Social Scientist. v 12, no. 129 (Feb 1984) p. 42.

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Nationalism: Pan-Indian and Regional in a Historical Perspective


TO A HISTORIAN, nationalism is not just a concept, but an ideology which leads towards eventuation and which highlights the transition from times medievel to modern.1 To a historian of nationalism -in India, the task is to narrate how various elements—both events and ideas—are structured into the national process. Yet he also needs a conceptual frame, a theory, to apprehend this structuring and narrate it appropriately for the purpose. Though this transition in India was neither solely autonomous nor complete—it is incomplete even now—there was indeed a degree of 'progress' within the given colonial constraints. The process started feebly very late in the 18th century at the colonial port cities of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras and, after the 1850's, it gradually spread out to the rest of the country. Modern Indian history may therefore be thematically defined as one related to this period of the country's colonialisation in an age of industrial capitalism and of the development of the forces for building the Indian nation in response to it.

Colonial modernisation had its limits. The economy still continued to retain a largely feudal countryside and other vestiges of the pre-colonial past, including even pockets of tribal structures, and the culture, a largely feudal milieu, still dominated by the varna-jati tradition. Yet, despite a weak industrial base, two new classes—the bourgeois and the proletariat—emerged precisely during this period in towns and the countryside, however limited and uneven their quantitative and qualitative impact might have been. Since the mid-19th century, India had been drawn into the world capitalist market in a big way. The foreign capitalist class in power saw to it that the market of sub-continental expanse that had emerged here under the Mughals was further consolidated, expanded and qualitatively transformed. It was subordinated to British monopoly capital, through a network of modern transport, communications and centralised administration. Nationalism in India was both a challenge and a response to this semi-feudal, semi-capitalist colonial

*Professor, Cantre for Studies in Siocial Science, Calcutta.

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