Slogans don’t make for nationalism or anti-nationalism: Romila Thapar


Nationalism cannot be reduced merely to waving flags, shouting slogans or penalising people for not uttering Bharat Mata ki Jai, it requires a far greater commitment to attending to the needs of the nation, says eminent historian Romila Thapar.

Sloganeering or flag waving smack of a lack of confidence among those making the demand for slogans, she writes in a new book On Nationalism, a compilation of three essays by Thapar, lawyer AG Noorani and cultural commentator Sadanand Menon published by Aleph Book Company.

“Nationalism had, and has, much to do with understanding one’s society and finding one’s identity as a member of that society. It cannot be reduced merely to waving flags and shouting slogans and penalising people for not shouting slogans like Bharat Mata ki Jai. This smacks of a lack of confidence among those making the demand for slogans,” she says.

“Nationalism requires a far greater commitment to attending to the needs of the nation rather than sloganeering, and that too with slogans focusing on territory or ones that have a limited acceptability.

“As was recently said, it is indeed ironic that an Indian who refuses to shout this slogan is immediately declared as anti-national, but an Indian who has deliberately not paid his taxes or stashed away black money is not declared as such,” she argues.

According to Thapar, the question of what is national and what is anti-national does depend on what is understood by nationalism.

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“A commitment to the nation if it encourages concern for and an ethical attitude towards other citizens of the same nation is always commended. However, this should not be expressed by vicious hostility towards neighbouring nations as also happens.

“Hostility, in particular situations, has to be tempered with reason and this is one difference between good governance and bad. Nationalism, therefore, cannot be without its limits and the limits have to be carefully worked out,” she writes.

Thapar suggests that concepts of nations based on a single exclusive identity – religious, linguistic, ethnic and similar single identities – are actually pseudo-nationalisms and should be precluded from being called nationalism, without the accompanying qualifier of their identity.

According to her, history in India has become the arena of struggle between the secular nationalists and those endorsing varieties of religious or pseudo-nationalisms.

“Nationalist historical writing visualised history as supportive of the interlinking of the communities that constituted Indian society. Occasionally there were deviations from this when a particular religious community was given greater centrality than was appropriate to a nationalist perspective.