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Slogans don’t make for nationalism or anti-nationalism, says Romila Thapar

In her new book 'On Nationalism', eminent historian Romila Thapar suggests that concepts of nations based on a single exclusive identity are actually pseudo-nationalisms.

By: PTI | New Delhi |
Updated: July 29, 2016 2:27:34 pm
romila thapar, romila thapar on nationalism, romila thapar latest book, on nationalism romila thapar, nationalistic slogans, slogans on nationalism romila thapar, india news, latest news Romila Thapar said nationalism requires a far greater commitment to attending to the needs of the nation rather than sloganeering. (Express Photo by Anil Sharma)

Nationalism cannot be reduced merely to waving flags, shouting slogans or penalising people for not uttering ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, it requires a far greater commitment to attending to the needs of the nation, says eminent historian Romila Thapar. Sloganeering or flag waving smack of a lack of confidence among those making the demand for slogans, she writes in a new book ‘On Nationalism’, a compilation of three essays by Thapar, lawyer AG Noorani and cultural commentator Sadanand Menon published by Aleph Book Company.

“Nationalism had, and has, much to do with understanding one’s society and finding one’s identity as a member of that society. It cannot be reduced merely to waving flags and shouting slogans and penalising people for not shouting slogans like harat Mata ki Jai’. This smacks of a lack of confidence among those making the demand for slogans,” she says. “Nationalism requires a far greater commitment to attending to the needs of the nation rather than sloganeering, and that too with slogans focusing on territory or ones that have a limited acceptability.

“As was recently said, it is indeed ironic that an Indian who refuses to shout this slogan is immediately declared as anti-national, but an Indian who has deliberately not paid his taxes or stashed away black money is not declared as such,” she argues. According to Thapar, the question of what is national and what is anti-national does depend on what is understood by nationalism.

“A commitment to the nation if it encourages concern for and an ethical attitude towards other citizens of the same nation is always commended. However, this should not be expressed by vicious hostility towards neighbouring nations as also happens. “Hostility, in particular situations, has to be tempered with reason and this is one difference between good governance and bad. Nationalism, therefore, cannot be without its limits and the limits have to be carefully worked out,” she writes.

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Thapar suggests that concepts of nations based on a single exclusive identity – religious, linguistic, ethnic and similar single identities – are actually pseudo-nationalisms and should be precluded from being called nationalism, without the accompanying qualifier of their identity. According to her, history in India has become the arena of struggle between the secular nationalists and those endorsing varieties of religious or pseudo-nationalisms.

“Nationalist historical writing visualised history as supportive of the interlinking of the communities that constituted Indian society. Occasionally there were deviations from this when a particular religious community was given greater centrality than was appropriate to a nationalist perspective.

“… As a contrast to this is the ‘history’ as written by the RSS and Hindutva ideologues for whom the past has only to do with Hindu history of the early period and the victimization of Hindus under Muslim tyranny in the medieval period. They speak of Hindus being enslaved for a thousand years by Muslim rule, but do not pause for a moment to give thought to at least two facts,” Thapar writes.


One of the fact, she says, is that “caste Hindus victimised the lower castes, Dalits and Adivasis for 2,000 or more years, and most caste Hindus, with a few exceptions, regarded it as quite legitimate. Some continue to do so. Secondly, that some of the more powerful propagation of Hindu religious sects dates to the last thousand years – such as the Bhakti and Tantric traditions in northern India -and these characterise the kind of Hinduism that is practised by the larger number of people currently called Hindu in the census reports.”

Thapar also claims that “Hindutva, the brand of Hinduism propagated by Hindu religious nationalists, is by definition not identical with Hinduism”.

“As has been pointed out by many, whereas Hinduism is a religion, Hindutva is an ideology for political mobilisation. I have elsewhere referred to Hindutva as Syndicated Hinduism. It draws on the Judeo-Christian religions in terms of hierarchical organizations and attempts to have a creed of belief, which is why some prefer to describe it as the semitisation of Hinduism. Up to a point, the difference can be demonstrated in the relationship of Hindutva to Hinduism.


“Hinduism is a mosaic of belief systems, some linked, others not. Hindutva has the characteristics of a sect that reformulates selected beliefs to create, in this case, a socio-political organization with an attempt at ideological coherence. This is why it contests ideas that either question its ideology or allow it to be modified or adapted. Its political function is primary,” she argues.

Thapar also says that the “need to resort to threats, violence and vandalism by some groups of the Sangh Parivar that claim to be guided by Hindutva ideas remains inexplicable since the majority community in whose name they function is overwhelmingly large in numbers”.

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First published on: 29-07-2016 at 02:19:20 pm
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