Saturday, February 9, 2008

Nationalism in an Age of Globalization- An Indian Experience

Nationalism in an Age of Globalization- An Indian Experience

Syed Ali Mujtaba


India as they say is an old civilization but a young nation. The idea of Indian nationalism was born as an anti-colonial movement against the British rule. The euphoria that was generated for Indian nationalism led to the national independence in 1947. Even 60 years after the independence that euphoria still remains well entrenched in the minds of every Indian. The national slogan Vande Matram (I bow my head before my motherland) and Sare Jhan se Acha Hindustan Hamara (India is the best country in the entire world) evokes much national pride.

Contrary to nationalism, the idea of Globalization is still searching its place in India. There seems to be a lack of clarity in understanding the term. There are many meanings attributed to it. The most popular being, a common global identity is being prepared through the universal usage of the internet, the laptops and mobile phones etc, and the idea of knitting the world together is called globalization. The second meaning to it is; economic integration of the world. Third; a global economic order that’s to be dominated by the US.

In order to give the Indian perspective of ‘nationalism in the age of globalization, a few themes are picked up here for discussion. The general hypothesis is; how do nationalism and globalization cohabit in India? Is globalization exacerbating Indian nationalism or containing it? Or are the two being recast in more palatable terms?

Economic Liberalization

India had the first brush of globalization debate when the country’s economy opened up in the 1990s. Indian nationalism once again rose to prominence opposing the moves of the integration of country’s economy to the global economy. The media reportage then gave the impression of national crisis. It cautioned about the perils of globalization; “Flag will follow the trade,” East India Company to rule again,” screamed the headlines. Now fifteen years after the economic liberalization the picture has completely changed. The media reports are highlighting the positive aspects of liberalization. The opening of the call centers, the BPOs (Business Process Outsourcing) and multinational companies has created tremendous job opportunities. The booming IT sector has purely emerged out of the economic liberalization. All these are contributing to the modernization of the country. On the economic front, leading Indian industrialists such as the Tatas, Ambanis, Malayas, Essars are going global. They are no more nationalist industrial bourgeoisie, to use the Marxist terminology, but are true global capitalists. The bottom-line is globalization is being gradually accepted in India.


However, that does not mean that the idea of nationalism has subsided in India. A different kind of nationalism seems to be emerging out of the conflicting poles of the nationalism vs. globalization debate. This is cultural nationalism called Hinduvata. It means prominence of Hindu religion in Indian society and its dominance over other religions and cultures. The drive to unite the fragmented Hindu society through such ideas has led to religious polarization and intolerance. The attempt to create a monolith India around Hindi language and Hindu religion has provoked regional inequality. It has led to the increase in geographical divide between the North and the South. It has brought regional politics on to the national stage that’s pulling India inwards and putting breaks on the financial reforms, reforms that would further integrate India’s economy with the global economy.

Special Economic Zone Issue

Foreign Direct Investment is part of global economic agenda and for this the host country is required to create Special Economic Zones (SEZ) to attract foreign companies to conduct their operations. SEZs are a useful device for fast industrialization, provided they are carefully planned and executed. Unfortunately it’s being exploited for the purpose of land grabs and to make unearned profits. Nandigram, a coastal area in West Bengal is a classical case. It had become a resistance zone after the state government sought to acquire 25,000 acres of land to set up a chemical hub for an Indonesian company. The government forcibly tried to evict the villagers and in the process killed at least 14 of them who opposed such moves. The question is now being asked whether globalization means uprooting it own people. This however, has not deterred other state governments from creating SEZs. They have been able to achieve the desired results by careful planning and calibrated execution.

Farmers’ suicide issue

While the positive impact of the economic liberalization is being felt on the big cities, it’s having adverse impact on the rural India. According to a study released by Madras Institute of developmental studies, nearly 150,000 Indian farmers committed suicide from 1997 to 2005. The worst affected states are; Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh Chattisgarh and Kerala. These five states comprise of nearly a third of the country's population and which witnessed nearly two-thirds of such deaths. The main reason for farmers’ suicide is their fascination for growing cash crops to match the wealth and resources of the cities. The cash crop cultivation being money intensive requires heavy borrowing and in case of low production, it ends up in high indebtedness. This forces the farmers to commit suicide. The national government is putting up preventive and curative methods to handle this situation. Various interventionist methods including the micro- credit scheme is being experimented to provide relief to the farmers. Notwithstanding this, the issue of farm suicide is directly being blamed on globalization. In fact most economists fear that suicides will rise if agriculture is liberalized.

Indo-US civil nuclear deal

Indo-US civil nuclear deal is another great story of nationalism in India. Those who oppose the deal argue that it would open up part of India's nuclear programme to international scrutiny and would make India loose the independent assessment of its national security needs. The nuclear deal would make India subservient to US foreign policy objectives. The Indo-US strategic partnership means US domination over South and Southeast Asia. The deal is also seen as a move to upset the fledgling regionalism emerging in South Asia that may sour relations between India and its neighbors, and may spur a nuclear arms race with Pakistan and China.

Whereas those who support the nuclear deal argue that it has nothing to do with energy or strategic convergence with the US. The latter will happen to some extent automatically because of global attitudes. For this the deal must be reconciled within an Asian system by developing cordial relationship with India’s immediate neighbors. The primary concern for India should be to escape from any technology embargoes and this is where we need globalization.

This debate though remains inconclusive has brought open two key points. One the realignment of India's perceptions on relations with South Asia and second the impact of American "global war on terror" coming under the garb of globalization syndrome.

