On Nationalism

Nationalism cannot be reduced merely to waving flags, shouting slogans and penalising people for not chanting ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, writes Romila Thapar in a new book.
In the latest book ‘On Nationalism’, Thapar along with two others legal expert A G Noorani and culture critic Sadanand Menon try to define one of the hotly contested ideas of the times.
Thapar, in her article, says that nationalism had 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 penalizing people for not shouting slogans like ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’. This smacks of a lack of confidence among those making the demand for slogans,” she writes.
“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 goes on to say.
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Her remarks come against the backdrop of demands in the recent past by right-wing Hindutva groups on chanting ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ and discourse of nationalism following the incidents in Jawaharlal Nehru University and Hyderabad Central University.
She also questioned demands to declare religious texts as national books and referred to demands for declaring ‘Bhagavad Gita’. Thapar believes that it would lead to further demands in a multi-religious state to declare Quran, Bible and other sacred texts as national books.
“Would the secular nature of Indian democracy then be tied to a library of religious books? Surely, they can be taught in school not as ‘national’ books but as the respected texts of various religions, which, in effect, is what they are,” Thapar writes.
Arguing that nationalism “cannot be without its limits and the limits have to be carefully worked out”, Thapar reminds that one’s commitment to the nation should not be expressed by “vicious hostility” towards neighbouring nations.
(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on July 10, 2016)
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