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India's Unity in Diversity as a Question of Historical Perspective

In the debate about political unity and cultural diversity in India, the representation of the past often was (and is) the main battlefield. While secularists invoke the Indian tradition of toleration thus pleading for a multicultural India, communalists point to the long experience of religious strife and conclude the necessity of territorial demarcation. Some post-colonial critics even view the very reliance on history as the basic problem. The frequent instances of violence against minorities in connection with disputes over the past give cause to reconsider the role of history in the emergence of the nation state in India. Those obsessed with origin in their idea of the nation assume no perspective of change that would allow heterogeneous elements to merge. Secularists often bring into play only a singular, particular perspective, in which other possible perspectives are neglected. By inserting both the unifying model of the nation state and the diversity of cultural and social forms of life into an overarching perspective of temporal change, a modern form of unity can be accomplished that may be called unity in diversity.

India’s Unity in Diversity as a Question of Historical Perspective

In the debate about political unity and cultural diversity in India, the representation of the past often was (and is) the main battlefield. While secularists invoke the Indian tradition of toleration thus pleading for a multicultural India, communalists point to the long experience of religious strife and conclude the necessity of territorial demarcation. Some post-colonial critics even view the very reliance on history as the basic problem. The frequent instances of violence against minorities in connection with disputes over the past give cause to reconsider the role of history in the emergence of the nation state in India. Those obsessed with origin in their idea of the nation assume no perspective of change that would allow heterogeneous elements to merge. Secularists often bring into play only a singular, particular perspective, in which other possible perspectives are neglected. By inserting both the unifying model of the nation state and the diversity of cultural and social forms of life into an overarching perspective of temporal change, a modern form of unity can be accomplished that may be called unity in diversity.



ew things in the debate about national unity and cultural diversity in India carry as much weight as the interpretation and representation of the past. Secular-minded politicians and intellectuals who subscribe to the formula “unity in diversity”, as a guiding principle of state policy, rely to a great extent on the historical experience that people of different cultures and ethnic origins coexisted in the subcontinent over many centuries and possessed a common idea of India. Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) viewed the acknowledgement of the other as characteristic of Indian society: “The whole history of India was witness of the toleration and even encouragement of minorities and of different racial groups”.1 This was to demonstrate that the modern, secular state and the concept of national unity as transcending the boundaries of religious communities were in line with Indian tradition.

However, the advocates of the various forms of communalism (whether in its Muslim, Hindu or other variant) who identify the nation with the respective community and pretend to defend its particularity against alienation or extinction see themselves confirmed by history too. Communalists relate to the many instances of conflict between the communities that, in their eyes, testify to the existence of different nations in India that ought to be acknowledged through territorial demarcation. Thus, the leader of the Muslim League, Mohammed Ali Jinnah (18761948), when asking for a separate state of south Asian Muslims, referred to thousand years of living in the same country during which Muslims and Hindus had achieved no unity.2 And the ideologues of Hindu nationalism, on their part, pointed to the long experience of suffering from the hands of Muslim invaders and rulers which made the relation between the religious communities appear as one of enmity.3

That the records of the past are read in differing ways is nothing unusual. This is due to the respective standpoints and norms as well as basic assumptions about continuity and change that affect the selection and interpretation of sources. Due to current interests and future perspectives, historians focus on certain occurrences and, with regard to the same facts, highlight different aspects and details. Depending on whether one aims at a homogeneous nation or a culturally open India, past practices and occurrences appear in a different light. Thus, while the conflicts between Hindus and Muslims are viewed as national or ethnic by some, others trace them back primarily to social causes.

The struggle about the past and its representation is part of the process of self-understanding in a society. Nevertheless, there are rules with the help of which the empirical validity of statements and assertions can be checked. And the standpoints can be reflected on, perspectives be brought into relation with other perspectives by way of argumentation. This makes the diversity of approaches to the past a factor of cognitive progress, ultimately, and history, for its part, becomes a means of control in the dispute about political options. It is an open question, however, whether the critical reflection of one’s own views and standpoints and the free exchange of opinions and arguments about possible futures is desired at all when one refers to the past, or whether one rather expects from historiography the narrative account of what is simply regarded as given in order to justify and reinforce present intentions.

As it seems, in the row over secularism and communalism in India, there prevails the latter form of the use of history. Instead of opening up options for the future in the light of past experience, the past is used mainly in support of strategies that are not supposed to be open to alternatives at all. History is referred to as something fixed, the correctness of its reconstruction is meant to provide the respective political intention or decision with objective reasons beyond all partisanship. The Indian experience – was it one of continuous conflict or one of peaceful coexistence between cultures? The answer to this question seemed to decide about the character of the post-colonial state. This applies not only to the communalists’ demand for strict demarcation, but also to the secularists’ plea for a multicultural state. On both sides, the debate over the identity of the Indian nation took on the form of one over the right or wrong interpretation of the past; different possibilities of perception were not easily conceded, competing interpretations were seen in general as politically motivated distortions.

Notwithstanding the reference to results of research, the contest over the interpretation of Indian history is fought out not only with arguments. Often, physical violence is involved in the attempts to correct what is held to be a false view of the past. A case in point is the attack on the Babri mosque at Ayodhya that, against the opinion of most historians, was said to have been built in the 16th century at the site of a former Hindu temple, destroyed by Muslims, so that it had to be regarded as a symbol of historical wrong. In December 1992, at the end of a long campaign of agitation, ‘kar sevaks’ from all over India arrived at the city of Ram and tore down the mosque. As a result, clashes between Hindus and Muslims occurred in many parts of the country.

Professional historians have tried to counter the propagandistic and inciting use of the past with detailed information about the facts. Post-colonial critics, however, sometimes conclude from the recurrent instances of genocidal violence that it is not just a specific representation of the past, but the concept of history as such (and in particular the academic discipline with its claim to exactness) which comes in the way of mutual understanding between the cultures. People of pre-colonial times who lived in the tradition of mythical thinking, according to them, had been more tolerant in their approach to the other than the moderns guided by the results of scientific research. Regarding the mosque and temple issues of Ayodhya, Vinay Lal observes, “how far the two parties to the dispute converge, rather than (as one had thought) diverge, in their views”.4 Even a secular historian like Sumit Sarkar notes a “rather exceptional” obsession with history among communalists and “the prioritisation of history as prime target”. Whenever and wherever the Sangh parivar (the “family” of Hindu nationalist groups) are in power, they try “to bring history and historians under their control”. But instead of blaming history as such for communal violence, Sarkar points to the “insistence on a homogenised, unitary, and aggressive Hindu bloc that demands the imposition of a specific kind of history”. And he seeks to know: “what underlies such insistence, whose interests and values are being voiced through the project of tight community-unity?”5


The frequent instances of violence against minorities in connection with disputes over the past give cause to reconsider the role of history in the emergence of the nation state in India and to examine its capacity to mediate between unity and diversity. The assessment of achievements and problems of historical selfassurance, however, should not be impeded or made more difficult right from the beginning by contrasting the conflicts of modern society with an allegedly non-violent dealing with difference in traditional communities.6 Suppression of diversity is not inevitable in historically oriented societies, nor are non-historical societies per se without forms of violence in their way of evaluating traditions and selecting them for continuation. In pre-modern times too, the establishment of a particular culture or way of life generally was accompanied by the subordination or marginalisation of other world views and practices. “However, the emergence of a pre-modern state may have occurred in detail: it had been formed over others”.7 Unity, in corporative and hierarchical social orders, is based on the inequality of its constituents.8

Against the backdrop of self-evident inequality in pre-modern communities, often legitimised by religion, the modern nation, as it evolved historically in the west, was an attempt to create new forms of community that were based on egalitarian relations among its members. This generally occurred in the context of social struggles in which underprivileged classes sought to enforce their claim to emancipation. The process was accompanied and sustained by the growing conviction that the political community was not pre-given but brought about by the actors themselves. Older feelings of loyalty were complemented or replaced by forms of explicit consent.9 The inner cohesion of the nation emanated from the citizens’ voluntary self-obligation to common values. This form of unity did not exclude cultural diversity. Self was not fixed any more once and for all; it was changeable and also open to extension. In fact, the carriers of the idea of the nation who fought to improve social conditions disregarded confessional and cultural differences. Especially in the revolutionary nation states of North America and France, the declaration of basic rights contained many universalist elements. Anybody, whatever culture or religion he belonged to, could be or could become member of the nation, as long as he committed himself to the principles of the constitution and respected the law.

