The term 'National Integration' has two words: nation and integration. A nation is a country with a unified socio-economic and political structure. It denotes a body of people who have a feeling of oneness, built on the basis of common history, society, culture and values. This feeling of oneness binds the people together in to a nation. In general terms it is this feeling which is known as national integration.
National integration is the awareness of a common identity among the citizens of a country. It means that though the individuals belong to different communities, castes, religions, cultures and regions and speak different languages, all of them recognise the fact that they are one. This kind of integration is very important in the building of a strong and prosperous nation.
India is a nation having great diversities. The people who inhabit this nation belong to different races, communities and castes. They reside in different geographical regions and speak different languages. They believe in and practice different religions and have varied life styles. But with all these diversities, they all are Indians and they feel like that.
They may have many religious identities such as Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, or Zoroastrians. They may also be identified as Punjabis, Tamils, Malayalis, Bengalis, Manipuri, and so on, or South or North or North-East Indians. But their national identity is supreme.
National integration is essential for any nation with socio-cultural, religious, linguistic and geographical diversities. For a country like India, it is still more necessary. India is a very large country with the second largest population in the world. A unique feature is that all the major religions of the world are practised here such as Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, and Zoroastrianism.
There are more than one thousand languages that people of India speak. There are also great varieties in costume, food habits, and social customs. Geographically, Indian land is diverse and there are amazing differences in climate. Despite all these differences India is one political entity. This is possible only when national integration is realised in true sense of the term. National integration is necessary also for the security and development of the nation.
India existed even in ancient times. But then it had been only a geographical entity, because it was divided into a large number of princely states. There were cultural similarities in those states, but it was not one united and integrated nation like it is today. It was for the first time during the British rule that India became administratively united.
The British rulers annexed several princely states and established indirect rule on others. India became one geographical entity, but the feeling and sentiments of nationhood was not present among the people. The major strategy of the British rulers was based on ‘divide and rule’. They promoted communal division, especially among Hindus and Muslims. Their neglect of economic development of the people created many divides in the country.
It was during the national freedom movement that the feelings and sentiments of nationhood emerged and the need for national integration was realised. During that movement people belonging to different regions, religions, cultures, communities, castes and creeds joined hands to drive out the British power from the soil of India.
Especially under the banner of the Indian National Congress, established in 1885 people from all the sections came together and compelled the British rulers to quit India. Since the British rulers had adopted the policy of ‘divide and rule’, the freedom movement was focused on forging unity in the people of the country. The leadership of the movement laid emphasis on equality, liberty, secularism, socio-economic development. When India became independent all these formed the main objectives of the new nation.
When India got independence on 15 August 1947, the country was faced with many problems. The national integration faced great challenges. The partition of the country created two nations, India and Pakistan. The partition caused the worst kind of communal violence. A large number of people who were living in an area for generations had to move to the other area as refugees.
Besides, the Indian political leaders were faced with complex issues related to integration of Princely States. There were other factors also that had the potential to generate problems for the unity of the country.
On the eve of independence, India was divided into two sets of territories - the first was the territory known as the British India, on which the British rulers had direct control, and the second being 562 independent Princely States, having indirect control of the British government. When independence was declared, Princely States were given the option to join either of the two nations, India or Pakistan. A few Princely States joined Pakistan, but the rest merged with India. However, there were exceptions like Hyderabad, Jammu and Kashmir, and Junagadh, who wished to remain independent. There were problems with States of Manipur and Tripura also.
The Constitution of India lays great emphasis on national integration. Its Preamble includes unity and integrity of the nation as a major objective. It also stipulates that every citizen has the fundamental duty to uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India. The Constitution reflects respect for diversity of the country, but it tries to ensure that the unity and integrity is maintained. Which is why, it has made provisions for a centralised federation and opted for a strong central government.