In common parlance, the words ‘nation’ and ‘state’ are used interchangeably. According to the actual definition of these terms, there are differences. The political meaning of State means a country, whereas states could also refer to a collection of districts that are a part of a country. To distinguish between the two meanings, the first letter is capitalised when the word State is used to denote a country.
The word ‘nation’ comes from the Latin word natio, which means a set of people. The word ‘State’ has been derived from the word status, which refers to position or condition.
A State exists within defined boundaries which are internationally recognised, even if there are disputes. ‘Nation’ may be used to refer to a religious or ethnic group of people. Before the formation of Israel, Jews living in various parts of the world were called the Jewish nation. The original inhabitants of North America are called First Nations in Canada.
The definition of statehood includes self- government, or sovereignty. When India was under British rule, it was a nation. After it gained independence, it could be called a State.
All States have a governing body which is responsible for the people who live within its boundaries. The political structure may differ. These may be broadly classified as monarchies, democracies or dictatorships. Nations may have leaders, but authority is assigned by popular consensus rather than political process. The government of a State is responsible for maintaining law and order, and providing public facilities. It also endeavours to protect its inhabitants from attacks by other States. The leadership of a nation may or may not undertake these responsibilities.
Citizens of a State are entitled to certain privileges which are usually defined by the government. These vary from free education to subsidised facilities like electricity and water supply. Public transport is also the responsibility of the State. Nations also may provide privileges. People of the First Nations support each other in matters relating to jobs or when facing discrimination. The difference is that it is incumbent on the State to give its citizens the benefits that have been promised.
People belonging to a nation have some ties, which may be spiritual, social or psychological. Citizens residing within the boundaries of a State need not have anything in common with each other. In many populous States, there are major differences among the people regarding religion, food habits and traditions. On the other hand, people belonging to the Jewish nation or the Arab nation share religious beliefs and heritage. Their social and cultural traditions are likely to be similar. Before World War I, the nations of Austria and Hungary shared a State.
7. Economic activity
One of the responsibilities of the State is finance. Taxes are collected; public expenditure is budgeted, executed and audited. Trade is regulated, both within and beyond its boundaries. The government of a State is the final authority in economic affairs. Even countries which permit free market conditions are ultimately responsible for the economic conditions prevailing there. People within a nation may have trading or other economic activities among their own communities, but these are subject to the rules and regulations governing that place.
8. Diplomatic relations
The government of a State hosts embassies and consulates of other States within its boundaries. It also maintains embassies and consulates of its own in other countries. Embassies and consulates do not come under the jurisdiction of its host country. Every State is responsible for its own diplomatic corps. Nations may send representatives to other countries, but these would not be conferred with the same position as ambassadors.
9. International recognition
This is a grey area in the international community. When the United Nations was formed, it did not include Communist China, though this country fulfilled all the conditions of statehood. The reasons were ideological. Now, the Taipei government no longer enjoys its earlier status. Tibet is no longer a sovereign state, but enjoys popular support from people around the world.
New states evolve and others lose their sovereignty. Cases in point are Poland, Bangla Desh and Estonia. Statehood is based on geo-political factors. Nations evolve from the communities that people them, and are permanent.