Certainly, there were and there are other variants of nationalism too. Many of the later nations followed the pioneering models but insisted on their own particularities as against the formers’ claim to universality. In comparison to and struggle with the classical models, in which national consciousness often was “charged with the quality of humanity”, they had little chances to correspond to the universal standards and, at the same time, remain true to their traditions.10 Thus, they sought, sometimes with considerable imaginative effort, to trace back the new community of the nation to early beginnings in history. Often the insistence on their particularity occurred in a way that neglected recent achievements like that of equality before the law and democratic participation.

Even in the pioneering nation states, the principle of unity being based on the consent of the subjects does not always mean that diversity was secured in reality. Here too the construction of the new political community often was accompanied by the notion of a common ethnic heritage and an unbroken cultural tradition.11 This makes the idea of the nation ambivalent in its consequences. Under the impact of social or political crises, even today and even in well-established democracies, certain political forces resort to theories of primordial community and postulate privileged belonging to the nation based on ethnic heritage. Then, in fact, origin myths easily are re-invented as national traditions12 and the erstwhile permeable or fuzzy boundaries between communities can develop into hard demarcations between majority and minorities.


The evolution of a variant of ethnic nationalism could be expected also in colonial countries where the national movements emerged under the impression of foreign domination and the threat to indigenous cultures and ways of life. Here, the idea of the nation was closely connected to the fight for the survival of a particular tradition in the face of western expansion and claim to a universal civilising mission. And in fact, the present tendencies towards ethnicisation in Indian nationalism take much of their persuasive power from the feeling of alienation that is still vivid in the collective memory. On the other hand, the contact with modern western ideas and institutions during the 19th century made the principle of universal equality, a powerful driving force for social reform in India, and it was also on the basis of this principle that members of all communities, castes and classes merged into a common struggle of resistance against colonial rule and fought for a sovereign nation state. The Constitution of the Indian union, which resulted from this struggle, was based on the equal participation of all citizens.

The reform movements, however, were not oriented towards the creation of a secular state right from the beginning. The ideas and activities of the Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj, Aligarh Movement, etc, remained largely within the boundaries of the respective religious community.13 It was the British rulers, who for a long time were seen as political guarantors of social and economic improvement, and they, on their part, knew how to take advantage from the reciprocal mistrust between Hindus and Muslims.14 It was only from the moment when the expectations towards modernisation nourished by the British began to be disappointed that a new idea of unity began to take shape among Indians. Historical and social studies played an important role in this process. In Dadabhai Naoroji’s investigations into the continuous drain of wealth from India to Britain,15 in Romesh Chunder Dutt’s description of the frequent famines in recent years as well as the destruction of the formerly flourishing trades and crafts, the Indians in their entirety were viewed as victims of colonial exploitation.16 The scientific analysis had repercussions in the political sphere. The attainment of reformist goals and economic development now depended on the overcoming of foreign rule and this required concerted action.

At stake was a political unity that had yet to be imagined. Even the name had to be considered.17It is significant for the conceptual openness that at this moment addressing the Indians as Hindus did not automatically mean the exclusion of followers of other religions. Thus, the poet and reformer Harishchandra of Benares (1850-1885) in a speech about the possibilities of progress in India appealed to an assembly of Hindu pilgrims: “Brother Hindus! You, too, should not insist any more on all details of religious faith and practice. Increase mutual love and chant this ‘mahamantra’. Who lives in Hindustan, whatever his colour and whatever his caste, he is a Hindu. Help the Hindus. Bengalis, Marathis, Panjabis, Madrasis, Vaidiks, Jains, Brahmos, Musalmans, all should join hands.”18

The idea of Indian unity-based on equal rights and participation as advanced by the more progressive among the early nationalists obviously was not undisputed. It was contested from quite different angles. On the one hand, there were the gatekeepers of the religious communities and custodians of tradition, who rejected the plea for religious reform as a threat to the ancient values. They sought to use the experience as victims of colonialism for the defence of the inherited order and play off the fear of alienation against the claims to social change. On the other hand, it was the British again, who claimed the political unity of India as their own achievement and not only denied Indians the capacity for concerted action but, if necessary, also sought to undermine it.

Both objections, however, only stimulated the interest in the past and urged historians to inquire into the origins of the Indian nation. Radha Kumud Mookerji presented a pioneering study with his book The Fundamental Unity of India (1914). Mookerji sought to demonstrate that the spread of religious and social institutions over the whole country had created a feeling of unity already among early Hindus. He pointed to the “network of shrines and sacred places by which the country has been covered” and “the institution of pilgrimage as an expression of love for the motherland” and “as a means of acquiring an intimate knowledge of the country”. At the political level too, India had been conceived by its inhabitants as a unity and for some time it had been effectively governed as a central empire. Emphasis was given to the geographical aspects. The awareness of Indians to be “children of the same soil” was an important factor of national unity even in present times. Convinced of the “unifying influence of a common country, of common natural surroundings” Mookerji believed, “it will be effectively operative against other disintegrating, disruptive forces and tendencies such as differences in manners and customs, language and religion.”19

If Mookerji’s idea of unity was open enough to include all cultures and traditions of India, it nevertheless became increasingly evident in subsequent years that the relying on objective factors alone (whether physical or cultural) was insufficient or even counterproductive for the mediation between unity and diversity. To some, the bonds of religion appeared to be stronger than the common experience of living in the same country. Even after the Partition of India, in the introduction to the book’s new edition (1954), Mookerji pointed to the “distribution of religious places of all the communities”, which showed “that the division was unjustified”, and he appealed to the governments of India and Pakistan to “promote these deeper unities in the life of their people without emphasising their differences”.20 But the capacity of cultures for mutual understanding remained in a precarious relation to its aforementioned integrative role in creating a sense of unified territory.21

That the search for early manifestations of national unity was in a hidden tension to the acknowledgement of cultural diversity became evident also with other historians, who increasingly focused on the ancient political institutions of the Hindus.22 The very shift of emphasis in historical research from the Moghul period to pre-Islamic India had political implications. Whether intended or not, all the attempts to trace back the unity of the nation to the early empires contributed to identifying the entire Indian history with that of the Hindus.23 The specifically modern element of the nation, the transcending of existing loyalties towards new, more comprehensive forms of community, was neglected. And actually, the political disposition was often lacking. After all, the recourse to the past was not only a means of self-assertion against the colonial power; it was also a way of clarifying the concept of the future state and society.

