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A notion-state

To qualify as a nation, one actually requires only one thing: the desire to be a nation.

india Updated: Nov 30, 2006 00:27 IST

What is a Nation-State? If one goes by the once popular notion of a country being an ‘imagined community’ — language or customs or beliefs or borders being the ‘imagined’ glue for people — then India, with its vast differences among its people, is an oddity. So in a way, to qualify as a nation, one actually requires only one thing: the desire to be a nation. The desire for many people of the Canadian province of Quebec has been quite strong for some time now.

Part of New France until 1760, Francophone Quebec became part of the bigger English-speaking Canada when the latter was formed in 1867. Two referendums, in 1980 and in 1995, put this question to Quebecois: do you want to be a nation distinct from Canada? In both cases, the people voted against a separate nationhood. This week, however, an initiative by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to declare Quebecois as a nation within a united Canada was endorsed by the Canadian House of Commons. On first glance, it seems that Mr Harper is suggesting that Quebec be allowed to break away from Canada.

A more careful look reveals that the motion refers to the people of Quebec and not to the province. A nifty move, if one considers that Mr Harper is trying to make inroads into the hearts and minds of Quebecous before expected parliamentary elections next year. By supporting the existence of a “nation [of people] within a united Canada” he could undercut the support of separatists as well as those in favour of a one, united Canada. Wonder whether this strategy could work in places like Kashmir.