Aleph to publish The Battle of Belonging by Shashi Tharoor

Picture Credit: Aleph
Picture Credit: Aleph

‘The Battle of Belonging is the most important book written by an active politician on lndianess, and the political, religious, and cultural forces and ideas that have shaped it, since Jawaharlal Nehru’s The Discovery of India.’ -David Davidar. Publisher, Aleph Book Company


There are over a billion Indians alive today.

But are some Indians more Indian than others? To answer this question, one that is central to the identity of every man, woman, and child who belongs to the modern Republic of India, eminent thinker and bestselling writer Shashi Tharoor explores hotly contested ideas of nationalism, patriotism, citizenship, and belonging. In the course of his study, he explains what nationalism is, and can be, reveals who is anti-national, what patriotism actually means, and explores the nature and future of Indian nation hood. He gives us a clear-sighted view of the forces working to undermine the ‘idea of India’ (a phrase coined by Rabindranath  Tagore) that has evolved through history and which, in its modern form, was enshrined in India’s Constitution by its founding fathers.

Divided into six sections, the book scans off by exploring historical and contemporary ideas of nationalism, patriotism, liberalism, democracy, and humanism, many of which emerged in the West in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and quickly spread throughout the world. The author then summarizes India’s liberal constitutionalism, exploring the enlightened values that cowering leaders and thinkers like Gandhi, Nehru, Tagore, Ambedkar, Patel, Azad, and others invested the nation with. ‘These are contrasted with the narrow-minded, divisive, sectarian, ‘us vs them’ alternatives formulated by Hindutva ideologues, and propagated by their followers who are now in office.

Today, the battle is between these two opposing ideas of India, or what might be described as ethno-religious nationalism vs civic nationalism. The struggle for India’s soul has heightened, deepened, and broadened, and threatens to hollow out and destroy the remarkable concepts of pluralism, secularism, and inclusive nationhood that were bestowed upon the nation at Independence. The Constitution is under siege, institutions are being undermined, mythical pasts propagated, universities assailed, minorities dernonized, and worse. Every passing month sees new attacks on the ideals that India has long been admired for, as authoritarian leaders and their bigoted supporters push the country towards a state of illiberalism and intolerance. If they succeed, millions will be stripped of their identity, and bogus theories of lndianness will take root in the soil of the subcontinent. However, all is not yet lost, and this erudite and lucid book shows us what will need to be done to win the battle of belonging and strengthen everything that i s unique and valuable about India.

Firmly anchored in incontestable scholarship, yet passionately and fiercely argued, The Battle of Belonging is a book that unambiguously establishes what true Indianness is and what it means to be a patriotic and nationalistic India n in the twenty-first century.


SHASHI THAROOR is the bestselling author of over twenty books, both fiction and non -fiction, besides being a noted critic and columnist. His books include the path-breaking satire The Great Indian Novel, the classic lndia: From Midnight to the Millennium, the bestselling An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India, for which he won the Ramnath Goenka Award for Excellence in Books (Non-Fiction), 20 16, and, most recently, The New World Disorder and the Indian Imperative (co-authored with Samir Saran), The  Paradoxical  Prime  Minister:  Narendra  Modi and  His  India, and The Hindtt Way: An Introduction to Hinduism. He was a former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and a former Minister of State for Human Resource Development and Minister of State for External Affairs in the Government of India. In his third term, he is the longest-serving member of the Lok Sabha from Thiruvananthapuram and chairs Parliam ent’s Standing Committee on Information Technology. He has won numerous literary awards, including the Sahitya Akademi Award, a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and the Crossword Lifetime Achievement Award. He was honoured as New Age Politician of the Year by NDTV in 2010, and in 2004 with the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, India’s highest honour for overseas Indians.


This book has been a paean to an India where it does not matter what religion you practise, what language you speak, what caste you were born into, what colour your skin is, and a celebration of a civic nationalism that affirms that in India it should only matter that you are Indian. A paean, I said-not an elegy, and certainly not a dirge. f t is possible to wrest back for India’s civic nationalists the India that the Hindutvavadis have been seeking to transform. Our choice is clear. We can have a New India that belongs to all of us, led by a government that works for all of us. Or we can have a New India that belongs to some, and serves the interests of a few. That is the difference between the civic nationalism enshrined in the constitutional republic and the ethno-religious-linguistic nationalism of the Hindutva movement.

I believe we must build this New India on solutions to our major challenges. But it must remain an open society. a rich and diverse and plural civilization, one that is open to the contention of ideas and interests within it, unafraid of the prowess or the prnd11cts of the outside world, wedded to the democratic pluralism that is India’s greatest strength, and determined to liberate and fulfill the creative energies of its people.

At the same time, this will require our educated youth, untainted by the bigotries and communal prejudices of the religious nationalists, to come to the forefront to sustain liberal democracy. This book is a call to action by those who see the merits of civic nationalism, to rise to defend it against the regressive depredations of those who wish to set the clock back to an ancient era that in fact never existed outside their fevered imaginations.

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