A Country – What Does It Mean?

A Country – What Does It Mean?

We have a world, divided into numerous countries, nations or states, as you may call it; however, the three terms, although used synonymously, are different. A country is the geographical land; a nation is the people residing on that land while a state is the government of that land.

If you ever get a question asking, “How many countries exist in this world today?” What would be your answer? Unfortunately, here the answer may differ person to person because it all depends on what exactly do you consider as a country. Many states do not recognize Israel, Abkhazia, Kosovo, etc. and hence, their count may differ. We currently have 193 members in the United Nations, however there are a few sovereign nations like The Holy See and many claimed-to-be sovereign nations like Somaliland which are not UN members, and hence, this answer also stands inaccurate.

So what is a sovereign nation? A nation which manages its internal and external affairs without the intervention of any foreign body can be called as a sovereign state. Thus, this definition excludes protectorates, autonomous regions and dependencies.

Going apart from this legality, the form of nations that exist today wasn’t the same a few centuries ago. Then, the word ‘kingdom’ or ‘empire’ was more suitable. Have you ever heard anything like the ‘nation of Mughals’? No, because the word ‘nation’ first came into existence with the formation of nation-states. A nation state is essentially a state that controls an ethnic group of people, has a well-defined territory and (usually) has a Constitution of its own and a well-formed government.

In the earlier periods, what we had was kingdoms and empires. An empire was essentially a large kingdom. The son of the king used to inherit the throne, and when the king grew wild enough, the entire dynasty used to be replaced by a new one, taken over by another kingdom, or would split into several small kingdoms. Neither did they have a well-defined territory, their territorial area was highly variable as constant fights between neighbouring kingdoms were frequent and usually nobody shared peaceful relations. The focus of the state was more on expanding its frontiers rather than increasing the standard of living of its people.

In a first in the medieval world, this autocracy of dynasties was ousted in the French Revolution, which led to the concept of a nation state. England divided its government into the judiciary, legislature and executive which became the ground for many modern governments including that of the Republic of India. The formation of America in 1776 further strengthened these modern concepts. However, it was only in Europe that the word ‘nation’ first came into existence.

The story of formation of different nations is different, some of which are highly unique. Some nations were formed by proclaiming themselves as nation states, as those in Europe; some nations like Liberia were specially created for the people of a certain community to stay; some of the nations like Russia and Kazakhstan broke away from past larger nations. Some of the nations like South Sudan were created as a result of referendums; such stories can be told about each and every nation in the world, hence there is no point in describing each story in detail to increase the length of this already long article!

Coming over to India, it was regarded only as a region of Hindus which used to lie to the east of river Indus, from which India derived its name and to the west of the Eastern Himalayas. Once upon a time there existed the Harappan and the Vedic civilization, which were the base stones for a modern India. We then had rulers like Chandragupta Maurya, Ashoka and the legendary Bharata, from whom Bharat (India) derived its name. We then had numerous rulers ruling our state and various small kingdoms too. Soon, the British East India Company took over the control of most of the parts, which was handed over to the British Parliament in 1858. The British didn’t have full control over the entire Indian ‘region’; many of the princely states were only under their suzerainty. The modern India was formed by the division of British India into India and Pakistan and as a union of these princely states with the Dominion of India, then in 1947; else, we would have had more than 565 states today in South Asia, which is almost thrice larger than the total number of states existing today!

The extent of Ashoka’s empire (pic from Wikipedia)

Thus, the formation of any nation hasn’t been as easy as cutting a cake. There has been a loss of lives of more than a billion people by now in wars, crimes, genocides, etc. Many people have voluntarily shed their blood for creating their dream states. Hence, a nation or a country is not merely a concept of geopolitical fiction; it involves the people, their thoughts, their ideas, their creativity, their intellect. Hence, as the citizens of a nation, it’s our responsibility to take it ahead as the sun shines!