Nationalism fuelling conflicts: Russian Expansionism and Indian Ambitions

Rabaa Wazeer

The Nationalist paradigm is not a recent notion, rather it is rooted in human history, with great number of political thinkers and philosophers proclaiming it as a valuable endeavour to be sought after. Thus, the ideas and beliefs associated with the nationalist concept escalated, which will be clarified during the following sections.

Over the past years, rising nationalism could be commonly observed, from the election of Donald Trump, to Brexit, to the nationalist policies of the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi and the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan; in addition to the successes of far-right parties in Europe, observed in Italian, German and Austrian elections in 2017 and 2018.

What confirms that nationalism is on the rise globally, is the existence of plans and calls from several leaders around the world that confirm their constant quest to restore their country’s historical position. This often includes neighbouring countries, or those that fall in their strategic parameters, or with which they share historical characteristics.

What brings these projects or plans together are the dreams of nationalism, ignoring the current conditions, and future variables, and also ignoring the historical circumstances and periods that necessitated their countries to annex neighbouring countries, and perhaps the most prominent example is Putin’s dream, of “national Russia” similarly, India’s president Modi and his dream of  an “undivided India”.

Therefore, this essay, attempts to identify aspects of nationalism, and explore the world’s disregard for the rise of the nationalist ideas, using an analogy of the Russian and Indian model. Finally conceptualising the most likely scenarios that may arise from the continued global disregard for the rise of nationalism.


Nationalism: an ideology based on expansion

At its core, nationalism is an ideology that necessitates loyalty and devotion to the nation, a sense of national consciousness, and glorifying one nation and promoting its culture and pursuing its interests above all others. Thus, placing the country above everything, and its political meaning is related to the concept of the nation, which specifies people with a special identity linked by multiple objective and spiritual ties, including language, history, faith and interest.

Historically, nationalism has been used as a pretext for the expansion of the state, even at the cost of igniting wars, or in forcing isolationist policies. Expansion precedes slogans of unity and the inclusion of all members of the nation under one state, and in some cases under the pretexts of national interests or resources, and for the preservation of sovereignty through peaceful means or purely ideological. Additionally, political nationalism remains closely related to cultural nationalism; Where culture is preserved and transmitted in specific forms, and this is done through devoting artistic creativity, education, and research for this purpose, and ethno-national characteristics may be real, or made up in part or entirely.

Conceivably the prejudice of nationalism is one of the most significant reasons that had prompted countries to attack their neighbours, or seek to annex neighbouring countries. Perhaps the current “Russian-Ukrainian” war, and the model that India seeks to promote, are the most prominent models presented today on the global scene.


The ideological and geopolitical background of the “Russian-Ukrainian” war

The Russian state under the leadership of “Vladimir Putin” proceeds in its general “internal and foreign” policy and in all fields: “cultural, social, religious, educational, economic, political and military” from fixed, lively and interactive ideological and intellectual premises, which constitute the intellectual basis for the existence and movement of the state, and at the forefront of the adopted ideology of the Russian state:

1. A moderate and open Russian national ideology, which believes that Russia is a nation of “multiple religions, nationalities, languages, and cultures,” from which the Russian people and Russian patriotism are formed.

2. Realistic recognition and practice that the historical affiliation of the majority of the Russian people is to the “Slavic” national and civilization element; The Eastern “Orthodox” Christian religion. Therefore, this affiliation is the basis upon which the national formation of Russia is built, as “a culture, a people, and a state.” This is reflected today in the restoration of the ecclesiastical institution and the Russian Orthodox rites, in which President “Putin” himself participates in.

3. The “Eurasian” idea was built as a “Historical-Civilization” concept that has its roots in ancient Greek philosophy, in particular the idea of a global state, in which all people, ethnicities, civilizations, cultures, religions and sects, large and small, fraternize, interact and integrate freely; an idea put forward by Aristotle.

