The idea of India, symbolised by its commitment to inclusivity, pluralism, and secularism stands fundamentally contested by a ruling dispensation that has sought to redefine nationalism in sectarian terms, Shashi Tharoor, MP, has said. He was delivering the first E.Ahmed memorial lecture on the theme ‘On nationalism’ here on Saturday.


Dr. Tharoor said that our current rulers at the Centre had a lack of vision that prevented them from seeing the larger principle that India had always defined for the world. “It must be situated within the context of the current global wave of populism and the rise of illiberal right-wing politics. There has been a backlash against globalisation, cosmopolitanism, multiculturalism, and an ugly byproduct of this was the rise of mandatory patriotism, and at its heart was conformity as the new badge of allegiance.” While the previous version of nationalism sought to unite people, today’s reactive nationalism heightened differences, emphasised singular virtues associated with the political class and sought to instil loyalty and commitment to the state and its emblems, he said.

Dr. Tharoor claimed that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its political arm, the BJP, were trying to borrow nationalist icons as they did not have any on their own. He criticised Mr. Modi for trying to step into the shoes of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, pointing out that while being faced with similar set of circumstances on different occasions, their response was different. While Patel protected Muslims in Delhi soon after violence broke out following Partition, there was no direct action by Mr. Modi to protect Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. Mr. Modi also held back from public condemnation of the attacks, Dr. Tharoor alleged.


Earlier, the former Union Minister said that nationalism in India was not spoken in terms of language, religion ethnicity, territory, and geography. “It is based on an idea anchored in something larger than any of these five elements. Jawaharlal Nehru, our first Prime Minister, described this as an ancient palimpsest.”

However, the idea of India as a modern nation based on a certain concept of Constitution, human rights, citizenship, vigorously backed by the due process of law and equality before the law was a relatively recent and strikingly modern idea. Amid myriad problems, it was democracy that had given Indians the chance to break free of their problems and to rally around a consensus, which was based on the democratic principle that you did not need to agree all the time, but only on the ground rules. This principle was sought to be changed now and we needed to unite to reclaim the idea of India, he said.


Historian M.G.S. Narayanan and Iqbal S. Hasnain, former Vice-Chancellor of Calicut University, and also chairman, AZ Foundation and Trust, which organised the programme, were present.