Tom Bottomore’s dictionary of Marxism describes Romila Thapar as a Marxist, this wouldn’t come off as a surprise to anybody familiar with the institution she had a long-standing association with as the professor of Ancient history, an association that still continues with her being an Emeritus professor of Jawaharlal Nehru University, a locus classicus of leftist/Marxist thought in India. Why is this fact relevant? One might ask, in any public engagement, the person who seeks out the credentials is just arming himself for an ad-hominem attack and consequently losing by default. However, in this case, it is important for one to know how Romila Thapar identifies herself or at least used to identify herself, in order to check whether her criticism bears a sense of proportion.
One of her very first charges against the present government in her article
in the New York Times is their attempts to re-write history. Now, this charge is fair to the extent that any government re-writing a history book is to support its ideology is wrong as a standard moral principle. A person with a sense of proportion and in the absence of any inherent agenda would apply it uniformly in his/her criticism, i.e a standard application of this principle on all governments. More importantly, one would have to check whether it is a standard practice that all governments follow or the present dispensation is an outlier of some sorts, whose attempts are in derogation to all other governments of the Country, thereby wanting of special criticism.
In this context, during and around the same time when BJP government in the state of Rajasthan brought about changes in the class 8th
history books, the government of Tripura brought about sweeping changes in the history books of class 9th
. The government completely obliterated the Indian history from the books, only teaching about the rise of Nazism, history of agriculture and the Russian and French revolution.
The government of Tripura was then a communist party government. One would expect someone as concerned as Romila Thapar towards the plight of our history books to be as vocal, or at least be vocal, about these sweeping changes. But not even a whisper pass muster. Similarly, the Trinamool Congress government presently ruling in Bengal added an entire chapter on its leaders that led the Singur movement of 2006 in history books. Is there anything that would jolt a historian more than to have students read of an event that happened in 2006 as history? Perhaps, if the collateral benefit is the books having to remove references to lord ram
, the collateral damage is worth the ‘cause’.
What cause? The same one that prompts her to ask, ‘why is history so important to the Hindu Nationalists’, least she acknowledges, what happens to history after it becomes history is much more important to her and the historians of her ideological spectrum than the ‘brute’ Hindu nationalists. It is for this reason that the intellectual space in humanities was quickly and ferociously occupied by Marxists. Ramachandra Guha, a person who would often find himself in agreement with much of what Romila Thapar, himself admits this artificial takeover of institutions of historical research in India.
While he himself refrains to admit that the formation of Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR) by Nurul Hasan as the Education Minister, which created a comfortable fortress for leftist historians, is the primary reason for the lack of right-wing historian and intellectuals in India, blaming it rather on the lack of inquiry on the Right and beliefs in tradition as the primary reason. It really requires just some floating common sense to understand that in a state of limited resources, the one that finds the nurturing hand of the state will be the ones that blossom. Even then, the culmination point of this denial of intellectual space, when met with a challenge of proving the non-existence of a temple at the site of Babri Masjid in the Court of law, failed miserably. Not only their claims of the non-existence of a temple underneath the site were refuted through an archaeological survey
, but they also had an especially tough time defending their stances during cross-examination during the trial
. Prompting the now-leftist journalist and former union minister of BJP, Arun Shourie to title his lone dissenting book on the leftist historians as ‘Eminent Historians, their technology, their line, their fraud.’ One might wonder on what basis did then these historians claim that there was no temple on the site underneath the structure which they still maintain to this day.
One might ask, is it not as much of an invention as they claim that the Hindu Right invents? More importantly, will these historians apologize of playing their role in fuelling the issue by issuing flimsy arguments that shifted in the sight of evidence?
In her article, she mentions also the ‘secular nationalism
’ of Gandhi and Nehru and charges with the proof of the influential and again resurging Aryan Migration theory, denting the pride of the Hindu Nationalist of being consistent habitant of the sub-continent. As far as Aryan Migration is concerned, even though the scientific evidence has recently converged with respect to there being some form of migration. The line of rejection for this theory wasn’t that of Hindu Nationalists alone, Dalit Icon and framer of our constitution Dr. B.R Ambedkar also rejected the theory
, for it was then a source of racial superiority for the northern Hindus especially the upper caste. Today, the camps have switched sides on the debate because the left saw its electoral opportunities intermingled with a vote bank consisting of a coalition of Dalits and Muslims and any attempts of the unification of the Hindus could potentially mangle their vote bank. This is why one would always find the invocation of caste as an almost immediate and primary evil in Hinduism by the left, to the extent that Hinduism is reduced to nothing but an elaborate social structure of enforcing caste rules. Regardless, for years, the Aryan Migration Theory rested purely as a hypothesis, hence termed as a theory, based on linguistic analysis which had the potential to swing on either side of the turf. It is only quite recently that genetics tends to converge it effectively towards one side. There is no effective ‘I told you so’ claim that can be made by either side.
Moving on, there is little to debate that Gandhi and Nehru themselves had two diametrically opposite views when it came to secularism, Gandhi infused and used religion in public interaction, mobilisation and motivation while Nehru not only discouraged its display in public foray but was possibly an agnostic, if not atheist, in his personal life (he used to pay private visits to Anandamayi Maa suggesting that he wasn’t entirely atheist). Gandhi infusion of religion in public life and mobilisation is not too dissimilar to perhaps what the BJP employs in its public mobilisation. So, if Gandhian nationalism was secular as per Romila’s own admission what makes it so remarkably different from that one the BJP professes?
Nehru tried to keep his public display of religion as limited as possible but in the process, he sought to discourage others from doing so. But in this endeavour he found little reciprocation from other leaders of Congress. Rajendra Prasad despite Nehru’s discouragement went to inaugurate the Somnath Temple while Patel streamlined its construction, indicating that even during the early days of politics when BJP was minuscule in its presence as Jana Sangh, the politics of the country and Congress itself rejected the Nehruvian vision by defying him.
Today, the leaders of other political parties reverberate a similar display of religious imagery by wearing skull caps (Samajwadi party and Aam Adami Party Supremo both have worn them on different occasions), donning imposed turbans and visiting temples as Rahul Gandhi did during the Karnataka Elections. What is so exceptional about BJP that tickles Romila Thapar to isolate it?
The truth is that the Left in India has had their own agenda; it's had it ever since independence when the Communist Party of India declared the newly gained independence to be a false one.
An agenda that could prove to be far more dangerous for the people if one reckons what goes on in Venezuela, North Korea, and even Cuba. Fortunately, the leftist parties in India have slowly but consistently underperformed electorally with its most recent drubbing in the 17th
Lok Sabha elections where it managed to get a wholesome five seats over a five hundred and forty-two, yet it seeks to maintain some form of its erstwhile importance by penning New York Times articles, appealing to a population that doesn’t have much access to it as it lies behind a pay-wall as testament to the success of capitalism that Romila might otherwise detest.
References / Footnotes
- Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
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