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N. Kapoor asked: What is the concept of Imagined Community and what is its relevance in 21st century?

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  • Ashok Kumar Behuria replies: Imagined community is a term used by Benedict Anderson to explain the formation of nations in different parts of the world. His main argument is that identities may not be real; they are often constructed by socio-economic and political processes. He provides an example of print capitalism, census exercise and anti-colonial consciousness as shaping national identities in colonised societies. There is a counter perspective on identities too, which holds that identities are real and based on shared culture, language and historical linkages. In India, leading social scientist Dipankar Gupta has used the term “ethnopreneurs” to argue that certain leaders shape political discourses about ethnic identities and make them politically volatile only to use them for their own selfish interests to acquire power.

    In the post-Cold War period, there has been a surge of movements centred around ethnic identities. The world has witnessed bloody conflicts between ethnic groups in different countries. During this period, many hitherto-dormant ethnic groups have become politically assertive and have claimed their rights to autonomy and sovereign nationhood. This process is likely to continue. Many countries in the world today are multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-national. These countries are vulnerable to assertive identity politics. Hence, they will have to demonstrate resilience and wisdom in accommodating growing demands for autonomy by various ethnic and cultural groups and working out a structure of power sharing through various means— federal reconstitution of power, devolution, consociation politics, etc.