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Shashi Tharoor on Nationalism and the Battle for India’s Soul

How can nations like India turn the tide on regressive forms of nationalism and preserve what makes them pluralist and principled?

Nationalism is on the rise. Economic stagnation and cultural strife in many countries have led to a backlash against liberalism and given rise to new strongman leaders who promise to lead their nations to a new era of honour and glory. One country that has experienced a particularly sharp spike in nationalism is India. Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP party came to power in 2014 the country has seen an increase in Hindu nationalism and a rise in hostility towards the Muslim minority population. 

Politician and writer Shashi Tharoor believes that India is at a crossroads. The people of the world’s second most populous nation, he contends, are splitting into two opposing factions: ethno-religious nationalists and liberal civic nationalists. If the ethno-religious nationalists prevail, he says, millions of non-Hindus would be stripped of their identity, and bogus theories of Indianness would take root in the soil of the subcontinent.  

In October 2021, Tharoor came to Intelligence Squared to discuss the threats facing the biggest democracy in the world. Drawing from his new book The Struggle for India’s Soul he explained how nations like India can turn the tide on regressive forms of nationalism and preserve what makes them pluralist and principled.



Shashi Tharoor

Politician, writer, former diplomat and Member of Parliament since 2009

Politician, writer and former diplomat who has been a Member of Parliament since 2009. He was formerly Under-Secretary General of the United Nations. He is the author of many books including Why I Am A Hindu and the new title The Struggle for India's Soul.

Rana Mitter

Historian, author and broadcaster

Historian, author and broadcaster. He is director of the University China Centre at the University of Oxford, where he is Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China. His new book, China's Good War: How World War II is Shaping a New Nationalism, will be published in September this year. He is a regular presenter of the arts and ideas programme Free Thinking on BBC Radio 3.


Speakers subject to change.