For some, the idea of an original Indian unity was connected with the defence of the existing Hindu social system. A case in point is Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920) who was one of the first politicians to understand the importance of collective memory for the mobilisation of the masses. Tilak contributed to the new historical consciousness with his own research, and while he countered the western claim to superiority with the great antiquity of Indian culture, he also projected the ideas about the Indian nation into the remote past: “During Vedic times”, this was Tilak’s assumption, “India was a self-contained country. It was united as a great nation. That unity has disappeared bringing on us great degradation and it becomes the duty of the leaders to revive that union.”24

Regarding the social hierarchy there was no attempt at transcending given boundaries.25 And the unity referred to by Tilak apparently was a unity of Hindus.The equation of Indian history with that of the Hindus could not remain without repercussions among the minorities, who began to worry about the survival of their cultural traditions under the conditions of a future democratic India. What intensified the feeling of oneness among Hindus, tended to exclude the non-Hindus from the nation. Not only religious minorities like the Muslims or the Sikhs, but also regional and linguistic communities began to view themselves as distinct nations with their own history. While the patriotism of Bengalis, Marathis or Rajputs could easily be integrated in a common enthusiasm for Hindustan, in other areas there emerged separatist movements, for instance in the Dravidian south, where the Tamils aspired to revive their culture of pre-Aryan origin. Furthermore, there was the emancipatory movement of dalits who, referring to caste hierarchy and traditional mechanisms of exclusion, refused to be counted among the Hindufold.26

The minority problem must be seen as a decisive factor in the development of Indian nationalism. Not only that some communities, concerned about the survival of their particularity, began to constitute themselves as nations. The majority too became aware of its lack of inner cohesion. In view of the post-colonial Indian nation state, it became evident that even those who regarded themselves as Hindus in reality were not as unified as postulated. A convincing definition of the nation and who belonged to it and who didn’t apparently did not follow simply from tradition.


Under the impression of these uncertainties, it was Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883-1966) who undertook an attempt at conceptual clarification by distinguishing the Hindu nation from the various religious sects and castes and making its definition to fit in with the exigencies of collective agency. While on the one hand transcending traditional boundaries, he at the same time made others even stronger, closing off the community against the outside world more strictly than before. In his book Hindutva: Who Is a Hindu? (1923), which became programmatic of Hindu nationalism, Savarkar, like others before him, referred to the common territory as a unifying bond. The land was an important factor of duration; it “connects the remotest past to the remotest future”.27 But he rejected the suggestion to view all inhabitants of Hindustan as members of the nation: “We would be straining the usage of words too much

– we fear, to the point of breaking – if we call a Mohammedan a Hindu because of his being a resident of India” (p 83).

The traditional ethnic and ritualistic demarcations instead were too narrow. Savarkar explicitly underlined the levelling implications of his view of Hindutva: “Some of us were Aryans and some Anaryans; but Ayars and Nayars – we were all Hindus and own a common blood. Some of us are Brahmans and some Namashudras or Panchamas; but Brahmans or Chandalas – we are all Hindus and own a common blood” (p 89). The idea of common blood merged what had been separate before, but Savarkar also laid claim to the traditional sense of community: “We are not only a nation but a Jati, a born brotherhood. Nothing else counts, it is after all a question of heart. [...] We feel we are a JATI, a race bound together by the dearest ties of blood and therefore it must be so” (pp 89-90 original emphasis). The emphasis on feeling too provided the enlarged political community with an appearance of objective givenness.

The role of subjective will becomes most evident with the third criterion of national unity, that of culture (‘sanskriti’). Here, the adherence to the Hindu nation was made a question of consent. A Hindu thus was not simply one who was born a Hindu, but who wanted to be a Hindu: “who [...] has inherited and claims as his own the Hindu Sanskriti, the Hindu civilisation, as represented in a common history, common heroes, a common literature, common art, a common law” (p 100). It was only the claim to the cultural and historical heritage that demarcated unambiguously them and us among the inhabitants of Hindustan. It also established a privileged relation of Hindus to Indian territory. According to Savarkar, there was a decisive difference between what India meant to the mere inhabitants of the country, namely, ‘pitribhu’, fatherland, and what it meant to the Hindus, namely, ‘punyabhu’, land of salvation. The Muslims and Christians residing here (even those who once had been Hindus), if they took their belief seriously, had their spiritual home elsewhere, their loyalty towards India was divided.28 The Hindus were at home here; they lived in their “holyland” (p 116). If religion came into play here, it not only gave the Hindus an exclusive claim to the territory being the land of their seers and of revelation,29 it also absorbed in a higher sense concept the subjective elements of Hindutva, which had not emanated from religious tradition as such. Like the appeal to the ties of blood, it obscured the constructive character of the nation.

The representation of the past apparently was intended to serve a similar double purpose of mobilising the sense of unity and objectifying the latter. Well aware that a conflict with the other and alien more than anything else could strengthen the sense of self, Savarkar assumed a fundamental relation of friend and foe in Indian history. The entire Indian history since the arrival of Mahmud of Ghazni had to be viewed as a struggle between the defenders of religion and foreign aggressors. In the “prolonged furious conflict our people became intensely conscious of ourselves as Hindus and were welded into a nation” (p 44). All people, whatever sect they belonged to, “all suffered as Hindus and triumphed as Hindus”. And even from outside, they were seen as Hindus. “The enemies hated us as Hindus” (p 45). In this way, the identity of the nation was connected with the objective course of history, ultimately. In the representation of the past, applied as a means to secure inner cohesion, everything should look like inevitable fate.

Nevertheless, elements of contingency are still discernible here. Savarkar, who did not pin his “faith to any theory about the original home of the Aryans”, spoke about India only as “their adopted home” (p 8). And he did not postulate as given the homogeneousness of the people, the creation of which required specific efforts. The remaining traces of contingency and subjectivity in the concept of the Hindu nation were eliminated by the ideologues of subsequent generations. Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar (1906-1973), in particular, continued the ethnicisation of Indian politics and initiated a systematic “correction” of the past. In his book We, or Our Nationhood Defined (1939), he rejected the Aryan invasion theory (according to which the Aryans, the carriers of Vedic culture, had their original home outside India) as being a western falsification and postulated that Hindus were “indigenous children of the soil always from times immemorial and are natural masters of the country”.30 Golwalkar, who is revered by many of today’s leaders of the Sangh parivar as their guru, formulated those ideas of the indigeneousness of Aryans and the homogeneity of Hindus, which are underlying the recent attempts at rewriting Indian history.

There was (and is) no space for diversity in Hindu nationalism. The rigidity not only resulted in the exteriorisation of the other or his subordination to a position of second-class inhabitant, it also reigned internally. While in the case of Muslims, Christians and other minorities their being different rendered integration impossible, difference was not conceded at all to the followers of “Indian” religions. Religious communities, which had emerged on Indian soil, such as Jains, Sikhs and also Buddhists, whose expansion, according to Savarkar, had been “disastrous to the national virility”, were integrated into the Hindu fold without respecting their particularity.31


The insistence on homogeneousness, which meant either exclusion from the Indian nation or loss of particularity for the minorities, increased the danger of the country’s disintegration.

This led to a reaction on the part of those who confessed to the heterogeneity of Indian traditions and counter-posed their concept of secular nationalism against the idea of a community-based nation. They also criticised the communalists’ attempt to make political use of a fabricated past – all the more since the effects of propaganda and agitation became visible. After the communal riots in Kanpur, which had occurred in March 1931, the Congress Party set up a committee with the task to analyse and historically reconstruct the Hindu-Muslim relations in the subcontinent. The committee’s report, published two years later, rejected the emphasis on atrocities in many accounts of Muslim rule as a distortion of facts by “interested parties” and instead summarised the history of India as follows: “From the beginning, her one mission had been to weld her myriad children into a harmonious people by giving them a political, economic and cultural unity”. Among secularists too, apparently a necessity was felt to bring their political perspective in line with what was supposed to be an organic evolution of the nation towards a broad synthesis and to insert the present struggle for national unity in a continuity of “eight hundred years of constant building”.32 More and more now, the specific Indian tradition of religious tolerance was emphasised and the image of peaceful coexistence opposed to that of the two nations being hostile to each other. The appeal to communal harmony and syncretism, however, as is conceded today even by secular historians, sometimes took on an “exaggerated, counter-mythical form”, which made a more differentiated assessment of the existing problems difficult.33

