Selling Out India
Referring to the present massive privatisation drive of the Union Government, Mamata Banerjee exploded: national assets are not the private property of the Prime Minister. Selling them off is a crime. Rahul Gandhi could not bear to think how the nation’s assets built up over 70 years could be sold off to three or four industrialists at the Prime Minister’s whim.
Curiously, there seem to be certain similarities between the present situation and that which prevailed in India just before the medieval Central Asian invasions. State-owned ‘land’ was being privatized on a large scale in that period, as national ‘assets’ are being privatized today. Upinder Singh, in her ‘Ancient India’, speaks of exploitation of peasants by the Brahmins who received tax-free land from rulers. H. C. Verma says, “Never before was land donated to secular and religious beneficiaries on such a large scale… Never before was the peasantry subjected to so many taxes”. John Keay presents the rulers as “squandering the resources and oppressing the people…”, and busy with temple-building, when Mohammad Ghori was at the gates.
Notice the similarity: Modiji is busy raising oil prices and laying foundations to several projects at Somnath temple, and President Kovind visiting Ayodhya shrines. Are these the main concerns of the leaders of a secular nation when Afghanistan is burning and Kashmir simmering with discontent? Certainly, these leaders are trying to bring “psychological satisfaction” to the Sangh Parivar, the BJP family, and the Hindutva elite; but how do they change anything on the ground, any more than CAA-NRC promises, detention camp threats, cow protection laws? Do these ideological victories hold out any answers for anxieties at the Tibetan border, the unemployment front, or Covid struggle?
As for attending to the “psychological needs” of communities, what of the recent cry of Gupkar Alliance in Kashmir ‘Stop humiliating people; and don’t be deceived by the graveyard-silence imposed on the people of Kashmir!’ As Taj Hashmi says, a humiliated opponent gains strength with every new humiliation. “Delhi must learn a lesson from Afghanistan”, warns Mehbooba Mufti. Suppression generates counter-determination among the young; planned humiliation plants time-bombs.
Western glories are fading, a new World Order is emerging. Sazzad Hussain, writes in ‘Assam Tribune’: “The return of the Taliban is a perfect outcome for a ‘new world order’ which will shape our future in the coming days”. Islam has emerged as the greatest political force stretching from Saharan Maghreb to the Hindukush (AT 19.8.21), with allies in Central, South and Southeast Asia. Swapan Dasgupta fears that the Afghanistan experience may teach the wrong lessons to people.
These are times when we feel the need of bridge-builders, culture-translators, emotion-interpreters, psychology-mediators. Possibly Pavan Varma’s “The Great Hindu Civilization” (Westland, Chennai, 2021) comes out a time when socially responsible people need to present the Upanishadic concept of “Avirodha” (non-conflict) to society, and the need for “dialogue” (Ibid 74). However, while Varma’s invitation to dialogue in the concluding section is encouraging, his dismissal of persons who can help is going to make things difficult.
A Search of Objective History
Varma rightly disowns the “lunatic”, “ultra-right fringe” which forms a “minuscule” portion of Hindu society (Ibid 8), who pose as the “sole interpreters” of the great Hindu legacy (Ibid x). Unfortunately, he does not go on to admit that they control the Government today and nearly all public institutions. We are hardly allowed to think differently from them. He calls for an objective study of history, but dismisses persons of stature like Nehru, Amartya Sen, and Romila Thapar as true writers of history. He accuses Sen of an “ingrained hostility to India’s Hindu civilization”. However, he admits that his motivation was to safeguard the “secular fabric” of the nation (Ibid 6).
Similarly, he holds Romila Thapar guilty of “Hindu phobia” as she considered giving a privileged position to a particular religion might look communally biased. She rejected an appeal to “emotion” and “faith” which necessarily weaken the intellectual foundation of discourse (Ibid 7). As for Nehru, Varma explains that his main concern was to cultivate a “scientific temper” and “rationality” among the people (Ibid 8), thus neglecting to foster Hindu pride. But, today this caution is set aside. Puranic myths have taken over, and objective history is set aside.