Non proliferation issues

Issues such as non- proliferation treaties particularly the signing of the NPT and the CTBT has produced much nationalist sparks in India. There has been total opposition to these treaties and the main argument against them is the CTBT while tries to curb horizontal proliferation, allows the vertical proliferation to the UN Security Council member states. India has all along been pursuing its nationalist agenda on the nuclear issue. There was a great deal of jingoist nationalism when India conducted its nuclear tests in 1988. The international condemnation did not deter the jubilation on the streets. It actually got silenced when Pakistan did the ‘Tit for Tat’ act. Such issues certainly reflect an upsurge of nationalism but such nationalism that dictates strategic issues has no connection with economic globalization.

Global Warming

There seems to be lack of clarity on the potential clash between national interests and global interest particularly with regard to the climatic issues. The global concerns over C02 and climate changes do not have many takers in India that yet has to sign the Kyoto protocol. The dash for growth has led to national convergence on industrialization as key to the development of the country. However, rapid industrialization also creates C02 emissions and global warming. Its still remains to be seen how such conflicting strands could be reconciled. On this count, nationalism seems to be at loggerhead with globalization.

Indian Diaspora

In the globalised age the interaction between the Indian Diaspora and the 'homeland' is another great story. The national and state governments' are courting the Non Resident Indians by organizing ‘Parvasi week’ and facilitating them with dual citizenship and other concessions for doing business and making investments. The move has paid well and the UK based industrialist, Swaraj Paul, Hinduja brothers and Laxmi Mitttal are all establishing business in India. However, the general Diaspora support has not moved beyond helping the family, community and religion networks. It is estimated that from 1975-2000 $97b was received from the Diaspora (India Today "Help the helping hand"-January 13th 2003). According to World Bank 'Global Development Finance' (2003) India was the largest developing country recipient of remittances ($10b) in 2001. The main source of Diaspora’s interaction with the ‘homeland is Bollywood films. The Bollywood films are gross sellers and make huge profit overseas. According to FICCI-PWC report nearly 10% of the $ 400,000 (Rs 8000 cr) worth Indian film industry is earned through the overseas market. The enhanced linkage of the Diaspora certainly reflects an upsurge of nationalism. It has come to limelight that the Diaspora is funding considerable amount of money to the organization like the VHP and its associates and many of them are ardent supporters of the forces of Hindutva. The overseas Gujaratis are believed to be the main facilitators for the rise of Nrendra Modi in Gujarat.

Indian Media

The debate between nationalism and globalization has not ended in India. On the contrary it has heated up due to the explosion of media outlets. Indian media’s responses to such issues are tailored according to the nationalistic concerns. On certain issues there is all out unanimity to the idea of globalization on others the nationalist sentiments seem to prevail. The pattern tells that first an issue hogs the limelight, and then it pales, and this cycle continues. Earlier it was the opposition of the NPT, then to the CTBT, and now it’s the Indo-US civil nuclear deal. The media by publishing such stories is trying to keep pace with nationalism vs globalization debate. The Indian media experience suggests that on some issues, globalization is fueling nationalism on others, it’s sobering it. On many other issues the two are being recast in different terms.


Globalization and the nation state are realities that need to be reconciled with each other. Without a reasonable internal capacity which includes economic political and social strength, no country should attempt to globalize. To attempt to insulate from globalization and go it alone would be a disaster. Equally to do it without having acquired enough internal capacity would also mean surrendering to external forces. UN and all the international organizations like WTO IBRD IMF should be made to serve the entire international community, and not the rich and powerful as is the present system. There is a failure among many G77 countries as they play into the hands of the rich nations. However, the onus does not completely rest on the external globalizing forces alone. Good governance requires that infernal progress is made adequate for external liberalization. Indian government and the civil society have to find ways how to deal with the globalization.

In sum, the conflict between Nationalism and globalization emerge only if domestic capacity to be a full partner is lacking. In such cases, joining the globalized family erodes the nation-states identity and this leads to impoverishment and consequent chauvinism. The Indian experience suggests that, despite shocking waves of nationalism, the trend of globalization continues, though there are still hard battles to be fought.


The paper “Nationalism in the age of Globalization-An Indian Experience” is for presentation at the Seminar “Changing Dynamics in the Asia Pacific: Power Politics, Economic Might, Media Challenges,” January 21-23, 2008; Bangkok, Thailand.


Syed Ali Mujtaba is working journalist based in Chennai. He has taken his PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He was a Jefferson fellow in fall 2003.

1 comment:


On Wed, Mar 5, 2008 at 12:37 PM, Sunil Jogdeo wrote:

Dear Mr.Mujtaba,

It has been a great experience to go thru your paper on globalization and nationalism. Both of them are the needs of human, to be specific changing needs. As you rightly pointed out `nationalism` came up to drive out foreign reulers by native rulers. Many such issues has `fear` as a base. What people observe is difficulty to stay together due to many cultural and relegious issues. Like animals stay in flock to secure themselves from `foreign` attack, human also has developed a tendancy to take shelter of religion on local grounds and nationalism on global grounds. Then there are issues like political benefits being local. If India is finding it difficult to manage its soverign how difficult it will be to think of globalization as it is the most complex kind of an issue. However, it is inevitable for any country. I am pleased to read you. I am a reader.

sunil jogdeo

President-Krishna Foundation
Director - Krishna Tutors and counselors