Lord Meghnad Desai On The Shortcomings of Hindu Nationalism


In an excerpt from his essay from the book Making Sense of Modi’s India, Lord Meghnad Desai, Chairman, Meghnad Desai Academy of Economics, speaks about the fallacies in the idea of Hindu Nationalism that the Modi government swears by. Here is an attempt to condense his article into 5 important points.

1. Who is a foreigner and who is a native?

The British were clearly foreigners. They came when they had a job to do and never settled in India or “colonised” it as they did Rhodesia or Australia. Muslims emperors, on the other hand, did not go back and made India their home. This creates a problem for the idea of Hindu nationalism. For him, the fact that they have been here for 1,200 years does not make them natives of India. They shall forever remain alien.

2. If the Aryans are foreigners, won’t Hinduism become a foreign religion?

What about the Aryans? Did the Aryans also not come from central Europe or the Arctic, as Tilak argued? To say that the Aryans are foreigners would make Hinduism a foreign religion. The aborigines – tribals – would then be the only true natives, as some Dalit scholars have argued. That is why Hindu nationalists deny foreign origin of the Aryans.

3. It took 1000 years for Buddhism to leave Brahmanism’s shadow.

It took a thousand-year struggle between Buddhism and Brahmanism before the latter could declare a complete victory. India became a Hindu nation about the time the Adi Shankaracharya debated and defeated the Buddhists. The Hindu nationalist strategy is to deny any conflict between Buddhism and Brahmanism and claim that Buddha was an avatar of Vishnu. This assertion is not found till the seventh century CE in the Puranas, by which time Buddhism was on its way out. Hinduism is not enough to define India as a Hindu nation throughout its history.

4. Nationalists adopted Sarvarkar’s notion of Hindutva, but not his secular doctrine.

Savarkar tried to square this circle in his essay on Hindutva. He was a modernist and not a devotee of religion. His Hindutva is not tied to Hinduism. It says that anyone born in the land of the Indus – Sindhu – is a Hindu and part of Hindutva. There is a subtext that Hindus are more so than Muslims. But Muslims can belong to Hindutva if they are loyal to the land of their birth. Subsequent Hindu nationalists have adopted the notion of Hindutva but not Savarkar’s secular doctrine.

5. The entire nation didn’t really ‘suffer’ from Muslim rule. 

South India has a very different history about Muslim immigrants from that of north India. Nor did it “suffer” from Muslim rule till very late when Aurangzeb went to the south in the late seventeenth century. Hindu kingdoms were coexistent with Muslim ones in the south but that happened only in the middle of the second millennium. The whole idea of “1,200 years of slavery” is spurious. Assam was never conquered by any Muslim power.

And finally, Lord Desai lays the bottomline with this line about true secularism and democracy.

Lord Desai on Hindu Nationalism

You can read the entire excerpt here.