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Meghnad Desai explains the fallacies in the idea of Hindu nationalism

In a new essay, the economics professor from the LSE highlights the flaws in this version of history.

The following propositions are at the core of the Hindu nationalist doctrine:

- India has always been a single nation since prehistoric times as Bharatavarsha or Aryabhoomi.

- India got enslaved when Muslim invaders came from the North-west from the eighth century onwards – Mohammad Bin Qaseem and then Mahmud Ghazni followed by the Delhi Sultanate and then the Mughal Empire. Muslims are foreigners. The corollary of this xenophobia is to deny that the Aryans came to India from elsewhere. There is a tension about reconciling the Indus Valley culture with the story of Aryan incursions. The Hindu nationalists deny point-blank that Aryans were foreigners.

- The British did not create a single Indian entity. It was always there. The education which Macaulay introduced created the elite – Macaulay-putras – who behave and think like foreigners.

- In 1947, 1,200 years of slavery came to an end. (Narendra Modi said as much during his first speech in the Central Hall of Parliament after his election.) India was at last free to assert its true identity as a Hindu nation.

- Congress secularists, however, went on privileging Muslims whose loyalty is always to be doubted as their nation is Pakistan.

The stuff of bogus history

These propositions raise several conceptual and historical issues. Let’s examine them.

First, there is the issue of the native versus the foreigner. 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 Hindu nationalist. 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. This is a strange doctrine because India was the receptacle for many “foreign” tribes throughout its history – the Shakas, the Huns, the Scythians and many other “races”, all of whom converted to Hinduism. But, then, 1,200 years are not enough. 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. The Aryans have to be primordially native to suit the Hindu nationalist narrative which imagines a time when somehow instantaneously Hinduism was established across all of India thanks to the Vedas and the Brahmins performing sacrifices, etc. Sanskrit has to have the prime place as lingua franca of Hindu India for that reason.

This is the stuff of bogus history. The religion which Hindus practise has only a marginal relationship to the Vedas. The Vedic gods are no longer worshipped. Vishnu, Shiva and Kali appear in the Hindu pantheon at least 1,000 years after the Vedas. The slow spread of Brahmanism (as the religion should be properly called) from its Punjab heartland to Delhi region and then on to UP and Bihar has been well charted. The importance of Pali and Ardhamagadhi in the propagation of Ajivikas, Jainism and Buddhism from the sixth century BCE onwards is also known.

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. If the chronology of Hindu nationalists is taken seriously, however, it should be soon after India became “slave” to Muslims.

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.

Savarkar tried to square this circle in his essay on Hindutva. He was a modernist and not a devotee of religion. His idea of nation is derived from the then fashionable ideas of nationhood espoused by the newly born nations of Europe, many of them parts of the Habsburg Empire which broke up in 1918 – Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia. Nationhood depended on territory and those born in the territory were members of the nation.

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.

Spurious idea of slavery

As a history of India, the Hindu nationalist story is as partial as the story that the Nehruvian vision has created. Of course, they are both north India–biased stories. They take Delhi and its rulers to be all of India. Muslim raiders may have come in the eighth century to Sind and Saurashtra and in the twelfth century established the Delhi Sultanate. But they never penetrated south of the Vindhyas.

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.

But ultimately there will never be “true objective” history. There never is in any nation. Debates and reinterpretations go on forever. Patronage to academia can be used to commission histories to buttress the official line. The sanctity of dispassionate research can never be guaranteed if the funding is public. India, however, does not have the tradition of private philanthropy for research. The government guards all the doors to higher education, thanks to the statist bias of the Congress which ruled for the first thirty years uninterruptedly. This bias has permeated the BJP as well.

It is not the idea of Hindu nationalism that is worrying. It is that the government will be the propagator of this particular view.

Meghnad Desai is emeritus professor of economics at the London School of Economics and author of The Rediscovery of India and Development and Nationhood.

Excerpted with permission from “India as a Hindu Nation – and Other Ideas of India”, Meghnad Desai, from Making Sense of Modi’s India, HarperCollins India.

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As corporate India changes from strait-jacketed to stylish, here’s how you can stay on-trend

For men and women, tips to make your office style game strong.

Office wear in India tends to be conservative. For men, the staple blue or white shirt and dark trouser arranged in a monotonous assembly line has been a permanent feature of the wardrobe (a tactic shrewdly administered to ensure minimum time is spent shopping). For women, androgynous work wear has been ever reliable and just as dull.

