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Distorting History

Archbp Thomas Menamparampil Archbp Thomas Menamparampil
11 Jul 2022
The trouble with the upper classes in India is that they are still suffering from a “colonisation” of the mind.

Amit Shah never makes an emotional statement without rousing a nationwide retort. For example, he claimed that history had bypassed the great Hindu empires of the past and their achievements, giving sole attention to the Mughals and other Muslim rulers. He lamented that the Hindus had to struggle for a thousand years to win back the recognition due to them. He pointed out how the Pandyas had held sway for 800 years, Ahoms 650 years, Pallavas 600, Cholas 600; Mauryas for 550 years, Satavahanas 500, Guptas 400. Historian Romila Thapar immediately retorted that those who were conversant with history would never make such a statement, that history had ignored none of those rulers, that each dynasty had been given its due according to its merit. Nor had the Pratiharas, Rashtrakutas, Palas, Chalukyas, or the Vijayanagara kingdom been forgotten. Legitimately, regional histories have given greater importance to the rulers that contributed more to their region.

Ruchik Sharma further pointed out that Mughals had documented their ventures in detail, and that the Turk sense of history differed from Hindu yuga-based legendary accounts that left too little of historical records. Rajan Gurukkal insisted on several corrections to Shah’s history. Many empires that Shah referred to, for example, were only kingdoms and many of his kingdoms were nothing more than chiefdoms. The length of rule of different dynasties quoted also called for correction. Moreover, history is no more merely about battles and victories; it is more about social structures, economy, culture, and conditions of the under-privileged.

It is generally recognised that the standard of living of the average man rose during the Mughal period due to their intense trade with central Asia; moreover, people’s diet improved, civil administration was better organized, and architecture was enriched. Nitish Kumar was more forthright. How can you change the facts of history, he asked? Where does it lead to?

A politician’s understanding of history is politically motivated. A “serene study” of realities leads to an “objective understanding” of facts, events, and processes. It equips you for life.

The trouble with the upper classes in India is that they are still suffering from a “colonisation” of the mind. They have developed an ‘inferiority complex’ which they find impossible to shake off. They are hungering for world-recognition as Vishwa Guru and see that their performance still falls short. Hence their eagerness for self-glorification and over-sensitivity to international criticism. They feel they are at a losing end in a global crusade for superpower status. Nupur-Jindal slips are mere spill-overs.

Amit Shah’s remarks had come on the occasion of the releasing a book ‘A crusade of a thousand years’ of subjection. Modiji adds 200 years more to the struggle and claims that he has finally led his country to victory in this contest. What these stalwarts actually need is a “decolonisation of the mind”.  Greatness does not consist in dominating others, but in being noble. 

The eagerness to reject anything Muslim as alien bewilders Hamid Ansari, former Vice President of India. Those who believe in India’s ancient political greatness that exerted cultural influence from Afghanistan to Indonesia cannot consider the Ghaznis, Khiljis and Lodis really as foreign invaders. They were like domestic miscreants who needed to be dealt with accordingly. Further, he says, it was not by force that anyone became Muslim in India, it was the influence of Sufi saints that led to people’s conversion. Therefore, to look at minority communities as renegades is unfair. Every community has something to contribute to the nation’s future.  Bulldozer for the weaker groups is not the best way to affirm India’s greatness.

Healthy Debates

It was truly great that Modiji should say in Mumbai the other day, “We must strengthen the culture of healthy debates and open discussions”. But we do not see how this culture combines with ‘vendetta politics’, e.g. his critic Rahul Gandhi being grilled for 10 hours for five days. In the same way, Rikini Bhuyan Sharma, wife of Assam Chief Minister, has filed a defamation suit of Rs. 100 crores against Manish Sisodia, the Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi, for his criticism. These are just two instances of thousands of trumped up cases against political observers and social activists who challenged the top leaders in the country with intelligent criticism.

Such an approach from the ruling elite has led to polarisation between intellectuals and self-interested politicians, between people of different ideologies or religions. Psychological distances are steadily growing between communities.  Aminul Islam, Gen Secretary AIUDF, bemoans, “Intolerance is growing. Economy is sinking. Unemployment is increasing at an alarming rate”. 

Modiji himself will have to choose between Hindutva exclusivism and inclusive economic endeavour, lest the nation goes the Sri Lankan way, as he warned while speaking to the opposition. Hate may generate votes, not jobs; it weakens the national economy. R. Sampanthan, a Tamil leader, confirms that it was the “unresolved national question” of Singhalese-Tamil relationships that hampered Sri Lanka’s economic progress. Divided, we fall.

Give a Fair Hearing to All

Having said this, let us also give a fair hearing to the Hindutva advocates themselves. With them let us recognise that India is the only Hindu country in the world, except for Nepal, and that the great heritage of the Hindus can be preserved only through the determined effort of their leaders who cherish its value. They have a challenging task in their hands with growing Islamic fundamentalism in many neighbouring states and arrogant and irresponsible secularism in others. All Indian citizens, including those who do not belong to the Hindu tradition, ought to sympathize with this anxiety of their Hindu brothers and sisters and respect their eagerness to preserve and foster their great heritage.

