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Changing Parameters

Bhagwan Josh

By Pratap Bhanu Mehta
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 1008, Rs. 695.00


According to the blurb this omnibus edition of three books—described by reviewers as ‘outstanding studies’, ‘remarkable books’, ‘best scholarship’—deals with the various aspects of Hindu nationalism. The compilation of these three studies into a single edition by the Oxford University Press serves a useful purpose. In the coming ten years, a considerable number of students are going to read this compendium of three books. Therefore, first of all, let me look at it from the point of view of their questions. For the last fifty years, if not more, generations of Indian students have been taught in schools, colleges and universities the academic jargon of labelling organizations such as the Hindu Mahasabha, the RSS and the BJP as “communalist”, a category supposed to be the opposite of “secularism”. In other words, a particular system of knowledge about Indian polity and society was organized around these emotionally charged dichotomous discourses. In the last ten years, hundreds of seminars were organized and scores of books have been published on the theme of ‘secularism-communalism’ by numerous political scientists and historians. As a result of one such international seminar, Rajiv Bhargava edited a massive tome—Secularism and Its Critics—a study deservingly labelled as ‘remarkable’, ‘outstanding’ and ‘best’ by many other political scientists. Now suddenly there is a shift in the discourse. The political currents and the organizations which earlier used to be labelled as “communalist” are now being labelled as “Hindu nationalist” by a large section of the academicians. How does one explain this significant shift in academic discourse? What are its implications? Is Hindu nationalism simply a substitute word for communalism? Are we passing through a transitional period where the discourses of “communalism-secularism” and “Hindu nationalism” would run parallel to each other? Are the opponents of these organizations “not Hindu nationalists.”? The scholarly studies included in this omnibus, which elaborately construct many of their chosen themes about the various facets of Hinduism do not even recognize the existence of such questions. Is not the introduction supposed to raise such questions?   Interestingly, Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s introduction to the omnibus follows the trend of these studies even when he almost ends up asking all the possible questions: “What is Hindu nationalism? What are its political strategies? What organizational forms does it take? What social base does it draw upon? What are the possible limits to its expansion? What is its relationship ...

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