23 November 2020, Kolkata: Shashi Tharoor’s latest book “The Battle of Belonging” was formally launched at the Prabha Khaitan Foundation’s signature event Kitab by Chief Guest Mr Hamid Ansari, former Vice-President of India, Farooque Abdullah, David Davidar, Pavan K Varma, Makarand Paranjape. Author Shashi Tharoor shared details of his inspiration for writing “The Battle of Belonging”. The online event, organized by Prabha Khaitan Foundation in association with Aleph Book Company and moderated by journalist Karan Thapar.
The formal launch was followed by a stimulating discussion and critical appraisal of Shashi Tharoor’s 22nd book which delves into current social, political and cultural issues confronting India. Guests lauded Shashi Tharoor’s latest book but contested some of the core concepts like nationalism, patriotism, civic nationalism, the idea of India and others elaborated in the book. In his book, Tharoor says patriotism and nationalism are different. A patriot is ready to die for his country; a nationalist is ready to kill for his country. Some of the live panellists at Kitab did not agree with this distinction with Pavan K Varma calling it an “intellectual quibble”.
Mr Hamid Ansari said, “This is a passionate plea for an idea of India that was taken for granted and is now seemingly endangered by ideologies that seek to segment it on imagined criteria of us and them. I found the essays on identity and patriotism particularly enlightening. The book’s analysis is comprehensive, yet it stops short of suggesting a doable recipe for correcting the shortfalls.”
David Davidar of Aleph Book Company, publisher of the book, said, “This book falls in the rarest-of-rare `Indispensable’ category – books you cannot do without.”
Shashi Tharoor said, “This book is the culmination of a lifetime’s thoughts, readings and arguments on issues of nationalism and patriotism and intensely personal too. The book was prompted by the rise of a fundamental challenge to the very essence of Indian nationalism. India’s own anti-colonial nationalism converted itself into a `civic nationalism’ encoded in a democratic Constitution and then the conflict over contemporary attempts to convert that into a religious-cultural nationalism. That is the battle of belonging to India and having India belong to you. Those are the principal themes in the book.”
Responding to a question from Karan Thapar, Farooque Abdullah said, “Today we are being divided on religion, caste, creed and language. Are we making a strong India or killing the very essence of it! ”
Paranjape Marakand, poet and novelist, said, “The idea of India is highly and hotly contested today and the Nehruvian consensus has now probably crumbled to dust. Shashi’s book should open up serious debates but I don’t think India is a country which practices `civic nationalism’. I think ours is `civilisational nationalism’ and is always plural.”
Pavan K Varma, on a dissenting note, said, “All religious extremes are bad, including Islamic fundamentalism, which I notice you don’t speak about in your book at all. And if there are sanctuaries for it in any parts of India, I think, they should equally be the focus of your attack so that the book does not appear to be one-sided. I really cannot understand what is a `civic nationalism’ for a country which goes back to the dawn of time and whose civilisational legacy is something we find very difficult to ignore and contributed to any idea of India that we may have recently formed. Why do we need to devise this sanitised notion called civil nationalism which privileges a recent Constitution as it should be but posits it against any unwarranted cultural infusions as though that was the intention of the constitution makers.”