October 19, 2014

History or Political Advocacy

R Arun Kumar

“PARTISANSHIP”, at its broadest, writes eminent historian E J Hobsbawm, “may merely be another way of denying the possibility of a purely objective and value-free science, a proposition from which few historians, social scientists and philosophers would today totally dissent. At the opposite extreme is the willingness to subordinate the processes and findings of research to the requirements of the researcher's ideological or political commitment and whatever this implies, including their subordination to the ideological or political authorities accepted by him or her: however much these may conflict with what these processes and findings would be without such dictation”. It is necessary to recall these wise words today in the wake of a recent debate between two politicians belonging to the Congress party and the BJP on the question of history, which appeared in a prominent English daily. Of course, it is not the intention here to join their debate, which is mainly concerned with the desired or undesired importance given to Jawaharlal Nehru and his legacy. But it is also entirely impossible to completely ignore the debate between them, as some crucial issues related to the interpretation of history are raised. It is no surprise and by now had become a common feature that history becomes a hotly debated/contested discipline whenever the BJP comes to power, either at the state level or at the centre. The political reasons for toying with history have been mentioned in these columns many a times and need no repetition. In the said debate, the advocate for BJP raises some crucial questions concerning Indian history. He cites some 'facts', which he feels are deliberately hidden due to, what he calls as a “historical concoction handed down to us by Macaulay’s intellectual progenies” (emphasis original). What this 'concoction' is according to him, and the deeper ideological malice beneath it, is what concerns us. Fighting the case for Hindutva fraternity's participation in the freedom struggle, he states, “one may, therefore, not have heard of Veer Savarkar who changed the outlook of generations of Indians with his book The Indian War of Independence – 1857. He might not have heard either of his great sacrifices in Andaman jail or his heroic escape from the British in Europe. Nor would he know about Hemu Vikramaditya or the great renaissance of the Vijayanagar Empire or the thorough beating the third Caliphate armies received on Rajasthan border at the hands of the Gujarat Prajapati dynasty and the Maharashtra-Andhra Chalukya Empire”. Thus he tries his hand at brewing a new 'concoction' of history. One need not have any problem if the 'concoction' is based on facts, but as Hobsbawm states this is brewed at the risk of vulgarisation, to satisfy the political and ideological commitments of the advocate. Two things emerge from the above advocacy – one, Savarkar's role in Indian freedom struggle and two, an attempt to equate the wars between various rulers in the medieval period with the anti-colonial freedom struggle against the British. Before re-looking at Savarkar's role in freedom struggle (it was extensively dealt more than a decade ago), let us understand that here is an attempt being made to equate the wars/battles between various medieval kingdoms with an explicit purpose to show that Muslims are outsiders/foreigners against whom the Hindus waged a freedom struggle. This is intended to serve the purpose of RSS brigade which is intent to portray Muslims as non-Indians. Remember that recently a BJP MLA had questioned the credentials of one of our famous tennis personalities, because she is a Muslim. It is this narrative of 'us' and 'ours' versus 'others' and 'outsiders' that the BJP and the RSS want to build upon to continue with their policy of dividing the country on communal lines. This division is being promoted to ensure that there arises no resistance to their rabid pursuance of neo-liberal economic policies. Coincidentally, this is the line that was pursued by the British too, not only through their policy of divide and rule but by communalising Indian history. It is indeed the British historians who had started dividing Indian history into 'Muslim period' and 'Hindu period'. So if at all there are any progenies of Macaulay surviving in India, it is the said advocate and his political dictators. Now let us come to Savarkar. Frontline had carried out extensive reports about the 'role' played by Savarkar in the freedom struggle, the 'hardships' he had encountered in the cellular jail in Andamans. It is worth the space to recall substantially from that body of work as more than a decade had passed and the new generation needs to be told the real story. Alas, as long as the RSS and their cohorts believe that spreading a lie repeatedly makes it a truth, it is imperative upon us to repeat the truth to the nth time so that it does not get buried underneath the falsities they propound. Savarkar reached the Andamans in 1911 and before the year ended, he appealed for clemency and did it again in 1913. In his second clemency petition of November 24, 1913, he wrote: “In the end I remind your honour to be so good as to go through the petition for clemency, that I had sent in 1911, and