It was above all Nehru who made it clear that what was at stake in the communal question actually was not religion but the social and political privileges legitimised by it.34 The appeal to religious traditions in Nehru’s eyes was an attempt to preserve age-old privileges in modern times. But power in India, this was his conviction, should not fall back to the traditional elite after the end of colonialism; it should be based on a broader fundament of legitimation, the equal status of citizens. This meant a break with tradition. Unlike the ideologues of communalism, who, notwithstanding their own modern constructs, sought to eliminate all signs of contingency and de-temporalise what was a product of change in the image of the nation, Nehru explicitly referred to historical evolution. For the progress-minded in the Indian National Congress (INC), India was a “nation in the making”.35 The construction of a modern state did not even exclude learning from the experience of other peoples: “In regard to individual and political rights and civil liberties”, Nehru confessed to be “influenced by the ideas of the French and American revolutions, as also by the constitutional history of the British Parliament”. Socialist ideas were assumed after the Soviet revolution and gave “a powerful economic turn to our thoughts”. The emancipatory impulse had to be continued in post-colonial India. Regarding the political prospects for the future of India, Nehru imagined the state as an agency “to remove all invidious social and customary barriers”.36

While the preoccupation with cultural particularity faded to the background here, Hindu nationalists, on their part, directed to it their main attention. Relying on the aversion against anything alien grown during the centuries of colonial rule, they outlined the scenario of a thousand years of Hindus fighting for their existence and identity as a nation. The account of the past as a continuous struggle between Hindus and Muslims served to mobilise the instinct for the defence of Indian tradition against the threat from outside. Nehru not only demonstrated the hidden motives behind this ideological manoeuvre, he also rejected the communalists’ view of the past by recourse to the facts. “Religious differences as such”, this was confirmed by historical evidence, “do not come in the way” of national unity, “for there is a great deal of mutual tolerance for them”. For ideas of religious and cultural toleration Indians did not have to go abroad since these were inherent in Indian life. In these matters they could look back at their own past with self-confidence: “There is nothing in Indian history to compare with the bitter religious feuds and persecutions that prevailed in Europe”.37 And if Hindu communalists sought to assure themselves for their fight against the Muslims of anti-colonial affects in the population, Nehru, on his part, could show how close their account of Indian history came to the western view and the British strategy of “divide and rule”.

In his own view of the past, Nehru referred in particular, to the achievements of the great emperors Ashoka and Akbar, both of whom represented the Indian capacity for political unity and, at the same time, symbolised the Indian tradition of tolerance. This reading of Indian history has since become an important argument of secularists in the conflict about unity and diversity in India. The challenge of communalism and its pretension to defend cultural particularity against colonial alienation was countered by the progress-minded forces with the claim that the multicultural state was a continuation of Indian tradition. With this, secularism could present itself as modern and, at the same time, true to indigenous history and culture.


The Indian Constitution of 1950 that gives expression to the secular principles and progressive perspectives of the INC was supposed to offer an institutional framework for the peaceful coexistence of religious communities as much as for the overcoming of social inequality. The individual’s right “to profess, practise and propagate religion” was included in the codified civil liberties, discrimination should exist neither within nor between the communities. At the same time, minority groups, including linguistic minorities, were conceded certain collective rights such as the operation of their own educational institutions. It is in the sense of equal respect for all religions (as Nehru had highlighted in the politics of Ashoka) that the modern nation preserved traditional Indian tolerance and embodied unity in diversity.38

Communalists instead, since the accomplishment of independence of India had been accompanied by partition and the foundation of Pakistan, all the more felt that the hour had come to create a Hindu state in which non-Hindus could be tolerated but not accepted as equals or even protected in their minority status.39 While they fought secularism as a betrayal of India’s cultural heritage, they criticised the “minority appeasement” of the government as a falsification of secularist principles themselves. This, of course, only shows that the communalists failed to grasp the very sense of the claim to mediate between unity and diversity. Nevertheless, they were not alone in remaining sceptic with regard to the politics of secularism.40 Traditionalists within the Congress Party like Sardar Patel and Rajendra Prasad too hoped for a strengthening of Hindu values instead of their relativisation in independent India. The secular definition of the Indian state meant the restriction of religion to the private sphere and the appeal not to mix religion with politics has become a similar standard formula as that of unity in diversity.41 But the question was raised by some whether it was really equal respect for all religious faiths by which Nehru’s politics of modernisation was determined or rather a general mistrust or disrespect for religion.

The sceptics often referred to Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) who was hailed by many as the “spiritual father” of Indian secularism and, despite his close cooperation with Nehru, more than anybody else among nationalist leaders embodied a religious approach to politics. Gandhi was not ready to accept a separation of politics from religion: “I cannot conceive politics as divorced from religion. Indeed religion should pervade every one of our actions.”42 For him, religion was the substance of Indian civilisation, the preservation of which had been the aim of the independence fight. Doubts are surfacing today whether after Gandhi’s death an important potential of Indian politics may have been neglected by the Congress leaders: “A political force exists, which is capable of moving millions of people; yet it is within a democratic political system that does not contain the institutional means to articulate and aggregate demands concerning religious policy.” The religious issue, if it is mentioned at all in this context, “is articulated in a pejorative and polemical manner, which only adds further intensity to the problem”. As a consequence, the underlying quest for orientation has found expression in other ways, and in the meantime the “appeal of ethnicity and religion” has replaced the initial emphasis on economic development and social conflicts as “dominant modes of political perception”.43

Of course, the political use that is made of religion today has little in common with what Gandhi had in mind. Gandhi rather looked for the potential inherent in it to further communal harmony and national unity and opposed the universal values of religion to the narrowness of communalism. If the loyalty towards religion was not to be converted in selfishness, the underlying spirit of sacrifice had to transcend the boundaries of one’s own community and constitute larger ones, opening up to the whole world, ultimately.44 Gandhi’s approach to the mediation between unity and diversity was based on religious tradition itself instead of its fading away. With this, he has remained a point of reference for those who are in search for a way out of the confrontation between universalism and particularism in Indian politics.

Critique of secularism of a Nehruvian stamp is articulated not only by the self-declared spokesmen of the majority culture any more but also by the advocates of minority rights. Many grassroot movements and NGOs insist on alternatives to the modern state that are more in line with Indian traditions. And not just to defend them against ongoing westernisation but also to assert the inner multiplicity of lifestyles as against the “deadening uniformity” [Rajni Kothari] of modernity.45 Entire groups of the population in modern India feel threatened by the effects of central economic planning, projects for the exploitation of natural resources, the construction of dams, etc, often have their main victims among the members of tribes for whom the promise to respect diversity then appears to be pure ideology. They are witnesses to the experience that universal principles can also serve the furtherance of vested interests.

In the attempt to establish the western model of industrial production in India with the help of a secular state, the problem of a concept of universality becomes evident, which consists in the mere generalisation of a specific particularity thus excluding others. And since the marginalisation of indigenous ways of life is often legitimised by resort to the prospects of development and progress, this has thrown great miscredit on these categories and brought the defence of one’s own particularity in contradiction not only to specific interpretations of history but to historical thinking as such.46 Only in this manner, it seemed, the multiplicity of non-European cultures could assert itself in the face of the levelling processes of rationalisation and modernisation.


Such assertion of the particular against the tendencies of universalisation, however, apart from reiterating the westerncolonialist stereotype of unhistorical India, is a mere statement about inequality, raising the question of how unity is achieved among the many components of Indian society. The answer to this question often consists in pointing to pre-colonial models of coexistence between cultures and classes, sects and castes without taking into account the processes of modernisation to which Indian society was exposed long time before the impact of western ideas. The ideological use of the concept of historical change in order to legitimise colonialism elicited the fear of alienation and westernisation among the colonised. But the very resistance against colonial rule and discrimination also gave expression to the demand for equality and emancipation.

