Scholar links today's Indian nationalism to European xenophobia

In a lecture here on Wednesday, eminent philosopher Akeel Bilgrami explained that former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's modernity and secularism were indigeneous and distinct from Europeans notions of these concepts. "The doctrine of secularism emerged as a large and corrective measure, essentially, as this narrative shows, to be a counter to a process that starts with a nationalism founded on religious majoritarianism," he said.

Professor at the Columbia University in New York, Mr. Bilgrami spoke on Nehru and The Concept of Secularism--the fifth talk in The Indian Moden and Nehru series of the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust and the India Habitat Centre in the capital. He explained that European nationalism was generated by creating a feeling of "ours" by finding an external enemy within its territory to be despised as the "other."

"Indian society seems to have sunk into the majoritarian form of nationalism that I have traced to Europe's nation building past," he added.

"The work of Nehru's, just like a range of writings by Gandhi from Hind Swaraj onwards, form all their many differences of attitude towards religion and science and secularization constantly applauded India's diverse peoples mutual influence upon each other, their shared sites of worship, and all other familiar elements of a civilization that came later to be captured in such tired phrases and clichés as 'composite culture and 'unity in diversity'," he said.

The Khilafat Movement in India to protect the Ottoman Empire, he explained was a key manifestation of Nehru's brand of secularism. "Khilafat was a platform and a nationalist strategy for much more than a Muslim cause, indeed far more than an anti-imperialist cause because it brought to consciousness how the welfare of the peasantry was essential to any future ideal of the nation," Mr. Bilgrami said quoting from Nehru's An Autobiography.

Reforms to Hindu personal law, he said, was part of Nehru's policy that was unlike the western notion of secularization. "We will allow great latitude in religious practice, as a freedom, so long as those practices do not clash with basic ideals of society, ideals that are elaborated without mention of religion or opposition to it."

On the state's failure to reform Muslim personal law, Mr. Bilgrami evolved upon the writings of Michel Foucault and Partha Chatterjee. He explained, "If there are no reasons the State can offer Muslims to reform their personal laws, that does not rule out that at a future time, history may have introduced enough internal conflict within Muslim attitudes on the subject of personal law that allows them to be open to administrative reforms."

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Printable version | Nov 26, 2021 5:52:01 PM |

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