Blogs > Cliopatria > A Look Inside Indian Nationalism

Jan 17, 2004 2:55 pm

A Look Inside Indian Nationalism

Here's a unique opportunity to see the inside view of cultural and historiographical debates going on in India. Rajiv Malhotra of the Infinity Foundation, who has taken a pretty strong Hindu nationalist position on H-Asia, sent out an invitation to discussion and debate to"Leftists" (by which he seems to mean everyone from liberal secularists to Maoists), including a few historical-cultural propositions to start the discussion. Among his contentions: the historical specificity of the Abrahamic faiths is contributing to the Indian conflict by transmitting its tradition of rigid sacred place/time connections to Hinduism; most of his letter, though, is attacks on the"anti-Hindu" character of the Left and Western-oriented scholarship. Vijay Prashad took up the challenge, starting with a defense of the the critical Indian Marxist tradition, and a careful distinction between Hinduism and Hindutva, republican nationalism and ethnic nationalism, and a critique of national essentialism. However, as Malhotra points out, he doesn't directly engage some of the more interesting historical propositions, to which Malhotra adds a striking leftist critique of what he calls"religious multi-national corporations" and orientalist critique of the position of Indian and Asian studies in the Western Academy. Malhotra's critique of social criticism of the Indian jati caste system makes it very clear that his position is in favor of the blanket veneration of"true" Indian tradition in spite of its problematic aspects. That's where the discussion has ended, so far. It looks to me like they're talking past each other, and will probably continue to do so, but sometimes it's worth reading these things directly.

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Ophelia Benson - 1/18/2004

It's interesting what a multitude of sins the word 'Orientalism' can cover. It seems often to mean 'disagreement with anything I decide for the purposes of this discussion is authentically Indian.' In fact it functions rather the way 'un-American' once did. So people like Romila Thapar, Amartya Sen, Meera Nanda are accused of Orientalizing because they oppose Hindutva and are in favor of rationalism and evidence and science. But as Sen often points out, it's absurd to think that rationalism is a monopoly of the West or of Europe.