National movements and patriotic ideas developed during the French Revolution (1789), which was a period of radical, social and political upheaval not only in France but throughout Europe.
The French were united in the revolution against feudal and aristocratic authorities. They marched towards the battlefield singing “La Marseillaise”, the national song and fought bravely to save their country in the true spirit of nationalism.
In 1862, the theory of nationalism was used to awaken national pride among the Italian people to fight against the occupying foreign forces. Italy which was previously a mere geographical expression became a united country by assimilating different ethnic groups.
In the third phase, nationalism helped unite Germany which earlier comprised more than 300 independent states. The German philosophers, Herder and Fichte, radicalised the German thought process and infused nationalism while the Grimm brothers collected folk literature to impart a sense of linguistic homogeneity among Germans.
In Asia and Africa, nationalism was used to get rid of colonial masters. In some countries territorial nationalism was used to fight against colonial powers, while in others nationalism bore linguistic or religious undertones.
With Gandhi’s advent in 1919, nationalism in the subcontinent acquired religious undertones, although previously the subcontinent was secular. Secular nationalism suited the elite, the Western-educated class that dominated the Congress party whereas religious nationalism appealed to the masses who were deeply rooted in religious traditions and values.
Gandhi raised the slogan of Ram Rajiya, the legendary rule of Ram which was the golden period of Indian history. The common people understood this language and became attracted to politics.
As a result, the Muslim community was now excluded from Gandhi’s religious nationalism. They began a quest for a different type of nationalism to protect their rights. The agenda of Gandhi’s nationalism was to struggle against the colonial power while the social and political structure of society remained unaltered. Gandhi did not favour abolishing the caste system, the liberation of women, eradication of poverty nor introduction of land reform. Which is why, even after Independence, the caste system remained intact, women continued to be exploited and poverty could not be eliminated.
Gandhi avoided confrontation. He wanted to maintain traditional relations between peasants, landlords, workers and industrialists as well as the domination of upper castes over the lower ones.
Therefore, his nationalism failed to change the Indian society even after the British left.
In the case of the Pakistan Movement, the two-nation theory played an important role. Since the Hindus and the Muslims were pronounced separate nations because of their religious, social and cultural differences, Muslim nationalism based on religion was created.
The All India Muslim League struggled for a homeland on the basis of Muslim nationalism which lacked a social, economic, and cultural agenda. There was no planning for introduction of land reforms, equal status of women, or economic opportunities to all its citizens.
The result was that after Independence, colonial institutions continued without any social change. Feudal lords monopolised politics, bureaucrats controlled the administration, and industrialists exploited the workers. The masses sacrificed their homes and livelihoods in the name of nationalism but their socio-economic condition hardly improved.
Presently in Sindh and Balochistan, nationalist movements are gaining strength.
What is the agenda of these nationalist movements? Are they against their landlords and tribal leaders? Are they in favour of eradicating outdated traditions and customs?
In order to make them effective, there is a need to broaden the scope of these movements. Sindhi nationalism should include peasants, Kolis, Bhils, and other lower caste tribes. The marginal communities will only become a part of it when the movement appeals to them in regard to protection of their rights.
In case of the national movement in Balochistan, those living in the province must not be excluded. Nationalist movements that lack a pro-people agenda have no space for masses.
History teaches us that nationalism fulfils the interest of the elite and middle classes while ignoring common people. It is used to mobilise the emotions of people but after accomplishing its objectives, the elite class abandons the common people whose problems and issues remain unsolved.