Asianisms, that is, discourses and ideologies claiming that Asia can be defined and understood as a homogenous space with shared and clearly defined characteristics, have become the subject of increased scholarly attention over the last two decades. The focal points of interest, however, are generally East Asian varieties of regionalism. That “the cult of Asianism” has played an important role on the Indian subcontinent, too—as is evident from the quote above—is less understood. Aside from two descriptive monographs dating back to the 1970s, there has been relatively little scholarly engagement with this phenomenon. In this article, we would like to offer an overview of several distinct concepts of Asia and pan-Asian designs, which featured prominently in both political and civil society debates in India during the struggle for Independence. Considering the abundance of initiatives for Asian unification, and, in a more abstract sense, discourses on Asian identity, what follows here is necessarily a selection of discourses, three of which will be subjected to critical analysis, with the following questions in mind:
• What were the concrete motives of regional—in this case Indian—actors to appropriate the concept of Asianism? Is the popularity of supranational frames of reference solely to be explained as an affirmation of a distinctive identity vis-à-vis the imagined powerful West, or are there other motives to be found?
• What were the results of these processes of appropriation, and how were these manifested politically and culturally?
• What tensions resulted from the simultaneous existence of various nationalisms in Asia on the one hand and macro-nationalistic pan-Asianism on the other?