Our "elite" English language Press has risen smartly to the bait, and there have been interviews in the TOI and DNA presenting that face-off as a real thing.
It is not real, for both sides of the debate are part of Britain's propaganda war against India.
With the Hindutvadis that is an open and shut case.
The philosophy of "Hindutva" was first enunciated by Damodar Vinayak Savarkar after he had been tortured into submission in a British prison.
It was written while he was still in prison and its political message was a HIndu version of Mohammad Ali Jinnah's "two nation" theory.
With Jinnah and Savarkar as proxies, the British then proceeded to rip Indian society apart.
Romila Thapar is a more complex case because scholarly credentials hide her involvement in the propagandistic colonial history project.
Perhaps the best way to expose that is to compare her 1966 A History of India with its thoroughly revised and enlarged edition of 2004.
The two versions offer a fascinating contrast in their treatment of Hinduism.
The Pelican Original of 1966 had this to say about Hinduism on page 132 of Chapter 6:
“Brahminism did not remain unchanged through all these centuries, nor was it impervious to the effects of Buddhism and Jainism. Some of the Vedic gods had quietly passed into oblivion and some were being reborn as new gods with additional attributes. This was the time when the Brahminical religion assumed features which today are recognized as Hinduism. To call it Hinduism at this stage is perhaps an anachronism, since the term was given currency by the Arabs in the eight century A.D, when referring to those who followed the prevailing religion of India, the worship of Shiva and Vishnu. But for the sake of convenience the religion may be described as Hinduism from this point onwards.”
In the much expanded 2004 edition, the topic of Hinduism was moved up to page 3 of Chapter 1, and Thapar expressed a completely different view.
“In the course of investigating what came to be called Hinduism, together with various aspects of its belief, ritual and custom, many [British Orientalists] were baffled by a religion that was altogether different from their own. It was not monotheistic, there was no historical founder, or single sacred text, or dogma or ecclesiastical organization — and it was closely tied to caste. There was therefore an overriding need to fit it into the known moulds of familiar religions, so as to make it more accessible. Some scholars have suggested that Hinduism as it is formulated and perceived today, very differently from earlier times, was largely born out of this reformulation.”
The British “reformulation,” Thapar explained, “influenced the emerging Indian middle class in its understanding of its own past. … It was believed that the Indian pattern of life was so concerned with metaphysics and the subtleties of religious belief that little attention was given to the more tangible aspects.”
That was “the genesis of the idea of the spiritual east,” a theme “firmly endorsed by a section of Indian opinion during the last hundred years” because it “was a consolation to the Indian intelligentsia for its perceived inability to counter the technical superiority of the West …. At the height of anti-colonial nationalism it acted as a salve for having been made a colony of Britain.”
Thapar did not explain her dramatic shift in assessing the nature and history of Hinduism, but it is not difficult to see that in the second version she has clearly bought into the colonial theme that Hinduism does not exist, that the billion of us who call ourselves Hindu are just plain confused.
However, the explanation is obvious and can be summed up simply: 1984.
Obviously, she has been hurt and traumatized by the events of that terrible year, and the vociferous attacks of Hindutvadis on her various writings have pushed her over the edge.
It is a pity that she did not put what happened in 1984 in the larger context of Britain's merciless manipulation of the Sikhs.
But as for the rest of us, we should look on the Romila Thapar versus the Hindutvadis as a specious culture war entirely of British creation, presented at a critical time in our history by one of their most effective proxies in India, David Davidar.