And thus post-colonial critique too has been formulated often by claiming historical agency for the subaltern subject and insisting on its own perspectives as against exclusivist and deterministic models of history. In continuance of critical tendencies such as “history from below” and in the wake of the general cultural turn in the social sciences, a systematic search for actors and experiences has set in which had been overlooked in earlier historiography, Indian nationalist as much as colonial. A main object of criticism was the generalised concept of the nation that failed to grasp the specificity of Indian conditions. Gyanendra Pandey, a member of the Subaltern Studies group founded in the early 1980s, in an investigation of the emergence of communalism in colonial north India deplored a certain fixation of historians: the “belief in some pure model of nationhood”, which did not allow for deviations. This fixation resulted in an “insufficient appreciation of the historical struggles that had gone to produce specific nationalisms and nations”.47 It was contradictory forces that had gone into the formation of modern nationalism all over the world, only that in India they had been more evident than, e g, in Italy or Germany, due to the size and diversity of the country as well as the historical circumstances of colonialism. In the eyes of many western, but also western-oriented Indian historians this constituted an unbridgeable contradiction between the modern secular state and traditional Indian communities.

This contradiction corresponded to that between historical and non-historical peoples. What was covered by the term communalism, in contrast to that of nationalism, according to Pandey “denies consciousness and agency to the subjected peoples of the colonised world. ‘History’ happens to these people; it can hardly be a process in which they play a conscious and significant part.”48 Characteristic of the approach to the Indian past was a concept that was dominated by considerations about the state and its functions instead of a sense of the common people as historical actors. “By its denial of subjecthood to the people of India – the local communities, castes and classes – nationalism was forced into the kind of statist perspective that colonialism has favoured and promoted for its own reasons.” As in the eyes of the British rulers only the colonial state could show the way out of chaos, reducing “the religious and other passions of Indians to ‘civilised’ proportions”, similarly, in nationalist historiography, it was the state which had “performed the role of maintaining Indian unity in the past and would do so in the future”.49 The idea of historical agency was associated mainly with the great Indian statesmen. Thus, as Ashoka, Akbar and other kings had guaranteed political order in former times, now this was to be expected from Nehru and other “enlightened leaders”.50

But in spite of the increasing submission of communities and individuals under the politics of the nation during the 1930s and 1940s, the nationalists, according to Pandey, were never sure whether or not the “givenness of pre-existing communities” should be acknowledged as the basis of the new India, notwithstanding the insight into its modern elements.51 The modernminded, however, were hardly prepared to take this into account seriously. This can be observed in Nehru’s dealing with the communal question. Even if he highlighted the tolerance of Indian communities among each other or with regard to minorities, which distinguished south Asia in a positive way from Europe and its religious wars, this was not considered as an autonomous factor of national integration. It only served to prove certain dispositions in the Indian way of life that were conducive to the establishment of a western-defined form of secularism. But perhaps, thus Pandey concludes in view of communalism, it was exactly the insistence on a secular, state-centred interpretation of Indian history that had provoked the competing idea of the nation as a primordial community. Perhaps, “the need felt by the new, ‘secular’ nationalism to forge a different kind of (‘secular’) tradition for the Indian citizen…contributed substantially to the counter-construction of the Indian past in more dogmatically community (specifically religious community) terms”, i e, towards a representation which conceived the nation as an ethnic entity (Volk) postulating a hierarchy of cultures instead of acknowledging cultural diversity.52

According to Pandey, the unresolved problem of mediation between unity and diversity not only regards the acknowledgement of well-established religious communities but also many other groups of Indian society: caste communities, tribal sections, industrial workers, social and political activists, etc. He insists on the more general insight “that the nation was, and continues to be, the outcome of many different visions and the struggle between them. And that the rights of the individual – of the poorest and longest oppressed in the land – were as much a part of those visions as the rights of the (pre-existing?) community”.53 With this, he brings the process of nation building in connection with the dynamics of society. In fact, what had been obscured for a long time in the confrontation of secularism and communalism were the social struggles and the ideas of solidarity and unity created in this context.

Pandey seeks to rehabilitate the fragmentary against what in the state-centred development model of the west is claimed as the totality of history. The affirmative “account of the march of certain victorious concepts and powers like the nation-state, bureaucratic rationalism, capitalism, science and progress” is countered by him with the necessity, “to recover ‘marginal’ voices and memories, forgotten dreams and signs of resistance”.54 The realisation of unity in diversity requires the acknowledgement that these voices too articulate concepts of the national that have to be taken seriously as “contending bases for the political community of the future”.55


Pandey’s defence of the fragment against the “drive for a shallow homogenisation”56 is taken up and continued by Partha Chatterjee. The basic assumptions about the world-historical significance of western nationalism apparently had not changed in substance since the days of Nehru. This applies even to Benedict Anderson, who emphasises the constructive and imaginative elements of nationalism as against its foundation on pregiven realities like language, race or religion, but according to whom the western national movements had created the modular forms of the “imagined community”, which are used later by the elite of non-western countries.57

Chatterjee does not come to terms with the conclusion that “even our imaginations must remain forever colonised”. He disagrees not just for sentimental reasons but based on the solid ground of historical experience, namely the evidence that “the most powerful as well as the most creative results of the nationalist imagination in Asia and Africa are posited not on an identity but rather on a difference with the modular forms…propagated by the modern west”.58 With this, he not only demands to acknowledge that there is something specific in the Indian national imagination; he brings it into play as a historical force. According to Chatterjee’s reading of Indian history during colonialism, “anticolonial nationalism creates its own domain of sovereignty within colonial society” by sealing off an inner, spiritual domain of cultural identity from the material domain in which the superiority of the west had to be acknowledged.59 In spite of these achievements, Indian politics long after the end of the colonial state remained under the spell of the western model of politics. With the result “that autonomous forms of imagination of the community were, and continue to be, overwhelmed and swamped by the history of the post-colonial state.”60

The “surrender to the old forms of the modern state” with its “totalising claims” had the effect that the particularity of the Indian communities were conceived only as an expression of Oriental exceptionalism without conceding Indians their autonomous capacity of nation building. State and community were strictly separated worlds in these considerations. But if the nation, as suggested by Anderson, “is an imagined community and if nations must also take the form of states”, then, concludes Chatterjee, “our theoretical language must allow us to talk about community and the state at the same time”.61 And this, the simultaneous consideration of community concerns and those of the state, one could add, is also a prerequisite for national unity to view it as “unity in diversity”. The present theoretical language, however, does not allow this, according to Chatterjee.

As he suggests at another occasion, the totalising concept of the nation corresponds to a totalising use of history that does not concede much space to alternative perspectives. In Nehru’s orientation towards the idea of progress, the general course of historical development, characterised by industrialisation, social emancipation and democratisation had remained outside the range of Indian politics. “The universal principle and the world standards had been already set by history; there was no room for choice on those matters”.62 And it was the alleged agreement with the course of universal history, ultimately, which gave the western-designed state the dominance over the community.

The belief in universal history also underlay Nehru’s assessment of communalism. The conflict, actually, was not one between Muslims and Hindus, according to him, but one between eastern traditions and modern scientific civilisation.63 The secular state, however, supposed to integrate the different cultures as much as push forward social emancipation, embodied a dynamic which not only went beyond the particular Indian cultures, but marginalised or even replaced them. In other words: the solution of the communal question did not result from a reciprocal understanding of the cultures involved but from their inclusion in a different civilisation and historical evolution.64 Instead of presenting different options, Nehru contrasted future prospects and obsolete practices thus prejudicing the decision in favour of the former. Even the traditional tolerance practised by Indian communities was not conceived as a unifying potential, it was only proof of India’s adaptability to the western model of the


nation state.65 The Indian experience became a peripheral phenomenon in the context of universal history. Under the conditions of history-oriented societies, however, a use of the past that considers alternatives only as unhistorical ones does not really concede diversity.

