State and Nation: Shall the Twain Ever Meet?

AuthorPartha Chatterjee
Published date01 December 2022
Date01 December 2022
Subject MatterOriginal Articles
State and Nation: Shall the
Twain Ever Meet?
Partha Chatterjee1
This article traces the separate trajectories of the Indian state and the Indian nation since independ-
ence. The state machinery, largely inherited from colonial times, retained its imperial character, which
facilitated the integration of the princely states. The negotiated transfer of power also created the myth
that the state was prior to the nation whose sovereign people gave itself a new constitution. The Indian
nation, on the other hand, was imagined differently in each regional language. Thus, while there was
certainly the concept of an Indian nation, it looked different from each linguistic perspective. Further,
the idea of the Indian nation was also contested in each region. This article surveys the political process
by which these two trajectories were sought to be united, first in the period of Congress dominance
until 1967, then under the authoritarian leadership of Indira Gandhi, followed by the relative loosen-
ing of the federal structure in the 1990s, and culminating in the present attempt to impose the Hindu
majoritarian conception of the nation, nurtured in particular in the Hindi language, on the Indian nation
state. Looking at the forces that oppose this hegemonic attempt, the article argues that only a genu-
inely federal conception of the nation in which each part is given equal respect can effectively challenge
Hindutva hegemony.
Congress dominance, federal structure, Hindu majoritarian, Hindutva, state and nation
To take stock of where we have reached after 75 years of independence, it is necessary, I believe, to track
separately the course of the state as distinct from that of the nation. The two trajectories are not identical;
they are not even parallel. The failure to observe the distinction has led major political scientists into
analytical errors. Let me show how.2
The State
Unlike countries where national liberation was won through violent revolutionary struggle against
European colonial rule, India achieved independence by means of a negotiated transfer of power. This
meant that the institutions of the state were largely inherited from the colonial period and, in many
Original Article
1 Centre for Studies in Social Sciences Calcutta, Kolkata, West Bengal, India
2 I am restating here for political scientists an argument earlier presented to ordinary readers in a non-technical language (Chatterjee,
Corresponding author:
Partha Chatterjee, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences Calcutta, Kolkata, West Bengal 700094, India.
Studies in Indian Politics
10(2) 164–175, 2022
© 2022 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/23210230221135825

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