India is a subcontinent, with a population of over 900 million, covering a wide range of ecological zones. The countless linguistic and religious groupings if not engaged in open conflict are on the verge of it. The many ethnonationalist movements there have generated a growing concern among social scientists in recent years. The aim of this book is to ascertain the vital conditions and processes that give rise to ethnic conflict in contemporary India, and to place these developments in a broader historical context. The research is also an attempt to recast the theory of nationalism and purge it of its Eurocentric and élitist bias. In my view, an adequate theoretical comprehension of nationalism outside Europe has to come to terms with Asian institutions and history.
Any attempt to encompass so vast a theme is bound to be selective. This book, which is a substantially revised version of my PhD thesis presented at the London School of Economics in 1996, therefore concentrates on the Punjab and gives a detailed account of the development of the Sikh movement for an independent state in India. My choice of the Sikh case has been influenced by the fact that I belong to the Punjab and am most familiar with its history and events. My interest in the subject was stimulated by the turmoil in the Punjab in the 1980s. This involvement may help to explain some of the biases and the choice of this specific case.
As will be apparent to the reader, two books have deeply influenced my comprehension of nationalism. The first book is Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities, and the other book is the classic work by Barrington Moore Jr, The Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy.
I am grateful to Oxford University Press, New Delhi, for permission to reproduce Map 1.1.
I have benefited enormously from the guidance and support of my supervisors, Anthony D. Smith and the late Alfred Gell. The examiners of the original thesis-James Mayall and Dennis Austin-helped me clarify some of the shortcomings. This research would not have been possible without the help and encouragement of my family in India and my friends in London. Finally, my mother, Ravinder, is always a source of inspiration and strength, which has made this book possible.