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Idea of Bharat Mata is European import: Irfan Habib

Discussion in 'National Politics' started by InfoWarrior, Nov 6, 2017.

  1. InfoWarrior

    InfoWarrior Lieutenant FULL MEMBER

    Apr 8, 2017
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    Note: The purpose of this thread is to show that such views exist, not endorsement.

    [​IMG] Vikas Pathak
    NEW DELHI:, March 29, 2016 00:06 IST
    Updated: September 18, 2016 16:58 IST
    Irfan Habib. File Photo: Meeta Ahlawat

    ‘Bharat’ was first used in an inscription of King Kharavela in Prakrit, says the historian
    Wading into the political controversy around the slogan ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ (glory to Mother India), veteran historian Irfan Habib said here on Monday that the idea of Bharat Mata was an import from Europe and there was no evidence of any such imagination in either ancient or medieval India.

    Bharat Mata has nothing to do with India’s ancient or medieval past. It is a European import. Notions of motherland and fatherland were talked about in Europe,” Prof. Habib said, delivering a lecture in the memory of late historian Bipan Chandra at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

    This statement comes at a time when leaders of the BJP and its ideological mentor RSS have upheld the slogan as intimately related to nationalism in India.

    In the Maharashtra Assembly, All-India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) MLA >Waris Pathan was suspended recently for refusing to chant ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai,’ with Congress MLAs also siding with the BJP and the Shiv Sena on the matter.

    Later, talking to The Hindu on the sidelines of the event, Prof. Habib elaborated on his statement. “Bharat is mentioned in ancient India. It was first used in an inscription of King Kharavela in Prakrit. But representation of the country in human form as a mother or father was unknown in ancient India or medieval India,” he said. “This was an idea that emerged in Europe with the rise of nationalism, and it was found in Britain, Russia, etc.”

    He added that Madar-e-Watan in Urdu was also a case of the European idea being borrowed.

    Prof. Habib had irked many in the Sangh Parivar months ago too, when he >reportedly drew parallels between the RSS and the IS.

    In another lecture dedicated to the scholarship of Prof. Chandra, historian Aditya Mukherjee recalled freedom as a key value of the Indian national movement.

    Mahatma Gandhi had said that liberty of speech was unassailable even when it hurt. I hope the government is listening,” he said.

  2. Guynextdoor

    Guynextdoor Lt. Colonel SENIOR MEMBER

    Aug 24, 2010
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    So what? In the 20th century it helped unify the country and defeat the British. So it's true value is unquestionable. The concept of 'Kaiser' was imported from ROme, does this means that the Germans should abandon it?
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  3. InfoWarrior

    InfoWarrior Lieutenant FULL MEMBER

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    mother Brittania

    Mother Germania
  4. InfoWarrior

    InfoWarrior Lieutenant FULL MEMBER

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    Actually, I'm trying to show how soft-Islamists are manipulating Marxists and secularists. If a soft-Islamist with soft-corner for Pakistan, doesn't like a Indian Nationalist targetting Pakistan, he starts screaming Ultra-nationalism.
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2017
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  5. InfoWarrior

    InfoWarrior Lieutenant FULL MEMBER

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    Irfan Habib: The Indian variant of secularism opens the door to majority communalism
    The renowned historian recalls the nightmare of Partition and says the Emergency and Modi coming to power are, for him, the most traumatic events in India post-Independence.:)angry: Modi visiting Israel might have replaced them)
    Aug 14, 2015 · 01:30 pm
    Ajaz Ashraf

    Renowned historian Professor Irfan Habib, 84, recalls the nightmare of Partition and the assassination of Gandhi, his encounter with Nehru, the rise of communalism, the decline of the Left, and the ongoing fictionalisation of history under the NDA regime. Excerpts from an interview with Scroll.in.

    What is your memory of the Partition and its impact on you and Aligarh?
    I was 16 years old when Independence came. It was preceded by, as you know, the Muslim League’s domination of the Muslim constituency, including that of Aligarh. I inherited nationalistic feelings from my father (famous historian Mohammad Habib, 1895-1971), who belonged to the Congress. Because of the Muslim League I encountered considerable difficulties. For instance, I was pushed around when walking to and back from the school, which I ultimately left. But such incidents were minor in nature.

