We have argued elsewhere that the fact that India was spiritually united by the great religions of this land - often together called Hinduism - does not mean that India was politically united. Spiritual unity often exists without political unity. In fact, a lot more often than the cases where they actually do co-exist. While it is obvious that India is predominantly a Hindu country (entirely so as you dig more and more into history), it is not true that Indians felt anything resembling "Indianness" or Bharatiyate in India's history. At best, they felt like Kannadigas or Tamils or Telugus or Bengalis.
In this post, we show how M.S. Golwalkar (RSS) and M.K. Gandhi (Congress) both implicitly assumed that spiritual unity is equivalent to political unity, and thus were both wrong in this respect.
M.S. Golwalkar could never tire of pointing out, incorrectly, that India was one "Nation" before the British. Of course, he gives examples of India's spirituality to drive home his point, often inventing new terms such as "national life" and claiming that Bharat was one nation from time immemorial. Here's an excerpt from his "Bunch of Thoughts" where he displays his implicit assumption that spiritual unity is equal to political unity. It is due to such irrational ideologies that the RSS and the BJP are even to this date against a federal structure in India (more on that here).
The national life of Bharat is an ancient one. The social life here has been woven round a cultural tradition imbued with common life-ideals stemming out of a common comprehensive life-philosophy. This has been a living tradition since ages, well before the Islamic and Christian invaders stepped on this soil. The thread of inherent unity has never snapped in spite of apparent distinctions and dissensions among castes, creeds, sects and even political kingdoms. The human group, which has been expressing this unified current of life has been popularly known as the "Hindu". The national life in Bharat is therefore the Hindu National Life.
In this aspect, Golwalkar is no different from Gandhi who also saw Hinduism as the basis of India's nationhood, although Gandhi did not use the word "Hindu" in the same fashion as Golwalkar. When asked to explain why he thinks India was one nation before the British, Gandhi replies in Hind Swaraj, first published in 1938:
I do not wish to suggest that because we were one nation we had no differences,but it is submitted that our leading men travelled thoughout India either or foot or in bullockcarts. They learned one another’s languages and there was no aloofness between them. What do you think could have been the intention of those farseeing ancestors of ours who established Setubandha (Rameshwar) in the South, Jagannath in the East and Hardwar in the North as places of pilgrimage? You will admit they were no fools. They knew that worship of God could have been performed just as well at home. They taught us that those whose hearts were aglow with righteousness had the Ganges in their own homes. But they saw that India was one undivided land so made by nature. They, therefore, argued that it must be one nation. Arguing thus, they established holy places in various parts of India, and fired the people with an idea of nationality in a manner unknown in other parts of the world.
Clearly, the basis of Indian nationalism as envisaged by Gandhi was also Hinduism - for the examples he quotes (and the ones he hasn't quoted, too!) are obviously Hindu examples.
Thus, both Gandhi and Golwalkar had the same misconception - that a spiritual unity simply meant a political unity. Not so. Not so at all. Kingdoms which worshipped the very same Gods and Goddesses, kingdoms which gave patronage to the very same Vedic learning fought on the political battlefield. Mayurasharma, a Kannadiga Brahmana who went to Kanchi to study the Vedas ended up giving up that study in favour of founding the Kadamba dynasty to avenge illtreatment by a guard of the Tamil Pallava dynasty at Kanchi. History is abound with examples where religion / spirituality does not automatically bring about a feeling of "one nation". Kannadigas never felt like "Indians" when Harshavardhana came attacking when the Chalukyas were ruling this blessed land. Nor did that "Indianness" get born when Pulakeshi defeated Harshavardhana.
This is the truth which both Gandhi and Golwalkar failed to see. This is the truth that we cannot afford to neglect, since the political unity of India today cannot rest on a historical political unity which Gandhi or Golwalkar fantasized about. The political unity of India rests on a true federal system of government - something which the Indian constitution is not opposed to in principle, but doesn't have the guts to explicitly admit - since both the BJP and the Congress never understood India's political history. It's time they understood. It's time they admitted old mistakes and moved on. There's more to India than Gandhi and Golwalkar. India must go on inspite of the follies of its finest men.