to sanction it for being forwarded to the Indian government? The latest development of the Indian politics and the conciliating policy of the government have thrown open the constitutional line once more. Now no man having the good of India and humanity at heart will blindly step on the thorny paths which in the excited and hopeless situation of India in 1906-1907 beguiled us from the path of peace and progress. Therefore if the government in their manifold beneficence and mercy release me, I for one cannot but be the staunchest advocate of constitutional progress and loyalty to the English Government, which is the foremost condition of that progress... Moreover, my conversion to the constitutional line would bring back all those misled young men in India and abroad who were once looking up to me as their guide...The Mighty alone can afford to be merciful and therefore where else can the prodigal son return but to the parental doors of the government”? This is all about the 'Veer' Savarkar and compare him with Bhagat Singh who expressed his strongest displeasure to his father against seeking pardon for his son and one can understand the difference. Chalk and cheese, indeed! And who is Savarkar after his release from the jail? He remained aloof from the national movement throughout and even advocated against the participation in the anti-colonial struggle. He propagated the Hindutva, the theory of 'cultural nationalism' as adopted by the RSS now and was a staunch supporter of the two-nation theory. No wonder that he was also accused in the murder of Gandhiji, who was opposed to the division of the country on religious lines. Forget about what the inquiry commission had stated and let us here note what the then Union Home minister Sardar Vallabhai Patel, whom the BJP is not tired of eulogising and is now being counterposed to Nehru by their advocates, wrote about the assassination case. Stating that he kept a daily touch with the progress of investigation, he states that “It was the financial wing of the Hindu Mahasabha directly under Savarkar that hatched the conspiracy and saw it through”. That is Savarkar, whom the BJP wants us to idolise! Denying the multi ethnicity in India, 'our advocate' states: “It has been established that most Indians have the same DNA profile irrespective of caste, religion or region. Yet we find our text books talking about India being multi-ethnic”. It is good that at least here he is accepting that there is basically no difference between human beings and irrespective of caste, religion and region all are equal. Or, is that really so? Does he mean to say that all human beings are equal, as they have the same DNA? No. That goes against their basic principles as then they have to explain as to why was the caste system created or how did it evolve in our country over the ages. They have to do a lot of explaining as to why Muslims should be hated by the Hindus, when they share the same DNA. All these, they cannot do, simply because it goes against the grain of their ideology and does not serve their political purpose. After all doesn't the same advocate write, if not in so many terms, in the same article that Hindus fought against Muslims for their freedom? Prof Romila Thapar explains the entire desire by the Hindutva groups to indigenise Aryans, include untouchables in their fold as follows: “There was certain ambiguity among Hindutva groups as to whether or not the untouchables were Hindus and therefore Aryans. This posed the problem that if only caste Hindus are Aryans then the untouchables would have to be excluded, and this reduces the numerical count of Hindus; whereas, if the lower castes and Dalits are included as Hindus, then although this may upset some caste Hindus nevertheless the numbers listed as Hindu increases the Hindu constitution of the majority. The question of the numbers also influenced the insistence that the Aryans are indigenous and not invaders. Such an increase in numbers is important to political mobilisation and to the assertion that since Hindus constitute the majority in India, it should be declared a Hindu state. The identity and origins of the Hindus was seen as crucial to the identity of the nation of the Hindus and of the nation-state”. Thus as we find all through, it is their desire to hegemonise control over the society, maintain their hold over political power that they are at fabricating facts and distorting lies. Again as Hobsbawm writes: “there remains a grey zone between scholarship and political statement, which perhaps affects historians more than others, because they have been used from time immemorial to legitimate the claims of politicians. This is the zone of political advocacy...although the element of advocacy is inseparable from any debate, the difference between it and scientific discussion (however partisan) must be clearly borne in mind”. What the BJP claims as history is nothing but sheer advocacy and the one who had represented them coincidentally is an 'advocate'. Good he might be at it, but it is better to remember that “Even when we approve completely of both the case and the manner of advocacy, the distinction remains: Huxley was not Darwin, but Darwin's bulldog”. It is upon us to expose the hollowness of the “product” they are trying to “sell”.