And Nehru did not belong to those who accepted the western theorem of India’s unchangeability and lack of historicity. To the contrary, he decisively insisted on Indian agency. To him, the alternative was not one of west or east but one of dynamism or conservatism.66 But it was exactly this equation of constellations in India and Britain that obscured the different possibilities of perceiving change. That the triumph of the secular state (and the bourgeois form of society, the industrial way of production, etc) gave, first of all, expression to the contingent global power relations, i e, the dominance of a particular perspective over others, was not considered at all.

Nehru, when referring to history, was in search of authorisation rather than arguments, he sought to provide the socially controversial option for modernisation with quasi impartial validity.67 Instead of relating to alternative perspectives and reflecting freely on issues of tradition and modernity, a history beyond all perspectives was presented, supported by the normative power of the factual. The western view of universal history appears as placeless, in a similar way as the “Hindu view” of the Indian past appears as timeless.68 This conveys the respective options for the secular or communal state the totalising character associated by critics with the use of history and held responsible for acts of political violence. The attempt to legitimise the modern state by referring to universal history situated beyond all perspectives, of course, also contradicted the idea of a nation in the making. The secular Indian nation does not really appear as a result of political forces contending with each other but as an installation of a ready-made model. This not only makes Hindu nationalists insist on their own, allegedly Indian model of the state. It also neglects the perspectives of non-state and subaltern actors and, in the end, submerges indigenous approaches towards modernisation and unity.69

Here lies the potential of political creativity in India, which Chatterjee seeks to regain as part of historical experience. An important result of subaltern studies with their distinction between the “domains of ‘elite’ and ‘subaltern’ politics” has been the demonstration that “each domain has not only acted in opposition to and as a limit upon the other but, through this process of struggle, has also shaped the emergent form of the other”.70 If this has been obscured in the language of the nationalist elite that separated (western) state and (indigenous) communities, the deconstruction of their totalising claims should make it possible to recover the social movements in India as historical factors of unity. Chatterjee urges “to trace in their mutually conditioned historicities the specific forms that have appeared, on the one hand, in the domain defined by the hegemonic project of nationalist modernity, and on the other in the numerous fragmented resistances to that normalising project.” Once the universalist claim to the modern state is shown to be limited by the contingencies of global power relations, one finds even in India, this is Chatterjee’s basic assumption, not only “new forms of the modern community”, but also new forms of the modern state.71 And if the ideological use of universal history is understood and national unity traced to the many forces and components that produced it, it will also be easier to reject the essentialist use of the Indian past by communalists.

This, however, means that the indigenous potentials of understanding, which are denied their historicity by secularists while post-colonial critics present them as “non-historical” alternatives to the modern state, are considered, for their part, as capable of transcending pre-colonial conditions and creating new forms of unity. Chatterjee, in fact, questions the assessment offered by some of them, at least implicitly, that “all the forms of the modern state in India today represent the unwelcome intrusion of the west and that ‘traditional’ institutions, if allowed to function freely, are still capable of devising adequate instruments for the harmonious functioning of large collectivities”.72 What is needed are wider, over-arching perspectives that, nevertheless, give expression also to the particularities of historical experience.

The “fuzziness of boundaries”, e g, which Sudipta Kaviraj ascribes to the traditional communities and which, for its part, testifies to the continuous transcending of given demarcations, has not been lost and is not incompatible with modernisation. If, by getting involved with the modern state, the subalterns adapted to its functions to a certain degree, their specific cultural realities, nevertheless, persist in the popular political discourse of the present, according to Chatterjee.73 It is in the forward projection towards new forms of political community, ultimately, that the indigenous potentials of acknowledgement prove their capacity to cope with the changed conditions. If the many factors that have gone into the unity of the modern nation-state must be acknowledged in their own historical meaning in order to have a unity in diversity, this, on its part, can be seen as a renewal of indigenous traditions and practices of reciprocal understanding that are conducive to unity.74 By inserting both, the secular model of national unity and the particularity of cultural and social forms of life, into a process of temporal change,75 i e, through consequent historicisation, the use of the past loses the determinism rightly criticised from a post-colonial point of view. In the confrontation of historical perspectives the openness of the future is gained, in which unity and diversity, however, are never fixed but have to be negotiated time and again.




[This is an enlarged version of my contribution to the conference “The Pastand Present of South Asia: Unity in Diversity?” organised by the Centre for the Study of Non-European Peoples “Cesare Bonacossa”, of the University of Pavia, the Department of Political Studies, of the University of Turin, and Italindia (Italian Association of Modern South Asia Studies), September 2004.]

1 Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India, J Nehru Memorial Fund and Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1988, 382.

2 See D E Smith, Religion, Politics, and Social Change in the Third World.A Sourcebook, The Free Press, London, 1971, 179. As early as 1887, the Muslim reformist Sayyid Ahmad Khan, asking for separateconstituencies in the elections for local self-administration, spoke of Hindus and Muslims as “two different nations”. See T N Madan, Modern Myths, Locked Minds: Secularism and Fundamentalism in India, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1997, 252.

3 See Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Hindutva: Who Is a Hindu? 6th ed, Bharti Sahitya Sadan, Delhi, 1989, 42-44, passim. Also Romesh ChandraMajumdar, ‘Preface’, The History and Culture of the Indian People, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay, 1960, Vol 6, The Delhi Sultanate, p XXVIII; Satish Chandra, ‘Cultural Integration and Indian History’ inHistoriography, Religion and State in Medieval India, Har-Anand Publications, New Delhi, 1996, 32-42, here 33.

4 Vinay Lal, The History of History. Politics and Scholarship in ModernIndia, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2003, 160-61. See the whole chapter “History as Holocaust. Ayodhya and the Historians”, 141-85. Both parties were in search of historical evidence, even if one of them also invoked traditional beliefs of the Hindus. Taking up an often-used polemical formula of secularist historians, Lal maintains that it was not “mythification of history” but “historicisation of myths which has contributed to theincreasing communalisation of Indian politics”, ibid, 124.

5 One should bear in mind, according to Sarkar, that the communalists’strive for Hindu unity gave not just expression to the hardening ofidentities during the late colonial era between the 1870s and the 1930s.It was also a reaction to the weakening of existing identities caused bythe emergence of new social and political movements, such as the “lowercaste affirmations” and the “cross-cutting solidarities of anti-colonialnationalism, class, or gender”. As against the demand for emancipation,the construction of “powerful images of hostile others” was supposedto defend the stability of the traditional social order. Sumit Sarkar,‘Hindutva and History’ in Beyond Nationalist Frames: RelocatingPostmodernism, Hindutva, History, Permanent Black, Delhi, 2002, 24462, here 244-45, 258-59.

6 A general harmony in pre-colonial India, however, is assumed occasionallyalso by secularists. See below.

7 Klaus E Müller, Die Fünfte Dimension: soziale Raumzeit und Geschichtsverständnis in primordialen Kulturen, Göttingen: Wallstein,1999, 115. Original emphasis.

8 The religions of India were no exception in this regard; they too exertedan influence on state and society that could mean exclusion to the followersof other beliefs. “In pre-modern times”, according to the Dalit researcherGail Omvedt, “all religions sought to control state power in order toenforce their conceptions of the sacred and the moral life; this normallyincluded stigmatising other views and those holding them; making suchpeople second class citizens in various ways, often destroying theirreligious sites and attacking their sources of wealth.” Gail Omvedt,“Pseudo-secularism”, The Hindu, January 20-21, 2003.

