secular india
Harsh Gupta
India and identity – In ten pieces
This article originally appeared in CRI content has now been subsumed in The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of

In the last few years I have struggled with the question of identity – and what it means to be an Indian – in some of my writings. I want to share some of the pieces here in an “aggregator” blog-post. I do not necessarily agree with all my past writings down to the every letter, but they continue to overwhelmingly represent my views. Some of the pieces are co-authored, and without my fellow writers, they would not have been possible.

1. The liberalism in BJP’s agenda – Mint 

…when even seasoned BJP politicians are unable to define Hindutva beyond mouthing platitudes, and considering the party’s past association with a particularly rabid brand of denominational politics, discarding Hindutva as the party’s core ideology may well be the first step in a fundamental restructuring of its polity.

Nevertheless, it does not follow that what has historically constituted the Hindutva agenda policy-wise—implementation of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC), abrogation of Article 370 that provides for special rights for the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and establishment of a Ram temple at Ayodhya—is entirely communal in nature…

2. The case against Hindutva – Pragati 

…Hindutva harms both India and Hinduism by conflating them in a semantic ego-trip… RSS believes that all Indians are Hindus. Mohan Bhagwat, the current chief, said that if one is not a Hindu, one cannot be an Indian because “for us the word Hindu did not mean any religion but a way of life”.

The Sangh website says that only Hindu males can become members. But, if all Hindus are Indians then the Sangh is at least being consistent—although this consistency gets somewhat muddled when one comes across Sangh-affiliated denominational organisations such as the Muslim Rashtriya Manch.

Either way, this stand remains condescending to all Indians who do not consider themselves Hindus. Like all collectivist philosophies, Hindutva too has its own version of Marxist false consciousness: “We know your true identity and interests better than you do!”…

3. CRI Secularism Debate Part I – debate with Sandeep Balakrishna

… I will argue that:

  1. India needs to separate religion and state and treat its citizens as individuals and not as members of groups. Advocating majoritarian policies is wrong (say, restrictions on voluntary conversions and cow slaughter) and needs to be separated from protesting minority appeasement (say, in policy regarding education/quotas, religious trusts, civil code, Article 370 etc.)
  2. The political philosophy of Hindutva is morally wrong, detrimental to the Indian national interest, detrimental to Hinduism, and politically counter-productive. The Indian Right needs to adopt and not attack secularism/liberalism. On the political platform, equality of individuals before the law should be fought for…

4. CRI Secularism Debate Part II

…I argue that:

We should lay down policy differences on the table – as that would substantially contribute to clearing the semantic cloud overhanging on this debate.

And, if the policy differences are not substantial between me and my opponent, then why implicitly or explicitly endorse words in the political sphere that exclude many citizens? In this semantic (or Semitic?) egotism, I hope we are not losing sight of much more important matters…

5. CRI Secularism Debate Part III 

…I argue that:

The Hindu society by and large simply does not want to dominate or convert, and hence by being inclusive – despite obvious problems in the Nehruvian execution – it has managed to keep intact most of its objectives.

Instead, by being genuinely non-threatening it has managed to divide its old political foe (the Islamists, into three countries and many more groups, without specifically intending to do so) and finally win peace after many centuries to develop its own destiny…

6. Babri demolition – a predictable tragedy in retrospect – Tehelka

…The destruction of Babri was illegal, immoral, and harmful not just to Indian liberal nationalism, but even to the Hindu cultural nationalist’s cause. Yes, the Hindu-Muslim animus exists and acknowledging it without prejudicing one’s positions is essential, though not exactly salutary. The case against Babri was

  1. The so-called secularists overturned Supreme Court’s Shah Bano judgment – thereby continued to appease conservative Islam.
  2. They used Mandal commission’s recommendations to further divide Hindus on caste
  3. They refused to see that Babri was a symbol of slavery and more broadly belittled the significant brutalities against Hindus by Muslims historically.

The insinuation was that Hindus had no reason to be angry about Babri specifically and pseudo-secularism broadly…

7. Let us debate the idea of India – Mint

…If minorities, be they religious, ethnic or linguistic, must exist as groups and these groups supersede individual identities, what, then, does it mean to be an Indian? It is noteworthy that this was a pressing question during the decades preceding the founding of the Indian Republic, through the tumultuous 1930s and 1940s.

This question, along with that of the position of Muslims as a “minority” group in free India, gained importance with the political rise of the Muslim League under Jinnah. One of the reasons why the Congress party accepted partition and rejected the last-ditch compromise that was the Cabinet Mission Plan of May 1946 was its disagreement with the Muslim League, which demanded differentiated citizenship…

8. One versus Group – Indian Express – debate with Ashutosh Varshney

Left-liberals assist the state in slowing India’s natural evolution from a discrete salad bowl to a composite, dynamic melting pot…A great debate is brewing in this context. What is the idea of India? Should certain groups have special rights over and above the individual rights that all citizens enjoy in a free, democratic India?

This is a fundamental schism in political philosophy. While many intellectuals have long argued for the primacy of group rights over individual rights, and the “protection” of minority interests, there needs to be broader discussion on how this mindset might atrophy individual identity…

9. Against entrenched identities – Indian Express

…Advocating for a state agnostic to various sub-identities and a government that sees citizens only as equal and free individual Indians does not preclude said citizens from having as many “hyphens” as they want.

Varshney’s writing (‘Why India must allow hyphens‘, IE, Feb 13) that “If Indians can be Gujarati Indians or Hindu Indians, why can’t there be Muslim Indians or Christian Indians?”, is a strawman. Nobody is saying Indians cannot see themselves and fellow citizens as belonging to any group. The argument is simply for the government to not see Indians as Hindus, Muslims, and Christians or so on…

10. The Nehruvian condescension against minorities – Mint

…it is high time the Indian state breaks from Nehru’s construct of seeing religious minorities as “separate from us” and stops indulging in the “soft bigotry of low expectations” from certain communities.

It is a construct that manufactures distrust in society and encourages Indians to be suspicious of each other because the state emphasizes our differences, rather than our common heritage, while making us compete for goods and services for which an artificial shortage is created by faulty economic policies…