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Modi's view that India was under slavery for 1,200 is "spurious": Top academic Meghnad Desai takes a U-turn

Meghnad Desai
By Our Representative
In a major U-turn, Meghnad Desai, emeritus professor of economics at the London School of Economics, has taken strong exception to the idea of Hindu nationalism, as pursued by the BJP and the Narendra Modi government, saying, it sharply differs from what the freedom fighter the party reveres the most – Vinayak Damodar Savarkar -- thought.
One of the sharpest critics of Narendra Modi’s handling of the 2002 Gujarat riots, Desai, an ex-Marxist, who has been a Labour Party lord in the British Parliament, is known to have taken pro-Modi stance in the recent past, much to the chagrin of the Indian left.
In his new book, “Making Sense of Modi’s India”, published by HarperCollins, excerpts of which were published in a well-known news portal, Desai says that, contrary to what his BJP supporters think, Savarkar “was a modernist and not a devotee of religion”, and his idea of nation “is derived from the then fashionable ideas of nationhood espoused by the newly born nations of Europe.”
To Savarkar, “nationhood depended on territory and those born in the territory were members of the nation”, Desai asserts, adding, “His Hindutva is not tied to Hinduism. It says that anyone born in the land of the Indus – Sindhu – is a Hindu and part of Hindutva.” By this logic, he adds, “Muslims can belong to Hindutva if they are loyal to the land of their birth.”
“Subsequent Hindu nationalists have adopted the notion of Hindutva but not Savarkar’s secular doctrine”, Desai regrets, adding, “It is not the idea of Hindu nationalism that is worrying. It is that the government will be the propagator of this particular view.”
Suggesting that the problem has been aggravated because of the patronage received to a particular kind of academia in India, Desai says, the state in India commissions “histories to buttress the official line”, adding, “The sanctity of dispassionate research can never be guaranteed if the funding is public.”
“India does not have the tradition of private philanthropy for research. The government guards all the doors to higher education, thanks to the statist bias of the Congress which ruled for the first thirty years uninterruptedly. This bias has permeated the BJP as well”, says Desai.
The “core” Hindu nationalist doctrine to which Desai objects to in his book includes:
- India has always been a single nation since prehistoric times as Bharatavarsha or Aryabhoomi.
- India got enslaved when Muslim invaders came from the North-west from the eighth century onwards – Mohammad Bin Qaseem and then Mahmud Ghazni followed by the Delhi Sultanate and then the Mughal Empire. Muslims are foreigners.
- In 1947, 1,200 years of slavery came to an end. Narendra Modi said as much during his first speech in the Central Hall of Parliament after his election. India was at last free to assert its true identity as a Hindu nation.
Calling all this as “bogus history”, Desai says, “The religion which Hindus practise has only a marginal relationship to the Vedas. The Vedic gods are no longer worshipped. Vishnu, Shiva and Kali appear in the Hindu pantheon at least 1,000 years after the Vedas.”
“The Hindu nationalist strategy is to deny any conflict between Buddhism and Brahmanism and claim that Buddha was an avatar of Vishnu”, says Desai, adding, “The whole idea of ‘1,200 years of slavery’ is spurious.”

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