As seen throughout the history, identities of people or nation are crafted through conglomeration of clans, tribes, ethnicity, race or nationality believing that vision of a nation and the desire for a better world can dispense deprivation, oppression, exploitation and so on. The idea of a nation and crafting one is political action that promises vision of a perfect society. Once formalized, ironically, one is back to the earlier position and the long cherished vision of better world vanishes into thin air. Take the cases of process of forging unity within each set of identity, as witnessed today in Manipur and elsewhere in the North East region. They leave no scope to an individual native to have an idea which differs from the set political idea that is the very will of architect of the nation. This is the problem unsettling our existence and weakness of the vision of unity itself which is based on exclusivity. Possibility of the vision is supposedly measured on the nature and strength of nationalism, propagated and instilled, as a way of gathering the people for a political purpose. Thus, ethno-nationalism is taken to be the strongest and only imaginable alternative of mobilizing the people as far as experiences in the North East indicate.
Focusing on Manipur, Yenning believes Manipur has two models, the French or German way, to anchor her vision of better if not a perfect nation to gather her people. The French Revolution of 1789 is considered to be the mother of modern nationalism. The ideology of modern nationalism is supposed to have a “vision.” That vision is to make the national unit and the political unit congruent. When the French Revolution declared the “nation to be the base of political sovereignty,” the idea was to enunciate civic nationalism as different from ethno-nationalism. The nation was conceived to be the people of all sorts including various minorities. The base of that kind of nationalism or civic nationalism was considered to be “the rights of man and the citizen.” The origins of civic nationalism could be traced to that revolution.
In contrast, the origin of ethno-nationalism was mainly in Germany. The two thinkers who enunciated ethno-nationalism at the onset of the 19th century were Johann Fichte and Johann Herder. According to them, people are eternally divided into nations. The proof of this division is the language. The meaning that they gave to nation is equivalent to race or ethnicity. The nation is a collectivity. It is like the body. Nationalism is its soul. The State of Ethnicity is the embodiment of both the body and the soul.
The distinction between civic nationalism and ethno-nationalism was first made by Hans Kohn in 1940 (The Idea of Nationalism). One reason to make that distinction was the experience in Germany under Nazism based on Fascist ideology. The emergence of the two types of nationalism was also observed vaguely by Ernest Renan as far back as 1882 when he wrote Qu’est–ce qu’une Nation? (What is a Nation?). The reason again was the distinction between nationalism in France and Germany.
Civic nationalism has only a functional or utility value. While ethno-nationalism is exclusive, civic nationalism is not. Civic nationalism is inclusive of diversity, pluralism and democracy. While the contrast between the two types of nationalism is considerable, in social reality they may exist side by side. The issue is what is dominant in a particular country and what the guiding principles of nationalism are.
Civic nationalism has proved to be quite useful in achieving the vision of national unity (if not congruence) in many countries that have advanced economically, socially and politically. The natural advantage of being socially homogeneous is obviously rare in countries. Only less than a dozen of countries might claim for the qualification today such as countries like Finland, Denmark, two Koreas, and perhaps Japan. Yet many of them are internally diverse or becoming increasingly multi-ethnic due to migration.
The emergence of nationalism is related to modern socio-economic changes. In the process of modernization and nation building or one may say in the course of capitalist development, many countries both in the West and the East have zigzagged between civic nationalism and ethno-nationalism. Manipur is no exception. But the question is for how long Manipur could afford to go along in this tortuous path with instability and uncertainty. In the case of Manipur, it is not just a question of instability or uncertainty. Ethno-nationalism in various camps has led to internal conflict with over thousand deaths and state of mistrust among ethnic groups.
Civic Nationalism vis-a-vis Naga integration
Given the heightened campaign for Naga integration and the resultant ethnic rivalry, the relevance of the distinction between civic nationalism and ethno-nationalism to Manipur is assuming astronomical proportion. Some people may question the validity of the relevance of foreign or “Western notions” to Manipur. Whatever may be the reservations, Manipur’s present predicament is related to these two notions directly and indirectly. This does not mean that Manipur acquired these two notions one from France and the other from Germany. France and Germany are only two examples where these two notions appeared in distinct forms in the Western hemisphere. That is also not completely correct. While civic nationalism was predominant in France, there is evidence of ethno-nationalism appearing intermittently undermining civic nationalism at times. This was the case in Germany as well.
The persistent political turmoil being witnessed in Manipur has its roots in the opposing political aspirations of its own people. While one group supposedly representing Nagas has been demanding integration of all Naga inhabited areas of Manipur and those of other Northeastern States with Nagaland to make an ethno-exclusive modern state called Nagalim, the other ethnic groups are deadly opposed to any such design aimed at breaking up the multi-ethnic geo-political entity called Manipur. Here arises the relevance of civic nationalism and ethno-nationalism based on ethnic exclusivity. But the long drawn battle between the two streams of nationalism remain indecisive as neither has succeeded in bringing the general masses wholly within their respective folds. Just as there are communal elements within the majority who are espousing civic nationalism, there are many among those influenced by advocates of ethnic (sic Naga) exclusivity who believe in pluralism, diversity and co-existence. This is, in fact, a deviation from ethno-nationalism to civic nationalism. Here, one cannot overlook the fact that Nagaland, won as a trophy for Naga insurgency movement, is already an ethno-exclusive State with Nagas constituting almost 97 per cent of its total population. Again, the campaign for Naga integration does not comprehend any living space for other ethnic groups. Had this been not the case, the ethnic clash of early 1990’s in the hills of Manipur would have never happened. Whereas the Naga integration movement envisages an extended living space exclusively for Nagas, many ethnic groups would be left without a living space while the Meiteis would be confined to the Manipur valley, in case Nagalim becomes a reality. This is hard to imagine because none of the districts of Manipur being demanded by advocates of Naga lebensraum are Naga exclusive.
Our understanding is that ethno-nationalism is neither desirable nor could it serve as any effective tool for nation building in any part of the North East region, particularly in a pluralistic society like Manipur. At the same time, there should be no room for chauvinism or dominance by any majority community over others, should civic nationalism be promoted to consolidate composite Manipuri nationality. The question, however, is how to forge civic nationalism in the future while recognizing ethnic identities and their separate interests which are not detrimental to national unity. There is no possibility of de-ethnicizing people whether they belong to the majority community or the minority communities.
Civic nationalism is the overarching glue for national unity of any country. But it cannot be forged instantly. The most important might be to forge possible unity, solidarity and cooperation among the leaders of all communities to do away with ethno-nationalism and to seek solutions on the lines and in strengthening civic nationalism.
The building of civic nationalism does not mean the eradication or suppression of all ethnic or religious affiliation or feelings. It means the transcendence of parochial or narrow ethnic or religious feelings for the greater good of all communities. Civic nationalism does recognize the importance of ethnic identity whether of the majority or the minorities.
There is no meaning in arguing who started ethno-nationalism first or who should be blamed most. There is no possibility to say one type of ethno-nationalism is better than the other. All types of ethno-nationalism are detrimental to national or human progress. The only exception can be the fact that minority communities do have disadvantages than a majority community in general because of numbers. This has to be recognized and systematically addressed.
This article was posted on The Sangai Express on Sunday, August 1, 2010