For majority of post-colonial states, one of the daunting challenges is to catch up with the most noticeable feature of the nation state; that is, nation states use the state as an instrument of national unity in economic, social and cultural life. It is formidable challenge for these states as they have diverse social fabric, thanks to shenanigans on the part of colonizers. Accommodating this diversity in economic, social and cultural spheres so that a state, as an instrument of national unity, may derive its political legitimacy to rule and can assert itself as a sovereign state, which is what constitutes a nation state , is nothing less than a herculean task for any nascent state which has been coping with grievances of its disgruntled lot in the face of governance problems in the beginning years. The problem is endemic among post-colonial states, but this write-up will shed light on India’s quest for nation state via democracy.

Like all other post-colonial states, India turned out to be home to people from diverse backgrounds like Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists at the time of its independence. In order to assimilate the diversity within an “Indian” identity or to turn India into a nation state , India chose to tread the line of democracy which was, to me, a prudent decision on the part of India’s power wielding lot as for India, in the face of its diversity, back then, following democratic ethos in its governance was not an option India could consider, but it was Hobson’s choice for India. At present, India is the largest democracy in the world. But the pertinent question to ask at the moment is whether India has succeeded in bringing any semblance of nation state within its milieu through democracy.

The answer is No with capital N. The former can be substantiated by bringing into spotlight the various insurgencies going on within India against the state for being impervious to their genuine grievances. Prominent among these insurgencies comprise Naga insurgency, Naxal insurgency and insurgency in Kashmir.

For all those readers who are not familiar with the nitty-gritty of the above insurgencies, let me briefly explain where these insurgencies are going on in India and what their objectives are.

Naga insurgency is the oldest ethnic insurgency going on in North East of India which comprise seven states: Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland. The insurgency is being carried out for preservation of ethnic identity and exploitation of local resources by the state with little benefit to the local people.

Another insurgency is Naxal insurgency. The insurgency has perplexed the Indian state and has prompted those at the helm, especially the former prime minister Manmohan Singh, to declare the threat from the insurgency as the biggest internal security threat. The insurgency has outplayed terrorism vis-à-vis fear. At present, the insurgency has engulfed 12 Indian states which comprise: Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odissa, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. The insurgency is being carried out against state’s drive for economic development by displacing people from their native lands which are forests, for lack of governance that has alienated the local lot for not having access to basic facilities and against India’s capitalist ventures in which there is nothing for common citizen. The insurgency, in its aims, is against Indian state existence on capitalist ideals and aspires for revolution in India while being inspired from Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. 

What is happening in Kashmir is an open secret where Kashmiris have been fighting for their right to self-determination since partition, but India has been hardly paying heed to Kashmiris’ concerns. The result is that India, via its large troops’ deployment, has been trying to tame Kashmiris in owning Indian identity, but this brutal assimilation on the part of India has backfired so far as Kashmiris, now and then, have proved through resilience that fight for right to self-determination is not over yet.

The above insurgencies vindicate that India has a long way to tread in fully becoming a nation state via democracy. But is India inclined to truly become a nation state in which its disgruntled lot can own Indian identity? The answer can be found in how India has responded so far to the above insurgencies in its counter insurgency operations?

A bird’s eye view of hitherto India’s approach to counter insurgencies, which have made its democracy questionable in the eyes of the world, shows that India’s approach has been impressed by two ideational influences which comprise: Kautilya’s Arthashastra and Mahatma Gandhi . By the way, I came to know about these ideational influences in Namrata Goswami’s book entitled “Indian National Security and Counter Insurgency (The use of force vs non-violence response) which I am reading for my thesis. The author of the book is Indian.

Anyhow, back to those ideational influences. Kautilya was also known as Chanakya or Vishnugupta. He was born centuries before Gandhi in 300BCE. His treatise, known as Arthashastra, talks about waging war and doing diplomacy for strengthening power, wealth and security of the state. It’s a kind of policy advice from a strategic perspective to maximise a state’s national security. According to Kautilya, it was legitimate on the part of state to resort to violence against internal dissent and once stability is restored then the state should address grievances of the grieving lot.

Gandhi, on the other hand, believed in importance of empathy and dialogue in resolving differences. He did not believe in violence on the part of insurgents to be countered through violence. He believed in transformation of the conflict for conflict resolution which can come through dialogue. Gandhi believed that state, if it resorts to violence for bringing peace, should have a higher moral ground vis-à-vis armed group.

India’s counter insurgency operations, if objectively studied, tilt more towards following Kautilya selectively and show utter disregard for Gandhi’s teaching. Selectively following Kautilya on the part of India means that it has been ruthlessly resorting to force in its counter insurgency operations, but has not catered to grievances of the aggrieved lot, whenever it got victory against the insurgents, which is also one of the fundamental teachings of Kautilya who says that a state’s stability cannot survive for a long time with its aggrieved inhabitants. India’s victory against Naxals in 1960s and 1970s and Naxals’ resurgence in 1990s vindicates the above statement.

Moreover, India has so far, apart from few occasions, shown utter disregard for Gandhi’s ethos with respect to conflict resolution that is to believe in empathy. Turning its back upon Gandhi’s ideals and following Kautilya partly have proved costly for India as it is still battling with its insurgencies after almost seven decades. This delinquency on the part of India’s policy makers has actually stopped India from becoming a nation state via democracy and has made difficult for some of its lot to own Indian identity.

India’s quest for nation state via democracy can be actualised by keeping balance between Kautilya and Gandhi. If India makes it, that can turn out to be a good precedent to follow for all those states, including ours, which are facing the crisis of catching up to basic features of a nation state