‘Can’t have nationalism today without an enemy’

Fact and fiction: S. Irfan Habib addresses the audience during Mumbai Collective at Y.B. Chavan Centre.

Fact and fiction: S. Irfan Habib addresses the audience during Mumbai Collective at Y.B. Chavan Centre.   | Photo Credit: Emmanual Yogini


History is being written on WhatsApp, says S. Irfan Habib

‘WhatsApp scholarship’ is posing a serious challenge to historians in today’s day and age, science historian S. Irfan Habib has said. “Today you don’t need to refer to history books. You write your own history on WhatsApp,” Mr. Habib said.

He was speaking on the topic ‘Indian Nationalism: Contrasting WhatsApp Propaganda with Historical Facts’ at a session chaired by Economic and Political Weekly editor Gopal Guru, as part of Mumbai Collective 2019, on Sunday.

The science historian went on to say that nationalism has been confined to flags and slogans. “You can’t have nationalism today without an enemy. Who gave us this nationalism?” Mr. Habib asked.

Mr. Guru said the notion of nationalism is frozen because, as Mr. Habib said, “the goal post is not changing. We should ask ourselves: what kind of a nation do we want to make? We have to redefine ‘nation’.”

Mr. Habib said Jawaharlal Nehru is one of the favourites of WhatsApp scholarship. “So is Sardar Patel. But Nehru and Patel’s letters signify a different legacy and pose a challenge to the WhatsApp propaganda,” he said.

He read out quotes from Sardar Patel’s speech directed towards the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh at Madras on February 23, 1949, which said: “Change your plans, give up secrecy, eschew communal conflict, respect the Constitution of India, show your loyalty to the flag and make us believe that we can trust your words.” The historian was trying to point out that Patel, who died within a few months of delivering this speech, is a favourite of the current dispensation only because that would show Nehru in poor light.

Mr. Habib said revolutionary freedom fighter Bhagat Singh had actually questioned the “policy of encouraging competing communalisms”, and that Bhagat Singh was conscious of the “growing menace of communalism with the emergence of groups like the RSS.”

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 8:55:08 AM |

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