19 Oct 2019: The Hindu Editorial Analysis
1) On Rewriting the History
- The study of history has always been contested territory, as it should be. There are always multiple interpretations of the past, and most professional historians would often have disagreements on the interpretation of an event or a phenomenon from the past.
- But what they would agree upon is the need to establish the facts about the past through a rigorous methodology that bases itself on social science approaches.
- Union Home Minister Amit Shah, in a seminar at Banaras Hindu University, on Thursday spoke about the need to “rewrite history” from an “Indian point of view” and went on to ask, “who is stopping us from amending history”.
- Historical events can indeed be rewritten if new facts emerge about the past or there is new evidence that challenges previous interpretations.
- But Mr. Shah’s call to “rewrite history” is predicated on specific, pre-determined outcomes and cannot be seen in isolation from his regime’s and his political organisation’s overall world view.
- The Hindutva-oriented right wing glorifies India’s ancient past, largely through a literal reading of epics and religious texts, and views the “medieval period” negatively as little more than a narrative of invasion by outsiders.
- This blinkered view of the past actually flows from a reductionist approach to the world in terms of religion-centric identities based more on faith than on facts.
- True, other approaches towards history are not without ideological moorings. But modern historiography must be aligned to social science where methods rely on evidence to build upon findings and interpretations to reconstruct the past.
- In historiography, new interpretations are created by consistently questioning extant scholarships. Unfortunately such rigorous methods that base themselves on social science are anathema to those promoting the Hindutva world view.
- Modern historiography views epics and scriptures as just one part of the vast corpus of material open to scholarship, which include, among other things, inscriptions and archaeological findings.
- This is perhaps why Mr. Shah asks for history to be rewritten without getting into a dispute with other existing approaches.
- His exhortation to historians to create more knowledge on the legacies of the Maurya, Vijayanagara and Gupta empires, and the rule of Maratha warrior-king Shivaji, among others, could indeed be well taken if the exercise engages with existing historiography without promoting a free-floating alternative narrative formed around pre-conceived notions of past glory and civilisational hubris.
2) On an impending turn
- The BJP manifesto for the Maharashtra Assembly election promises to grow the size of the State’s economy to $1 trillion, and create one crore jobs in the next five years and provide houses for all by 2022 if elected to power.
- The manifesto received instant national attention, not for these promises on the economy, but for the promise of a Bharat Ratna to Veer Savarkar, a founding ideologue of Hindutva.
- The BJP also plans to confer the Bharat Ratna on Jyotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule, the 19th century social reformer couple who pioneered lower caste resistance to caste oppression and championed women’s education and empowerment.
- All three are iconic figures of the State and played a notable role in the shaping of modern India. Unlike its stated plans for the economy, the BJP has been remarkably true to its words on cultural and political questions.
- So it is to be expected that the three figures will indeed be awarded the country’s highest civilian honour soon, though that is not a decision in the domain of the Maharashtra government.
- Conferring national honours on historical figures decades after their death is always controversial.
- However, the BJP believes that amending the history of the country is essential for rebuilding it into a Hindu nation and repeated revisiting of the national roll of honour is an exercise in that direction.
- It is neither surprising nor out of character for the BJP that it seeks to valorise Savarkar, who theorised the essentials of a Hindu nation.
- The BJP has been deft at selectively appropriating different strands of historical and cultural icons. Phule was disapproving of Hindu scriptures and Savarkar was fiercely critical of cow protection campaigns - facts that have been masked in discussions on them.
- Gandhi is being celebrated by the government and the BJP for his cleanliness campaign without any mention of the fundamental tenet of his life - Hindu-Muslim unity.
- Savarkar was a freedom fighter, but the India that he dreamed of was diametrically opposite to the vision shared by Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhai Patel.
- Savarkar stridently opposed Gandhi and his principles, and Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse was associated with him. Savarkar was acquitted after trial in the Gandhi assassination case.
- A Bharat Ratna for Savarkar alongside celebrations to mark the 150th year of Gandhi’s birth will not merely be an affront on the latter’s legacy but also a statement that India has decisively shifted from the Gandhian vision of nationhood to Savarkar’s vision.
- The RSS chief recently said that while Sangh Parivar continuously adapted to emerging challenges, the only unchanging tenet of its existence is the idea that India is a Hindu nation.
- The plans to confer the Bharat Ratna on Savarkar is a definitive step in the direction of declaring India so. The BJP should not pick particular strands of historical icons for political purposes.