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New Left Review I/196, November-December 1992


Achin Vanaik

Reflections on Communalism and Nationalism in India

It is widely agreed that the spectre of growing communalism is the most important issue facing India today. In the battle for the soul of Indian nationalism three positions have been staked out. Firstly, there are those who insist that Indian nationalism must rest on cultural and psychological foundations of an impeccably Hindu provenance, though the ecumenical character of Hinduism licenses pragmatic shifts in interpretation so as to deflect charges of communalism. Secondly, there are those who insist that Indian nationalism must derive from secular principles. Notwithstanding the enduring problems of precise definition, the term ‘secular’ does possess an agreed core meaning: state neutrality with regard to religion. In a multireligious society like that of India, this can mean either a fundamental separation of the state from religious activity and affiliation, or state impartiality on all issues relating to the religious interests of different communities. In practice, ‘Indian secularism’ has been a mixture of the two: an unsatisfactory attempt to reconcile what some consider to be essentially incompatible approaches.

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