Being Hindu, Being Indian: Lala Lajpat Rai’s Ideas of Nationhood by Vanya Vaidehi Bhargava

Have our hasty conclusions about Lajpat Rai’s nationalist thought concealed its complexities and distorted our understanding of nationalism in general?

About the Book

In popular imagination, Lala Lajpat Rai is frequently associated with Bhagat Singh, who, by assassinating J.P. Saunders, avenged Rai’s death, caused by a police lathi charge, and was hanged for it. Lajpat Rai is also remembered for his fervent opposition to British rule.

In recent decades, however, historians have converged with the Hindu Right in rediscovering Lajpat Rai as an ideological ancestor of Hindutva. But what then explains Rai’s wholehearted approval of the Congress–Muslim League cooperation, and attempt to endow Hindus and Muslims with bonds of common belonging? Why did he reinterpret India’s medieval history to highlight peaceful coexistence between Hindus and Muslims?

Meticulously researched and eloquently written, Being Hindu, Being Indian offers the first comprehensive examination of Lajpat Rai’s nationalist thought. By revealing the complexities of Rai’s thinking, it provokes us to think more deeply about broader questions relevant to present-day politics: Are all expressions of ‘Hindu nationalism’ the same as Hindutva? What are the similarities and differences between ‘Hindu’ and ‘Indian’ nationalism? Can communalism and secularism be expressed together? How should we understand fluidity in politics? This book invites readers to treat Lajpat Rai’s ideas as a gateway to think more deeply about history, politics, religious identity and nationhood.

Vanya Vaidehi Bhargava

About the Author

VANYA VAIDEHI BHARGAV is an intellectual historian of modern South Asia. She completed her DPhil in history at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford. Her research has been published in leading peer-reviewed academic journals, such as the Journal of Asian Studies, Global Intellectual History, Studies in Indian Politics and Religions. She has been a research fellow at the M.S. Merian – R. Tagore International Centre of Advanced Studies ‘Metamorphosis of the Political: Comparative Perspectives on the Long Twentieth Century’ (ICAS: M.P.), New Delhi, India, and a senior research fellow with Kolleg-Forschungsgruppe ‘Multiple Secularities – Beyond the West, Beyond Modernities’, Humanities Centre for Advanced Studies, University of Leipzig, Germany. Committed to engaging with the public, Bhargav has written for the Indian Express, The Hindu and The Wire.

Vanya Vaidehi Bhargava

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