Thus, a few years back, “Putin” stated that the dismantling of the former Soviet Union was a grave historical mistake, which prompted many politicians and analysts to consider that the Russian intervention in Kazakhstan was based on its protection, as a state that was affiliated with the Soviet Union at one time. It also meant that its presence under its umbrella allows Russia to intervene to protect it at any time it deems a threat to the security and integrity of the state. This had led some Russian-Eurasians loyalists to put forward the proposal of holding a popular referendum in Kazakhstan; to join the Russian Federation, as an autonomous republic.

Therefore, it can be argued that these three pillars, were envisioned from the broader idea, that the former Soviet Union was a unified state, bringing together its different republics under one constitution with a contractual character binding every former Soviet Union. In addition to the notion that the Soviet Union was dissolved in an “illegitimate” manner, and in violation of both, the Soviet contractual constitution and international laws.

Conceivably, these are the three pillars that make up the idea of “national Russia” which Putin seeks to implement, through various measures, and perhaps his article dated May 2021, about Ukraine, and the subsequent war on Ukraine, confirms this conclusion: –

The article was titled “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians,” which reflects the historical stories that shape the positions of Putin and many Russians. Where they believe that Russians and Ukrainians are the same people, “sister nations”, in which the Russians are called the “Big Russians” by the name of the Velikorosi group, and the Ukrainians call the Mallorsi group “the Little Russians”, and the same thought applies to Belarus; Where all these Russians originated from the states that emerged after the dissolution of the Kievan Rus’ Union, which was ruled by many members of the “Rurik” dynasty. Thus, making the Russian relationship with Belarus and Ukraine completely different from the relations with other countries of the Soviet Union. On the other hand, “Kazakhstan, Estonia, Georgia” and other regional countries were like national “comrades”, but the Ukrainians and Belarusians were “relatives.”

Russians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians do not deny this relationship, and “Putin” supports this way of thinking. This is the background on which Putin built his desire to restore the Soviet legacy, and to view it from the perspective of the old emperors; Therefore, he had to reaffirm the ancient imperial myths and values, and for that, the invasion of Ukraine was initiated.

Still, Ukraine is determined to carve its own way, claiming that “Kyiv-Rus” is its legacy, moving away from “Moscow”. It is also independent of its Orthodox Church, in contradiction to the myths of the Russian state, these imperial myths are what define Russia, and what it means to be Russian. Consequently, “Putin” is convinced that without those myths, Russia would be dismembered again, and if he allowed it, his legacy would be destroyed. For him, there could be no separate Ukrainian language, culture or history.

This ideology helped the Russians accept the Russian invasion of Ukraine, both first when it annexed Crimea and in the 2022 Russo-Ukrainian war; where the world did not pay attention to such illusions that crept into the minds of leaders, and became a reality translated through real movements. Thus, if the detachment continues, with the various countries of the world preoccupied with their issues and conflicts, ignoring the growth of such a tendency, it is expected that chaos, conflicts and wars will increase in the foreseeable future.

Can delusions about an “undivided India” be curbed?

The idea of ​​an “undivided India” is no less dangerous than the previously stated Russia national project. The concept of ​​an “undivided India” is based on the ideas of the Indian activist and leader of the Hindu Mahasabha “Vinayak Damodar Savarkar”, in 1937. He presented the idea of ​​“Akhand Bharat”, which means “India must remain one, and indivisible”, from “ Kashmir to Rameswaram”, and from “Indus to Assam”, he also proclaimed that “All citizens who owe undivided loyalty and allegiance to the Indian nation and the Indian state, should be treated equally, and share common duties and obligations on an equal footing, regardless of “caste, creed, or religion.” Representation must be either on the basis of one vote for one man, or in proportion to the population, in the case of separate electoral districts, and public services must be conducted on the basis of merit alone.

This call did not stop at this point, but many Indian institutions and organizations began calling for the necessity of its implementation, among them, Mahasabha, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishva Hindu Parishad, Shiv Sena, Hindu Sena, Hindu Janajagruti Samiti and Bharatiya Janata Party. Additionally, the call for India’s reunification was supported by the Indian Prime Minister “Narendra Modi” and BJP’s National General Secretary “Ram Madhav”.