Varma does not spare even reputed historian Irfan Habib, whose argument that Harappan civilization was independent of the Aryan he considers ‘politically motivated’ (Ibid 49-50). Of course, many right-wingers hold that Leftist scholars have played an out of proportion role in recent Indian education. Upinder Singh, the daughter of Manmohan Singh, though neutral in this respect, recognizes the “extremely influential” role played by Marxist historians from the 1950s in several universities (Ibid 53). In any case, history must be studied from diverse perspectives to be complete: history of the subalterns only completes the history of the elite.
The “Indic” Civilization Differs from the “Hindu”
Next, Varma turns on Wendy Doniger whom he accuses of concentrating on the “quixotic and titillating” aspects of Hinduism in her book “The Hindus”. But he concedes that she was writing for an American readership, especially her own students (Ibid 33). While her style may be rejected, the facts she provides cannot be denied. It is clear, she does not intend to diminish the stature of Hindu civilization. Varma is happy that Samuel Huntington puts the “Hindu civilization” among his list of great world traditions (Ibid 23).
Sudhir Kakar, a well-known cultural psychologist, chooses to use the word “Indic” to refer to our shared civilization, not just “Hindu” (Ibid 19). Arnold Toynbee too uses the word “Indic” to refer to the civilization that had origin south of the Himalayas, to which Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and others contributed. Varma himself accepts the distinction, using the word “Indic” elsewhere (Ibid 191). Similarly, Varma acknowledges Nehru’s “well-intentioned reasons” in wanting to safeguard “secularism” in a multireligious country (Ibid 14).
Was the Muslim Contribution to India Only Destruction?
Hindutva spokespersons never tire of denouncing the disaster that the Turkic invasions inflicted on the Indian population and their destruction of temples. Varma is eager to provide more material on this topic. He quotes A.K. Warder, Will Durant, and Heinrich Zimmer. He turns even to Irfan Habib, a Muslim historian, who admits that Mahmud Ghazni ordered the destruction of “hundreds of temples” (Ibid 190), and Amartya Sen who speaks of the “slash and burn culture” of Muslim invaders who ruined Mathura and Kanauj (Ibid 191). Varma goes on to describe Bakhtiyar Khilji’s destruction of Odantapuri, Vikramshila, and Nalanda monastic centres and universities (Ibid 193), Malik Kafur’s murderous march (Ibid 194), Aurangzeb’s destruction of 69 temples in Rajasthan alone (Ibid 196).
But we believe that what is well known to history does not need repetition to rouse further feelings. That is the tradition of general history-writing. It does not descend to lurid details to describe the havoc neighbouring countries inflicted upon each other. Individual studies may provide fuller facts, but general history dwells on causes, the main events and consequences e.g. of Roman conquest of Gaul or England, the Germanic invasion of much of Europe, the Scandinavian intrusion into France and England, Napoleonic wars. An eagerness to put painful things behind was visible even after the two World Wars.
Returning to the Islamic era, did the Muslim rule make no contribution to India’s art, literature, cuisine, economy, revenue system, administrative structure and World stature when Europe itself was hardly emerging from its medieval inertia?
Was the British Contribution to India Only National Humiliation?
As for the British contribution to India, Varma reduces it to the “humiliation” of the Indian people and the colonisation of their mind (Ibid 235). He accuses them of having done it in a “psychologically nuanced manner” (Ibid 236). Really? Is it true that the whole set of westerners including Willian Jones, Charles Wilkins, William Carey, and Babington Macaulay, had only one goal in India, to cripple the “natives” forever? What of the administrative structure they built up, network of universities, the broadening of the borders, unification of a Great India, heritage of parliamentary democracy and rule of law?
The truth of the fact is that while the Britishers who came to the subcontinent included young adventurers, exploiters, and job-seekers, they also included administratively skilled personnel, intellectually gifted stalwarts, morally inspired groups, and spiritually convinced individuals. They belonged to different schools of thought, with different interests, had different convictions… with outlook constantly changing during different periods of the British rule. They clashed among themselves seriously over policies. Hastings was impeached, Dyer was dismissed, imperial policies were criticized in British parliament and in society; individual Englishmen and institutions encouraged the Freedom Movement, helped Gandhi.
