Religion and Nationalism in India: The Case of the Punjab

By Harnik Deol | Go to book overview

Conclusion

In the conclusion, I wish to bring together different strands and highlight the implications of this research. An adequate theory about nationalism in India cannot be derived from the European experience. We need to pay attention to the cultural and historical specificities of non-Western state formation. The historical preconditions that ushered nationalism into India differed sharply from those in Western Europe and the United States. India has not witnessed a bourgeois revolution, nor has there been an industrial or a peasant revolution in India. Yet there has been the development of the formal structure of parliamentary democracy in India.

An examination of the historical and social development of Sikh tradition reveals that despite the evolution of a distinct set of Sikh symbols and a doctrinal discourse, the establishment of the powerful Sikh empire under Maharajah Ranjit Singh, the establishment of an institutional framework that provided the arena and base for Sikh separatism and a separate language and territory, it is only recently that the Sikhs have demanded a separate state. This leads us to take issue with the view that once an objectively distinct, self-aware ethnic community is formed, then there is bound to be a natural movement for political autonomy. Clearly, the demand for a sovereign Sikh state was not the final manifestation of the historical evolution of Sikh identity. Rather this study explicates the vital factors that in conjunction explain the emergence of the Sikh separatist movement.

This study has a number of implications. First, it stresses the social base of an ethno-nationalist struggle as vital in determining the outcome of an ethno-nationalist movement. The investigation of the Sikh ethno-nationalist struggle has revealed that the transition to commercial agriculture induced widespread dislocation and alienation and resulted in a section of the Sikh peasantry becoming politically mobilized. Consequently, it was primarily a body of young, semiliterate men with rural backgrounds who became the motivatinfg force for the struggle for Sikh national state. The classic theories of nationalism are based on a ubiquitous premise that discounts the possibility of ethno-nationalist struggles without a bourgeois or a peasant revolution. The late-industrializing societies of the Indian subcontinent have had neither a bourgeois revolution nor a peasant revolution, yet there has been a

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