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Aditya asked: What is the difference between Nation and State? In present times, aren't they virtually synonymous?

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  • Arpita Anant replies: A nation, if one goes by the European origin of the idea, is commonly understood as a community that has a shared history and is usually united by a common element of identity (mainly language). A state, on the other hand, is a political entity with territory and sovereignty. When the boundaries of the nation and the state coincide, the resultant entity is the nation-state.

    Inherent in such an idea of a nation-state is homogeneity of the people inhabiting a political space. In reality, however, such homogeneity, never really existed. So, as older states came to terms with diversity among their people, and as new states with diversity came into being in post-colonial era, the idea of what a ‘nation-state’ is has also changed.

    Since there is almost always a ‘majoritarian’ conception of nation prevalent in any nation-state, it is contested, and there is often a struggle involved in accommodating diversity. However, not all communities that are outside of the majoritarian imagination conceive of themselves as nations. So, many of them have come together in several parts of the world to form successful nation-states. Most modern nation-states witness all these tendencies.

    While the terms nation and state are indeed used interchangeably in general parlance, it is important to be mindful that the two are not synonymous.

    Posted on November 26, 2012