But camouflage is of no use in the corporate jungle anymore. The Indian office is no longer a place for dull, unthinking conformity, it is a place that expects vibrancy in thought and action. With a younger workforce and a greater mix of multinationals and jobs, there is a greater acceptance of edgier trends. Men are stepping away from their blues and greys and women are reshaping their workwear to be more interesting and distinctly feminine. As corporate India is proving its mettle on the global stage and to itself, it’s also growing confident in expressing individuality and style in the formal work environment. From clothing to office décor and fashion accessories to work tools, the workplace is becoming a place to display merit as well as taste.

Work clothes have shed their monochrome and moved into the light of technicolor. Bright colours have steadily become popular as Pantone’s annual colours of the year show us. For the corporate warrior who wants to be stylish here is our pick of trends worth considering.


Statement jacket. A statement jacket is one that doesn’t merely stand out in a crowd, but blows it open for you. How do you recognize one? You’ll know it when you see it. Most statement jackets have a non-traditional color. They could also have subtle prints on them if you want to go funky.

Technicolor socks. Multicolored socks (or hipster socks as they are known in some quarters) peek out every once in a while and brighten things up in the workplace. From polka dots and caricatures to geometric patterns, you can choose a pair to suit your mood or your workplace. A great way of telling people you don’t take fashion rules seriously (except these ones).

Plaid: Well played is well, plaid. Great for your 9-to-5 and even performs well after. Plaids, in shirts and jackets, are perhaps the most versatile tool in the corporate warrior’s armory, and straddle the fine line between formal and casual effectively. They’re also age-resistant meaning a young buck in his twenties can rock them as much as your seasoned forty-plus campaigner. Plaid, though Scottish in origin, has an Indian connection too, in the Madras checks that became popular all over the world after the World War.

Inside collars and cuffs. If you like to keep it classy but still a little edgy, nothing does it like contrast or printed insides of your collar and cuffs. After the work day, when it’s proper to roll up your sleeves, it even adds a touch of evening character.

Coloured Shoes. Alternate your staid blacks and browns with variants like burgundy, light buttery browns and ashen blues. Play with moccasins, tassel loafers and lace-ups. Go beyond leather and try suede and maybe even canvas. But do remember to take a quick course in matching.


Floral prints. Flowers are back (though one could argue that they never went out) and now they’re storming the bastion of your office. Even the traditional Indian paisley is making its way into formal wear. With the prevalence of digital printing, with a little hunting, you’ll even find beautiful florals in watercolour style.

Scarves. The first rule of wearing scarves is to rid yourself of the notion that they are to be worn only in winter. A colourful scarf paired with a monochrome top works wonders. A dozen online videos will teach you to wear it in a dozen ways. Plus, it always comes in handy when the thermostat isn’t to your liking. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw wears scarves frequently, and is a great example of how you can use it strikingly.

Pants. Yes. Pants. Experiment with different styles and you’ll be surprised how they can really spruce up a boring look. Silhouette is everything when it comes to pants. Choose from high-waisted, wide legged, pleated to ankle length pants and what not! The best part is offices rarely prescribe silhouettes, so you can always get by with some style even if your workplace demands a uniform.

Houndstooth. The houndstooth pattern is at the sweet intersection between casual and formal and can be worn to make a splash in either occasion. Whether its jackets or a dress or a simple top, a houndstooth pattern is incredibly versatile.

Chic suits. A sharp suit is a must for a modern professional’s wardrobe. And please don’t even look in the direction of black. Pastel colours or even greys with patterns are great options for suits. Uncoordinated suits are also a great option depending on how edgy you want your office attire to be.


It isn’t enough to be well-dressed in the modern workplace. A good professional is known by his or her tools and how they carry it.

Designer laptop sleeves. Your high-precision instrument deserves a cover chosen with as much care. Black Neoprene is out. Pastel monochromes, geometric patterns and bold designs are very much in. Different materials like cotton, leather and even paper are a great option.

Natural fiber or leather bags (yes kill your black synthetic one now). Briefcases are ancient and black messenger bags are done. Go for a color variant or a subtle pattern. Pay attention to the different leather finishes. Adding a few nicely done metal trims can make all the difference. But convenience and ease are top priority. If you travel a lot, get a stylish strolley and thank yourself later.

Commute pack. The urban corporate needs to be productive at all times, or at the very least, needs to be accessible. A modern commute pack should include wireless headphones, a USB battery pack (power bank) and a wire/gadget organisation pack just so that you’re always prepared.

Machine. We’ve all showed off our latest smartphones. Your work machine is way more important. And like in smartphones, a good laptop is no longer only about performance. The specifications must be top-notch but it has also become an expression of your personality. It can up your style quotient and significantly impact your experience.

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Source: Dell

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Dell and not by the Scroll editorial team.

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