Having recognised this position of the majority community, there is also the universally accepted norm that the stronger must respect the interests of the weaker and the elder brother must ensure the future of the younger. The other day, Macron described the way French politics had placed people on the Left, Right and Centre. He considered working together with them in harmony the enthralling symphony of democracy. Similarly, diversity in India is not a threat to the majority, but it is the wealth of the nation. The recognition of this truth constitutes a central value in our shared cultural heritage. Modiji recognises that when he chooses Draupadi Murmu as the Presidential candidate: an adivasi, a woman and poor. We plead that she be not merely used to serve as a ‘rubber stamp’ officer, but be allowed to act as a defender of India’s core values. Ratan Tirkey, for instance, hopes that Sarna Dharma, the religion of the indigenous tribals independent of Hinduism, gets recognition with Murmu as President.

Promises not Kept

Speaking to the youths protesting against Agnipath Scheme, J.P. Nadda, BJP president,  urged them to place their trust in the Prime Minister. Unfortunately, Modiji has yet to emerge as a leader who fulfils the hopes he raises. Kanhaiya Kumar had a big list of unfulfilled promises that the Prime Minister had made: that Rupees 15 lakhs would be deposited in every Indian’s account, that demonetisation would stop terrorism, that two crore jobs would be created every year. On the contrary, he is remembered only for the oxygen crisis during the pandemic.

People find it very hard to look at the Agnipath Scheme as “well-intentioned” as Modi claims. Mamata Banerjee ridicules the entire Scheme as a project to train BJP goons to rig elections and serve as chowkidars in BJP party offices. Meghalaya Governor Satya Pal Malik considers it against the interest of youth.  Congress fears that it will lead to the generation of jobless youth who may ultimately join insurgent groups. Unemployment after 4 years leads to frustration and anger.

Uddhav Thackeray asks bluntly, “What is the point in only chanting Ram Ram, if people have no work?” Young people grow restless. What is the use of the PM going round inaugurating temples and giving grants to religious establishments while the youth sink into unemployment? Anger rises. History shows that in countries like Yugoslavia and Rwanda, demobilized soldiers formed the core group that led to inter-ethnic violence.  Meghalaya Youth Congress spokesperson alleged that Agniveer retirement is planned to promote corporate interests, not nation’s. The retired young men will be compelled to take up low grade jobs with the corporate houses. Educated to obedience in the Army, they will be pressed into service as part of a slavish workforce for big companies. Many army veterans feel that Agnipath Scheme will divide the army:  into those permanently employed and others temporarily employed, and thus dampen frontline motivation and weaken effectiveness of operation.

However, some army men are more positive. They feel that the Scheme would transform aimless youth into disciplined and committed citizens for India who can be entrusted with responsible tasks. It will also reduce the national burden of military pensions. Modiji expressed pain about the way the good-intentioned schemes he proposes get tangled in partisan politics. In any case, Bana Singh, an award-winning Captain, says, decisions like that of Agnipath scheme should not have been taken up without consulting all the stakeholders and military veterans. He fears that it will go the way of CAA and Farm Laws. 

Forgetting Values Has Consequences

The anger of young people is not merely about looming joblessness and rising prices, it is about increasing meaninglessness in a world where values are vanishing. The sense of co-belonging diminishes. Politicians like Shinde are no more concerned about the needs of the society they represent, but are lost in their self-interests and group rivalries in view of remunerative positions in the party or in the government. They do not bring their competence and expertise to the floor of the Assembly of their own state, but opt to compromise the future of their people in 5-star hotels in a distant Assam just when people are reeling under the harshness of floods! Whether the Shinde-rebellion is part of BJP-planned ‘Operation Lotus’ or not, ordinary citizens are shocked at the insensitivity of the people they have voted for with the best of hope for the future of India. It is not the poverty of the millions that move our legislators but the luxury of 5-star hotels! 

Sitaram Yechury was speaking of an ideological battle while calling for unity for the Presidential poll. But what is at stake today is beyond ideology alone: Hindutva stalwarts who claim to be defenders of genuine Indian culture are placing under threat true “Indian” values of truth (satya), uprightness (dharma), impartiality, justice, mercy (karuna), and mutual concern.  But truth alone will triumph in the end. Rahul Gandhi was right in emphasizing, “Lies get exhausted, the truth is indefatigable”.

When “fake cases” multiply and intelligent criticism is silenced, democracy is deprived of utterance. The other day Telegraph reported that “The BJP, unmindful of the immorality of its predations” is leading the nation from one deadlock to another: CAA, Farm Laws, Agnipath Scheme.  They have ushered in an era of ‘mobocracy’ and outsourced violence. Others have learned from these masters of partisan patriotism and unilateral anarchy and disorder. Bulldozers come out to deal with problems that they themselves have created. The religious façade they put up aims at blinding the populace to the way the nation is being plundered: airports and ports being sold off, railways and roads being doled out. India’s trade deficit has ballooned to $24.3 billion of late, and 8000 millionaires that Modiji has raised with pain are ready to quit India and leave for some other destination where another culture prevails. They take their fortune with them. Acche din have come for them, not for those left behind. 

Unfortunately, the performance of opposition parties is no better, lost amidst clashes of self-interests, personal ambitions of leaders, dynastic rigidity, and with no national narrative that inspires. There are times, as Baruch Spinoza says, when one should not merely laugh, lament or hate but “understand” and act as needed. Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel Prize winner, meant something similar when she said, “With guns you can kill terrorists, with education you can kill terrorism”. A re-education to VALUES is urgently needed in India today… the very values that we widely acclaim as children of a great civilization.

We may need to wash off the stains that we have gathered over a long period of time. It was moving to see Modiji washing the feet of his mother on her 100th birthday. He may need to do the same service to the nation as well. From his mother he claims to have learnt concern for the poor: “garib kalyan”.  May this concern come alive in the heart of every Indian.

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