Policies enacted by the “Modi” government have increasingly reflected these desirable geopolitics, which asserts that “Hindutva” transcends current boundaries. – From “Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan”, excluding Muslims, then the Indian Minister of Interior “Amit Shah” linked these criteria to the National Register of Citizens; This sparked fears among Muslims that they might be denied citizenship. In the same year, the “Modi” government stripped Jammu and Kashmir – India’s only Muslim-majority state – of its autonomy and brought it under direct federal rule.

The realisation of this project is linked to the idea of ​​”Hindu nationalism”, which depends in its origin on some historical events, which were imposed on the countries bordering India; so that it may remain with it in one group. Without this implying that these states should join or remain under the umbrella of India indefinitely; where historical facts have proven, that present-day India did not include “Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal, Tibet, or Sri Lanka,” even in ancient times, and the regions that belonged to “India-Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan” were never subject to a India’s rule except when it was under British rule. Even today, India’s influence did not extend to many of the countries included in the “undivided India” plan, but rather countries rivalling India with greater influence, such as China.

Thus, in answer to the question posed, we can say: It is difficult to achieve India’s plan in gathering the countries that were under the “Indian umbrella” in an exceptional historical period. This is primarily due to these countries gaining their independence, and now having their own “political, economic, security, and military” systems. In addition to their relations with their neighbours, they have a system that is approved and coexisted by millions of citizens; Therefore, it is idealistic for these countries to come back under the umbrella of the Government of India; to become a subsidiary entity of a larger entity.

But the danger of such trends lies in India’s relationship with China, and its relationship with neighbouring countries, and therefore, it is certain, that it adds to tensions in the Asian region, and to global stability as a whole. It also increases the possibility of conflict, and therefore it is essential that India’s expansionist ambitions be taken seriously; to avoid a repetition of the faltering Russian scene, which has consequently affected various sectors and countries of the world.

How can we stop the advance of nationalism linked to the implementation of historical illusions?

When we talk about nationalism and the historical illusions associated with it, which reinforce the tendencies of countries for conquest or expansion, we can divide the paths of these illusions in three main forms as follows:

The First Path: Possibility of happening

This track goes to the fact that the historical illusions associated with expansionist projects, whether for “India or Russia” or any other country, are achievable, albeit in a small percentage, or for a temporary stage, as some countries have succeeded in annexing neighbouring countries under their sovereignty. In the case of the Indian model, it threatens its interests and its relationship with its neighbouring countries, including China, and the realization of its model depends on reactions at the “regional and international” level, and the extent to which the international community accepts it. Still, it lies within the realm of possibilities.

This path goes to the absence of the possibility of realizing India’s expansionist dreams and achieving the “undivided India” model, depending on the surrounding international circumstances and international agreements that establish the right of all countries to sovereignty over their lands, and the possibility of intervention to ward off any attack that would threaten the stability of states. Or global stability, in addition to the association of most countries with bilateral and multilateral agreements and partnerships in the defense, security and other fields. This scenario is likely; The rapid developments taking place in the world can cement other forms of cooperation and partnerships, such as alliances and economic groups as an alternative to colonialism and conquest; As the countries that India wants to include enjoy a high level of armaments and strength in several areas, and therefore, it is difficult to navigate them.

The Second Path: Abandoning historical illusions and moving forward

This path goes to impossibility of realising India’s expansionist dreams and achieving the “undivided India” model, dependent on the surrounding international circumstances and international agreements that establish the right of all countries to sovereignty over their lands, and the possibility of intervention to ward off any attack that would threaten the stability of states, or global stability. In addition to the association of most countries with bilateral and multilateral agreements and partnerships in the defense, security and other fields.

This scenario is likely. The rapid developments taking place in the world can cement other forms of cooperation and partnerships, such as alliances and economic groups as an alternative to expansionism and conquest. Countries that India wants to include already enjoy a high level of armaments and strength in several areas, and therefore, rendering India’s ambitions obsolete.

The Third Path: Maintaining the status-quo

This path is considered likely in the event that countries that adopt national ideologies, based on historical illusions, emerge as a result of events and changes related to wars. Or through other events that makes it necessary for a group of countries to live under the umbrella or guardianship of a mother state, continue to keep these projects in Its current theoretical form is not verifiable due to current developments and conditions.

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