Shake off the Enslavement of the Mind: Self-inflicted Inferiority Complex
As for Macaulay’s idea of introducing English into a multi-lingual India, its the pros and cons could be discussed elsewhere, e.g. to evaluate how unity was safeguarded, door was opened to science, to advanced thinking, and to the digital world.
In any case, presenting Raja Rammohan Roy as a tool of the British is truly humiliating. He was an intellectual giant and knew what he was doing when he opted for modern scientific education in preference to Sanskrit and Persian (Ibid 248), and opposed sati (Ibid 249). “Sati”, Varma says, “was never widespread” (Ibid 251), only 600 in Bengal presidency, 125 in Benares!! (Ibid 252). What Rammohan Roy wanted to do was to keep India in the tradition of Aryabhata (499), Latadev (505), Varahamihira (550), Brahmagupta who proposed the decimal system (6th cent), Charaka and Sushruta (800 AD) (Ibid 172).
As for the “colonisation of the mind”, it is a cruelty that we have inflicted on ourselves, not the British. Viktor Frankl, a great psychologist, discovered during his years in Nazi camp that he was Master only of one thing: His Mind! No amount of brainwashing could weaken his Sovereignty over his Mind. Amazingly our Founding Fathers did not suffer from this Inferiority Complex, this “colonisation of the mind”. They dealt with their erstwhile rulers like equals. What we need to do today to accept historic facts, heal collective memories, and shake off self-inflicted inferiority complex. We and our fragmented society must take responsibility for our ‘weak’ performance after Independence, not the British or the Mughals.
The Rise of the Lumpen Right-wing (Varma 342)
Pavan Varma goes to details in presenting the rise of the “lumpen” leadership that claims to have the monopoly of right to interpret Hinduism and Hindu civilisation: narrow, conformist, patriarchal. The “rabble” has taken over (Ibid 344). He goes to full details: Savarkar, Hedgewar, Golwalkar, Somnath temple restoration, Shah Bano case, vote-bank politics, Ratha Yathra, Ayodhya. These processes reached a climax just when upwardly mobile Hindu youth in cities were turning to Religion in search of security, that they received from the joint family and community earlier. The BJP caught their imagination with their political version of religion, using Deendayal Upadhyaya’s ‘integral humanism’ (Ibid 338), with its “exclusionist view” (Ibid 339). This an interesting insight.
Varma goes on to point out that 86% cow-related lynchings were of Muslims, and remarks how Modiji took a long time to show disapproval. Those who opposed such radicals were called Pakistani agents, anti-nationals, traitors. Varma denounces those who seek to dictate to others what they should eat, drink, wear (Ibid 342-3), and quotes National Crime Records Bureau that records 45,935 crimes against Dalits in 2019 (Ibid 356). At no stage does he criticize the RSS.
We Need Each Other
Pavan Varma sincerely believes that Hinduism and Hindu civilization are faced with a “real crisis”. He feels that “all right-thinking Hindus” should come together to work towards the revival of the “intellectual grandeur of Hinduism” (Ibid 344), and ensure a renaissance that is modern, progressive, egalitarian, gender-sensitive, and culturally rooted (Ibid 340).
Suddenly, Varma realizes that India cannot be transformed by one community alone. We need each other. We cannot forget that 14% of the Indian population is composed of Muslims, 180 million (Ibid 346), that they form 65% in J & K, 20% in UP, 34.22% in Assam, 27.01% Bengal, and 25.56% in Kerala. And, moreover, as Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar says, we are going to be in the middle of an Islamic World. If we want to keep the nation together, ALL “right-thinking people” must be invited to collaborate.
The very social stability that the country needs for the growth of its economy, the smooth running of its institutions, and day-to-day functioning of society, calls for healthy relationships among different communities. Our Founding Fathers and Constitution writers were fully aware of that, when they chose to leave behind negative memories in our collective history, give attention to minorities and weaker groups (Ibid 348), and suggested moderation in imposing the privileges of the majority community.
We need today, not leaders who sell off national assets to crony capitalists and surrender the political order to the RSS think tank, so that they can concentrate on Bhumi Pujan. We need bridge-builders, culture-translators, weaker-community-defenders, and economic peformers. We need each other.