partition would be temporary, that Pakistan would come back to us."[26] Gandhi also thought that the Partition would be undone.[27] The All India Congress Committee, in a resolution adopted on 14 June 1947, openly stated that "geography and the mountains and the seas fashioned India as she is, and no human agency can change that shape or come in the way of its final destiny... at when present passions have subsided, India's problems will be viewed in their proper perspective and the false doctrine of two nations will be discredited and discarded by all."[28] V.P. Menon, who had an important role in the transfer of power in 1947, quotes another major Congress politician, Abul Kalam Azad, who said that "the division is only of the map of the country and not in the hearts of the people, and I am sure it is going to be a short-lived partition."[29] Acharya Kripalani, President of the Congress during the days of Partition, stated that making India "a strong, happy, democratic and socialist state" would ensure that "such an India can win back the seceding children to its lap... for the freedom we have achieved cannot be complete without the unity of India."[30] Yet another leader of the Congress, Sarojini Naidu, said that she did not consider India's flag to be India's because "India is divided" and that "this is merely a temporary geographical separation. There is no spirit of separation in the heart of India."[31]

Giving a more general assessment, Paul Brass says that "many speakers in the Constituent Assembly expressed the belief that the unity of India would be ultimately restored."[32]

See also


  1. ^ Lerner, Hanna (12 May 2011), Making Constitutions in Deeply Divided Societies, Cambridge University Press, pp. 120–, ISBN 978-1-139-50292-4
  2. ^ Jaffrelot, Christophe (1999), The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics: 1925 to the 1990s : Strategies of Identity-building, Implantation and Mobilisation (with Special Reference to Central India), Penguin Books India, pp. 13–15, 83, ISBN 978-0-14-024602-5
  3. ^ Pachuau, Lalsangkima; Stackhouse, Max L. (2007), News of Boundless Riches, ISPCK, pp. 149–150, ISBN 978-81-8458-013-6
  4. ^ Leifer, Michael (2000), Asian Nationalism, Psychology Press, pp. 112–, ISBN 978-0-415-23284-5
  5. ^ Vyasa, Dwaipayana (24 August 2021). The Mahabharata of Vyasa: (Complete 18 Volumes). Enigma Edizioni. p. 2643.
  6. ^ Afghanistan Country Study Guide Volume 1 Strategic Information and Developments geredigeerd door Inb, Inc. International Business Publications, USA. 10 September 2013. ISBN 9781438773728. Retrieved 27 February 2015.
  7. ^ Vyasa, Dwaipayana (24 August 2021). The Mahabharata of Vyasa: (Complete 18 Volumes). Enigma Edizioni. p. 2643.
  8. ^ Davies, Cuthbert Collin (1959). An Historical Atlas of the Indian Peninsula. Oxford University Press. p. 54. ISBN 978-0-19-635139-1.
  9. ^ Acharya, Shiva. "Nation, Nationalism and Social Structure in Ancient India By Shiva Acharya". Archived from the original on 15 February 2012. Retrieved 17 November 2011.
  10. ^ a b "Mahrattas, Sikhs and Southern Sultans of India : Their Fight Against Foreign Power/edited by H.S. Bhatia". Retrieved 17 November 2011.
  11. ^ Lane-Poole, Stanley. Jackson, A. V. Williams (ed.). History of India. London: Grolier society. pp. 26-.
  12. ^ Mitra 2006, p. 63
  13. ^ Croitt & Mjøset 2001, p. 158
  14. ^ Desai 2005, p. xxxiii
  15. ^ Desai 2005, p. 30
  16. ^ a b Yadav 1992, p. 6
  17. ^ Bose & Jalal 1998, p. 117
  18. ^ Lobo, Lancy (2002). Globalisation, Hindu nationalism, and Christians in India. Jaipur: Rawat Publications. p. 26. ISBN 978-81-7033-716-4.
  19. ^ "Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh | History, Ideology, & Facts". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  20. ^ "What is Uniform Civil Code?". 7 August 2019. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  21. ^ "WHAT IS UNIFORM CIVIL CODE". Business Standard. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  22. ^ Hardgrave, Robert. "India: The Dilemmas of Diversity", Journal of Democracy, pp. 54–65
  23. ^ Qasmi, Ali Usman; Robb, Megan Eaton (2017). Muslims against the Muslim League: Critiques of the Idea of Pakistan. Cambridge University Press. p. 2. ISBN 9781108621236.
  24. ^ Qaiser, Rizwan (2005), "Towards United and Federate India: 1940-47", Maulana Abul Kalam Azad a study of his role in Indian Nationalist Movement 1919–47, Jawaharlal Nehru University/Shodhganga, Chapter 5, pp. 193, 198, hdl:10603/31090
  25. ^ Raj Pruthi, Paradox of Partition: Partition of India and the British strategy, Sumit Enterprises (2008), p. 444
  26. ^ Sankar Ghose, Jawaharlal Nehru, a Biography, Allied Publishers (1993), pp. 160-161
  27. ^ Raj Pruthi, Paradox of Partition: Partition of India and the British strategy, Sumit Enterprises (2008), p. 443
  28. ^ Graham Chapman, The Geopolitics of South Asia: From Early Empires to the Nuclear Age, Ashgate Publishing (2012), p. 326
  29. ^ V.P. Menon, The Transfer of Power in India, Orient Blackswan (1998), p. 385
  30. ^ G. C. Kendadamath, J.B. Kripalani, a study of his political ideas, Ganga Kaveri Pub. House (1992), p. 59
  31. ^ Constituent Assembly Debates: Official Report, Volume 4, Lok Sabha secretariat, 14 July 1947, p. 761
  32. ^ Paul R. Brass, The Politics of India Since Independence, Cambridge University Press (1994), p. 10