9 Thus Ernest Renan in his well known lecture of 1882 has called the nation a “daily plebiscite”. See Peter Alter (ed), Nationalismus. Dokumente zur Geschichte und Gegenwart eines Phänomens, Piper, München, 1994, 46.

10 Jörn Rüsen, ‘Vom Umgang mit den Anderen – zum Stand derMenschenrechte heute’, International Textbook Research, 15, 1993, 16778, here 176.

11 This idea played an important role in reconciling the Old with the Newand it contributed in a decisive manner to the successful implementationof the concept of nation. For the two ways of conceiving the “nation”,as community of citizens and as people (Volk), see Jürgen Habermas,Die Einbeziehung des Anderen: Studien zur politischen Theorie, Suhrkamp,Frankfurt/M., 1999, 128-53.

12 For the concept of “invented traditions” see Eric Hobsbawm, ‘InventingTraditions’ in: idem/Terence Ranger (eds), The Invention of Tradition, Cambridge, 1983, 1-14.

13 For an overview of the religious reform movements and their ideologiessee Kenneth Jones, Socio-religious Reform Movements in British India, The New Cambridge History of India, III, 1, Cambridge 1989.

14 Many Hindus and Muslims tended to put the blame for the current stateof backwardness in India on the presence of the other. While in thebeginning the British claimed to have liberated the Hindus from thedespotic Moghul regime, later, when a democratic state with Hindumajority came into sight, they presented themselves to the Muslims asprotectors of minority rights.

15 Dadabhai Naoroji, Poverty and Un-British Rule in India, Swan Sonnenschein and Co, London, 1901. Naoroji investigated the linksbetween Indian poverty and the draining away of huge sums of moneyby the British. He calculated the transfer of Indian resources to Englandto the amount of 30 or 40 million pounds annually.

16 Romesh Chunder Dutt, The Economic History of India, New Delhi 1960; first edition 1902-04; Famines in India (1900).

17 Eugenia Vanina shows the difficulties to find a pre-colonial term comprisingthe whole of India as a unity: “The Whole and its Parts in HistoricalPerspective”, Indian Historical Review 28 (2001 (2003)), 84-110, here90-91. For the implications of the British nomenclature changing fromHindustan to India see Ian J Barrow, ‘From Hindustan to India: NamingChange in Changing Names’, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, ns, 26:1 (2003), 37-49.

18 Harishchandra of Benares, ‘How Can India be Reformed?’ in Michael Gottlob (ed), Historical Thinking in South Asia: A Handbook of Sourcesfrom Colonial Times to the Present, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2003,

175. Proposing a common perspective for the future, he added: “Do allthat which will increase the skills and help to keep your wealth withinthe country”. Ibid.

19 Kumud Mookerji, The Fundamental Unity of India, Bombay 1991 (1954),

12. K M Panikkar later also emphasised the cultural and spiritual unityof early India but contrasted it with the political disunity of the country:Geographical Factors in Indian History, Bombay 1959.

20 Quoted in H S Srivastava, ‘Radha Kumud Mookerji’ in Siba Pada Sen(ed), Historians and Historiography in Modern India, Institute of Historical Studies, Calcutta, 1973, 69-80, here 77-78.

21 In fact, there remained only the hope that politicians might encourage the pilgrims to preserve the connections across the state borders and makethem unfold “their beneficient and unifying influence in creating a senseand spirit of universal brotherhood”. Mookerji, The Fundamental Unityof India, 9.

22 It is sufficient to quote some titles of books published during the 1920sand 1930s: R C Majumdar, Corporate Life in Ancient India (1919),H C Raichaudhury, The Political History of Ancient India (1923),K P Jayaswal, Hindu Polity (1924), R D Bannerji, The Age of ImperialGuptas (1933).

23 In fact, in the last controversy over history textbooks, one of the strategiesof Hindu nationalists was the shift of emphasis towards ancient Indianhistory.

24 B G Tilak, ‘The Bharata Dharma Mahamandala’ in Tilak, His Writingsand Speeches, 3rd edition, Ganesh and Co, Madras, 1922, 36.

25 If Tilak used modern political categories he nevertheless rejected anyattempt of founding the community on the principle of equality. “A truenationalist desires to build on old foundations. [...] We do not want toanglicise our institutions and so denationalise them in the name of socialand political reforms.” Tilak’s Letters to the Mahratta, December 13, 1919, quoted in V P Varma, Modern Indian Political Thought, 3rd ed, Agra 1967, 213.

26 Thus Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar confronted the nationalists with theconsideration: “Aren’t the Untouchables a Separate Element?”. See: What Congress and Gandhi Have Done to the Untouchables, Thacker and Co, Bombay, 1945, 183ff.

27 Savarkar, Hindutva, 31. See note 4: The following page numbers inbrackets refer to this edition.

28 The example of those who had converted to Islam or Christianity showedthat even racial or ethnic origin which they shared (like territory) withthe Hindus, could prove to be too wide a criterion.

29 In summarising his arguments, Savarkar once again underlines the practicalpurpose of his considerations, namely, the construction of national unity:“The ideal conditions, therefore, under which a nation can attain perfectsolidarity and cohesion would, other things being equal, be found in thecase of those people who inhabit the land they adore, the land of whoseforefathers is also the land of their Gods and Angels, of Seers and Prophets;the scenes of whose history are also the scenes of their mythology.”Hindutva, 136.

30 Golwalkar, We, or Our Nationhood Defined, Nagpur 1939, 19.

31 Savarkar, Hindutva, 18. And if Hindu nationalist organisations todayadopt regional Hindu heroes or refer to local traditions from the periodof anti-colonial resistance, this is not done in order to acknowledgeheterogeneity and diversity but to counter the political model of federalismby cultural nationalism. For the taking up of Bengali traditions and thereference to popular personalities such as Vivekananda, Subhas ChandraBose, Aurobindo, etc, by the Sangh Parivar see Michael Gillan, ‘Bengal’sPast and Present: Hindu Nationalist Contestations of History and RegionalIdentity’, Contemporary South Asia, 12:3, 2003, 381-98. In a similar way,the BJP hoped to attract dalit voters by highlighting the heritage of theirhistorical leader B R Ambedkar. See Kama Kellie Maclean, ‘Embracingthe Untouchables: The BJP and the Scheduled Caste Votes’, Asian Studies Review, 23:4, 1999, 488-509.

32 A History of the Hindu-Muslim Problem in India, Allahabad, 1933, quotedin Gyanendra Pandey, The Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1990, 252.

33 Sarkar, ‘Hindutva and History’, 253.

34 “In political matters, religion has been displaced by what is calledcommunalism, a narrow group mentality basing itself on a religiouscommunity but in reality concerned with political power and patronagefor the concerned group.” Nehru, The Discovery of India, 382.

35 This was the title of Surendranath Banerjea’s autobiography (1925).

36 Ibid, 382-83.

37 Ibid, 382.

38 Moreover, the will to preserve and further develop the regional cultures,resulting in the federal structure of India based on language groups,testifies to the acknowledgement of diversity.

39 Even though they had objected to Partition (and hoped to undo itone day), actually there was a far-reaching congruence betweenGolwalkar’s concept of the Hindu nation and Jinnah’s two-nationtheory.

40 For the communalists, many of whom made use of the appeal to religiousfeelings for completely different purposes, see Madan’s critical remarkthat “religion itself is devalued when it becomes a significant means ofmobilising people for the furtherance of certain secular objectives,most notably the acquisition of power”. Madan, Modern Myths, Locked Minds, 273.

41 In 1993, even an attempt has been made of amendment to the Constitutionprohibiting any appeal to religious feelings, especially during election campaigns. See Christophe Jaffrelot, The Hindu Nationalist Movement

and Indian Politics 1925 to the 1990s, London 1996, 472.

