Colonial scholarship perceived India in terms of two distinctive and segregated civilizations, the Hindu and the Muslim, in conflict with one another. Colonial historiography periodized Indian history in terms of the Hindu, the Muslim, and the British periods. The concept of monolithic religious communities and the perception of history as a conflict between such communities have been taken over by the communal historians of our own time who, in this sense, constitute the true intellectual heirs of the James Mills and the Christian Lassens.
This perception, however, is a travesty of history. It impoverishes our understanding by ignoring every other dimension of life, the social, the economic, and the political, that should figure in the corpus of history and by focussing only on the religious dimension. It does violence to the real identities whi'ch people had of themselves and of each other, which were necessarily complex, multi-dimensional, changing, and altogether richly-textured, by forcing them into rigid, static and simplistic formulae, with little historical evidence to support them. Above all, however, it does not even do justice to the real religious identities which people had, identities which according to it were the motive force of history. This last point is a specially significant one to emerge from Romila Thapar's Zakir Husain Memorial Lecture of 1996 which we carry as the lead article in the current number of Social Scientist, and which constitutes a lucid and powerful critique of such historiography. The diversities among the various religious s^cts which came to be called Hinduism were, she argues, quite marked, notwithstanding the fact that being juxtaposed to one another they had developed some common features; in fact, some scholars prefer the term 'Hindu religions' to Hinduism. What is more, all over the subcontinent there were groups to which a sizeable portion of the population belonged which had ambiguous religious identities and were located at some intersection of Islam and Hindu religions. These complex religious identities, in turn, were related to issues of access to resources and power. All this has to be unravelled by historical research for which it is necessary that we rid ourselves of the tyranny of such labels.
Socialists have always been committed to the idea of internationalism. But does the current tendency towards 'globalisation' constitute some sort of a half-way house towards that goal? Would the revival of a national agenda, even leaving aside questions of its feasibility, be a desirable move in this context or would it amount to putting the clock back? These are crucial questions for the Left and by