‘In­dian na­tion­al­ism is in­clu­sive’

India Today - - UPFRONT - —Shougat Dasgupta

Per­haps, in the cur­rent na­tional cli­mate, read­ers will roll their eyes at an an­thol­ogy ti­tled In­dian Na­tion­al­ism, The Es­sen­tial Writ­ings, edited by the Ali­garh Mus­lim Univer­sity his­to­rian Ir­fan Habib. They know where he stands. His Wikipedia en­try, pe­cu­liarly (and in­ac­cu­rately), de­scribes him as “be­ing well known for his strong stance against Hin­duism”. What Habib is against, he says on the phone, sounding a touch weary him­self, is the na­tion­al­ism of the mo­ment—the stri­dent, showy ‘Bharat mata’ wor­ship and cul­tural bul­ly­ing of the saf­fron masses.

It is “un-In­dian”, he says, prop­a­gated “by peo­ple who be­lieve in slo­ga­neer­ing, who speak with­out read­ing or un­der­stand­ing our past, who cherry-pick from his­tory to jus­tify or vin­di­cate present­day pol­i­tics”. Habib con­ceived, with his pub­lish­ers, of the an­thol­ogy al­most as a cor­rec­tive, “to put the evo­lu­tion of In­dian na­tion­al­ism in per­spec­tive, to show how our found­ing fa­thers ar­rived at an in­clu­sive na­tion­al­ism.”

The RSS, Habib says, was in­ci­den­tal to nation-build­ing, to the con­struc­tion of In­dia and the val­ues it would seek to rep­re­sent. “They ques­tioned those val­ues, chal­lenged them since the 1920s,” he ar­gues. “Anant Kumar Hegde,” he adds, “a min­is­ter in this gov­ern­ment, let the cat out of the bag” by say­ing that the BJP had come into power to change the Con­sti­tu­tion to re­flect the stated RSS de­sire for a “Hindu rash­tra”. We should see straight through the dou­ble­s­peak of BJP fig­ure­heads like Yogi Adityanath and Naren­dra Modi him­self, pre­tend­ing to talk about de­vel­op­ment while stok­ing ha­tred, but the na­tional con­ver­sa­tion has been vi­ti­ated. This present phase, then, is a lit­eral re­gres­sion, a re­turn to a mori­bund idea, a scabrous na­tion­al­ism, he says, “that is built on divi­sion and ex­clu­sion and is be­ing pushed by the state.” Pak­istan is the Mus­lim ex­pres­sion of such a nar­row na­tion­al­ism, Habib points out. In­dia was meant to be its op­po­site.

“I have de­lib­er­ately avoided,” he writes, “in­clud­ing Veer Savarkar and Guru Gol­walkar here as pro­po­nents of Hindu na­tion­al­ism.” It is the grand, com­pli­cated think­ing on dis­play in this vol­ume though—from Bipin Chan­dra Pal to Jayaprakas­h Narayan, via Tagore, Gandhi, Nehru, Ambed­kar et al—that has fallen out of favour.

Habib holds lit­tle hope for the re­cov­ery of the Left, leav­ing “sec­u­lar, lib­eral pol­i­tics” to a tainted Congress. In­deed, the words ‘sec­u­lar’ and ‘lib­eral’ have been turned into slurs—Nehru­vian bien pen­sants who don’t have the courage of their con­vic­tions. But if anti-na­tional is the cur­rent ep­i­thet of choice, those who be­lieve in In­dia’s sec­u­lar Con­sti­tu­tion, Habib as­serts, should wear the in­sult as a gar­land.

In­dian Na­tion­al­ism: The Es­sen­tial Writ­ings Edited by S. Ir­fan Habib Aleph Book Com­pany

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