For citizens of modern nations, there is no life outside nationalism. The only question is: what kind of nation and nationalism? In all nations, the dominant groups shape the idea of the nation to their advantage, an idea that is contested by other groups. Here is a piece of the latter lineage, The Protests in Delhi and the Nationalist Paradigm, by Jenny Rowena, a faculty member at Miranda House, Delhi. Food for thought.
Most mainstream understanding of Indian nationalism think of it as a postcolonial phenomenon, where in a suppressed colony asserted itself against an oppressive empire. In spite of this, they argue, nationalism was often accessible only to the upper castes. So it excluded the lower castes and minorities, who fell outside its ambit and thereby of Indian modernity itself.
However, one sees a different way of thinking about nationalism in the writings and speeches of many dalit and bahujan leaders like Phule, Periyar and Ambedkar; later theorists like G Aloysius, Braj Ranjan Mani;and writers like K KKochu and J Raghu in Kerala. All of them seem to think of nationalism as a strategic organizing principle of the upper castes, which allowed them to successfully consolidate themselves against the onslaught of the anti-caste identities of various lower caste and dalit groups in India. With it, the brahminical upper castes, who had made use of colonialism to consolidate their cultural power, came forward to demand a transfer of power towards their own benefit.
In other words, it was not that the brahminical class had better access to nationalism and modern categories, which resulted in the exclusion of all “others.” Instead the argument that can be built from the available pool of dalitbahujan thinking is this: the brahminical upper caste re-imagined themselves through national categories, put forward a nationalistic politics and countered the lower caste mobilizations that invoked particular caste categories and locations, with a more universal and all pervading nationalist identity. With this they took over the nation and its various dominant categories like secularism, merit, progress and modernity, and gained almost absolute control over its numerous institutions – from academics to administration to art and popular culture.