42 In 1940, quoted in Madan, Modern Myths, Locked Minds, 235.

43 Subrata K Mitra, Culture and Rationality: The Politics of Social Changein Post-Colonial India, Sage, New Delhi, 1999, 39, 92, quoted in HelmutReifeld, ‘Säkularer Staat und religiöse Gesellschaft. Neuere Literatur zurDemokratieentwicklung in India’, Neue Politische Literatur, 45 (2000),52-66, here 61.

44 Mohandas K Gandhi, ‘Communal Harmony’, Harijan, March 23, 1947, 13; see R R Diwakar, ‘Religion and Communalism’, Seminar 46, 29. The majority had no right to use the state for imposing their religious beliefson the minorities.

45 For an introduction to the theories of “Integral Pluralism” and “AlternativeDemocracy” see Thomas Pantham, Political Theories and Social Reconstruction: A Critical Survey of the Literature on India, Sage, NewDelhi, 1995, 146-68.

46 As an example see Ashis Nandy, ‘History’s Forgotten Doubles’, History and Theory, Theme Issue, 34: World Historians and their Critics (1995), edited byPhilip Pomper, Ricard H Elphick and Richard T Vann, 44-66, here 53.

47 Pandey, The Construction of Communalism, 3.

48 Ibid, 10.

49 Ibid, 253.

50 The orientation towards the state is confirmed by Vanina who investigatesthe question of the whole and its parts mainly as one of regional identitiesand the various empires on Indian soil. But Vanina relates Nehru’sconception not so much to the influence of western theories but to hisown, direct “realisation of the country’s past”. According to Vanina, hedeveloped his principle of “unity in diversity” on the basis of the “beneficialachievements of its imperial past”, acknowledging, at the same time, theregions’ right, “to fully preserve and develop their cultural identity”.Vanina, “The Whole and Its Parts in Historical Perspective”, 109. Vaninadoes not, however, comment on the Subaltern Studies’ critique of thestate-centred arguments in nationalist historiography.

51 Pandey, The Construction of Communalism, 260-61.

52 Ibid, 261. The row over these competing views of the nation andinterpretations of history has not been settled to this day.

53 Ibid. Original emphasis.

54 Gyanendra Pandey, ‘The Prose of Otherness’, Subaltern Studies, 8 (1994),188-221, here 214.

55 Pandey, The Construction of Communalism, 261. Criticism has been raised about the conceptualisation of Subalterns as a homogeneous subjectwith a collective political will. See Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, ‘SubalternStudies: Deconstructing Historiography’, Subaltern Studies, 4 (1985),330-63; ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ in Larry Grossberg, Cary Nelson(eds), Marxist Interpretations of Literature and Culture: Limits, Frontiers,Boundaries, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1988; Critique ofPostcolonial Reason, Cambridge, Massachusetts/London, 1999.

56 Gyanendra Pandey, ‘In Defense of the Fragment: Writing about Hindu-Muslim Riots in India Today’ in Ranajit Guha (ed), A Subaltern Studies Reader, 1986-1995, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1998, 1-33, here 3.

57 See Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Originand Spread of Nationalism, Verso, London, 1983.

58 Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and PostcolonialHistories, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1993, 5.

59 “To fashion a ‘modern’ national culture that is nevertheless not western” is Indian nationalism’s “most powerful, creative, and historically significantproject”. Ibid, 6.

60 Ibid, 11. This appears to be one of the core problems of contemporaryIndia: “Here lies the root of our postcolonial misery: not only in ourinability to think out new forms of the modern community but in oursurrender to the old forms of the modern state.” Ibid.

61 Ibid.

62 Partha Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World – ADerivative Discourse?, Zed Books, London, 1986, 159.

63 In 1936, he had stated: “The days of national cultures is rapidly passing andthe world is becoming one cultural unit. ...The machine age and science,with swift travel, constant supply of world news, radio, cinema, etc, willmake them more and more uniform. No one can fight against this inevitabletendency... The real struggle today in India is not between Hindu culture andMuslim culture, but between these two and the conquering scientific cultureof modern civilisation...all efforts, Hindu or Muslim, to oppose modernscientific and industrial civilisation are doomed to failure, and I shall watch this failure without regret... None of us had really any choice in that matter,except the choice which a drowning man has to clutch at something whichmight save him.” Jawaharlal Nehru, An Autobiography, J Nehru Memorial Fund and Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1980 (1936), 470.

64 Even if Nehru later, in his Discovery of India (1946), learnt to accept aspart of himself and even appreciate the manifold Indian traditions, therewas no doubt about the priority of the scientific civilisation of the west.

65 Inversely, the representation of tolerant rulers of the early and medievalperiod as prototypes of modern statesmanship means that the specificallyIndian way of dealing with the other are missed.

66 See Nehru, Discovery of India, 371ff.

67 “The victorious side enjoys the crucial advantage of affiliation with a‘world consciousness’, thus having access to vastly superior ideologicalresources for running the machineries of a ‘modern’ state. In this it can[...] even mobilise for purely nationalist purposes the ‘economic’ slogansof a socialist ideology.” Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the ColonialWorld, 169.

68 While communalists defend the traditional order as ever existing, similarlysecularists represent the modern order they are striving for as to beexpected anywhere. In both cases, Indian actors are denied autonomousreasoning and negotiating about questions of continuity and change: eitherno change at all or just adaptation to global standards.

69 The ambivalence of the language of emancipation used by stateadministrations or international organisations, who “essentially carryforward the political discourse rationalising the global expansion ofwestern capitalism”, is shown by Manoranjan Mohanty, ‘On the Conceptof ‘Empowerment’ ’, The Indian Journal of Social Science, 8:4 (1995),333-38, here 336.

70 Chatterjee, The Nation and Its Fragments, 12.

71 Ibid, 13.

72 Ibid, 227. This idea is suggested occasionally, according to Chatterjee,by Ashis Nandy. Ibid, 260, (note 13). Madan too blames Nandy for notrecognising “the enornous philosophical doubts and practical difficultiesthat will attend any serious attempt at the recovery of religious tolerance”.Modern Myths, Locked Minds, 275.

73 Chatterjee, The Nation and its Fragments, 226. See Sudipta Kaviraj, The Unhappy Consciousness. Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay and theFormation of Nationalist Discourse in India, Oxford University Press,Delhi, 1995.

74 Thus Dharma Kumar has pleaded not to view the present multiculturalIndian state as an imperfect or unwelcome imitation of the Europeanmodel, “a failed or deformed nation state”. Instead, “we should see it as a new political form, perhaps even as a forerunner of the future. Weare in some ways where Europe wants to be, but we have a tremendousjob of reform, of repairing our damaged institutions, and of inventingnew ones”. Dharma Kumar, “India as a Nation State” (1993), quoted inRamachandra Guha, ‘The Colours of India’, The Hindu, April 10, 2005.

75 Jörn Rüsen, ‘Für eine interkulturelle Kommunikation in der Geschichte. Die Herausforderungen des Ethnozentrismus in der Moderne und dieAntwort der Kulturwissenschaften’ in Jörn Rüsen, Michael Gottlob and Achim Mittag (eds), Die Vielfalt der Kulturen, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt/M,1998, 12-36, here 33.

STATEMENT about ownership and other particulars of newspaper ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY as required to be published in the first issue of every year after the last day of February.

FORM IV (See Rule 8)

1 Place of publication: Mumbai
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for Sameeksha Trust
Whether citizen of India: Yes
Address: 504, G-2 Sphene,
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4 Publisher’s name: K Vijayakumar
for Sameeksha Trust
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I, K Vijayakumar, hereby declare that the particulars given above are true

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