Civilization Much Older Than Nation-State Concept

Issue Date: 10/28/2005

By Bal Ram Singh

Globalization, a concordant mantra, although as old as the human history has been a frontier phrase for the past 15 years or so, albeit mostly for the benefit of multinationals.

However, due to the advent of Internet communications and information, globalization now seems to have unexpected and totally unintended repercussions on the existence of the nation-state concept for world organization.

Although the modern nation-state concept was initially formulated by colonialists for introducing rule of their laws centuries ago, the same concept got curiously used to stir up nationalism and nationalistic movements by most countries to gain their independence from their colonial masters.

Today, globalization seems to undermine the nation-state concept at its core, and threatens the role of political masters much the same way as the colonial masters or slave masters. The long yearning for freedom from masters is finally inching towards its final steps.

Yet, political masters in countries after countries are busy playing their old games of reinforcing the nation-state structures even though these structures have become so porous that their remaining role is merely that of a filter rather than a levy.

In a speech entitled "The argument for India" on September 23, 2005, India's External Affairs Minister, K Natwar Singh, at Brown University, stated " early as 1931, Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian leadership chose to opt for a democratic form of government with universal adult franchise as its basis.  .... Till then, India was considered more an embodiment of a civilization than a definition of a conventional nation state. It took a democratic construct to bring together its very many languages, ethnicities and customs and provide it a firm binding force.

"Why should a civilization take a back seat to the concept of the nation-state? The honorable minister is making brave efforts of salvaging the sinking ship of a nation-state, by somehow constructing a seemingly non-existing cohesion in India where are people totally divided on the basis of languages, castes, and religions, and democracy is used to get even with their perceived adversaries, both historical and modern.And, all the political parties, including the Minister's Congress Party, play the game of manipulation and demarcation, all in the name of democracy to keep the concept of nation-state alive. The façade of democracy provides political leaders a way to keep control over people, even as they bargain out their own construct of the nation-state internationally for their selfish causes, as was recently pointed out by the Mitrokhin Archive on KGB heavily funding Indian communists and Congress leaders for decades.

In this game of the control of the nation-state, innocent and ignorant people are almost always the victims, despite the prevalence of a democracy. It should not be surprising given what Benjamin Franklin said about democracy a long time ago. "Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!"On the other hand, a civilization even by a dictionary meaning is "an advanced state of intellectual, cultural, and material development in human society, marked by progress in the arts and sciences, the extensive use of record-keeping, including writing, and the appearance of complex political and social institutions."

Mahatma Gandhi, whom the honorable Minister attributed today's India to, had totally different idea than the state of nation-states we see in the world today, at each other throat pretending diplomacy.

Gandhi said, "Democracy must in essence, therefore, mean the art and science of mobilizing the entire physical, economic and spiritual resources of all the various sections of the people in the service of the common good of all."

What we see today is the art of mobilization of all for the good of a few. This is true throughout the world, but is peculiarly more prominent in India. Because, most Indians, especially intellectuals, on their own will have become blind followers of unscrupulous system of nation-state.

Most patriotic Indians want to strengthen the central power of the government in the belief that it will promote unity of the Indian state, eventually translating into emergence of India as a powerful nation.

Thus comes the call for a national language, even if that happens (for all practical purposes) to be a foreign language. Or, call for a uniform civil code, which has particularly taken center stage after Imrana rape case in which the Muslim clergies issued a fatwa for Imrana to marry her rapist father-in-law, and leave her husband.

Those who call for a uniform civil code do not realize that it is the basic character of the nation-state to demand uniformity in the people it controls. That simply makes it easier for governance, not necessarily for the enlightenment of the people.

The crime against Imrana should be fought on the basis of humanity, and there should be social and civil pressure of the society on the culprit, irrespective of the community he belongs to.

Every human being, everything for that matter, is unique whether one considers fingerprints, facial features, retinal scan, walking motion, voice, or genetic make up. Forcing them all to unenlightened uniformity is against the design of the nature, leading initially to disharmony and eventually to violence.

Let the globalization of knowledge enlighten people with free interaction for peace. 

Bal Ram Singh, director of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth's Center for Indic Studies, may be reached at