    In comparison to the Partition riots, I suppose?
    Yes. We were greatly worried as Aligarh used to border what is now Haryana, and the slaughter of Muslims had come up to the Yamuna. It was touch and go. In December 1947, we couldn’t even travel because it was unsafe for Muslims, many of whom were killed on trains.

    Suddenly, Gandhiji’s fast in January (1948) in Delhi turned the situation upside down. Then, of course, in the same month, Gandhi was murdered. A massive demonstration was held in Aligarh the day after his assassination. It was my first experience of participating in a large demonstration, in which both the communists and socialists took part. It also happened to be my first communist demonstration.

    Do you remember the slogans that were being chanted?
    The Congress crowds were saying, Ishwar, Allah Tere hi naam, sabko sanmati de Bhagwan. (Ishwar and Allah are both Your names, please give everyone good sense). The communists and socialists and others were saying, Gandhi ke hathyaron ko, phaansi do, phaansi do. Mahasabha walon ko, phaansi do, phaansi do. (Hang the killers of Gandhi, Hang the Hindu Mahasabha people.) The houses of Hindu Mahasabha leaders had been attacked all over UP, in Aligarh as well. Everyone went around saying they (Mahasabha leaders) had distributed sweets; it fanned rumours. The distribution of sweets happened, of course. (Sardar) Patel records it, though he said someone’s nephew or niece had got married and the person was therefore distributing sweets.

    Indeed, January 1948 was a great turning point for this area of India.

    Is this why, in a lecture in Delhi earlier this year, you said, “If we want to truly understand Gandhi's contribution to the building of modern India, then we should critically examine the events connected to the last four weeks before his assassination”?
    Gandhi, unlike Nehru, was not a consistent thinker. In fact, Gandhi himself said that consistency wasn’t his strong point as he was after Truth. I hadn’t read Gandhi then. But you could see he was defending what is now called secular India, the term which Nehru and people like my father were already using. In fact, (the other day) I was reading my father’s address in December 1947 to the Indian History Congress in Bombay. He used the word secular, and said that Gandhiji was giving us a picture of secular India.

    His fast was not only against the communal riotings, but also against India’s refusal to pay Rs 55 crore to Pakistan (under the terms and conditions pertaining to the division of assets and liabilities between the two countries). His was a remarkable action – he showed India would remain secular regardless of whatever happened in or with Pakistan.

    But the Hindu Right criticises Gandhi for allowing the Partition and pandering to Muslims sentiments. He has been also called the mascot of the bourgeoisie. You now have the Ambedkarites criticising Gandhi for upholding the caste system.
    As a historian, to understand Gandhi you have to understand what India was like in his times. We often forget that he came from a caste-ridden society. Since he has been extremely frank in his autobiography and expresses his feelings, even belittles himself all the time, it has become easy to criticise him, as [writer] Arundhati Roy and others are doing.

    Gandhi was very honest in noting down what his feelings or opinions were at a particular point in time. But the fact is that he recognises it was a wrong thing. For instance, he talks of his initial repugnance of the Africans. He was honest, but he wasn’t a racist. Caste feelings were very strong in India then. You can’t be organising a mass movement against the British and yet say you will first abolish the caste system [before fighting the colonialism].

    Gandhi can be easily accused of pandering to Muslim sentiments by his support to the Khilafat movement. But if Turkey hadn’t been supported, then British and French imperialism would have had the entire Asia in its tight grip. Lenin’s Russia, too, supported Turkey. If you look at the international scene then, the Khilafat movement was important, as was the non-cooperation movement with the British.

    What you are saying is that Gandhi was trying to unite people on a common issue, despite their caste-religion-linguistic differences?
    Yes. The main question then was: Was British imperialism the main target of the people, or was the main problem our own differences? If you don’t regard British imperialism as the basic problem or principal target, then why Gandhi, even Nehru, communists, everyone would be vulnerable to criticism.

    So Arundhati Roy and others are using today’s wisdom to judge Gandhi’s responses to the issues of his times.
    I don’t know whether you’d say Arundhati and others are using today’s wisdom or un-wisdom to judge Gandhi. It is only wisdom to recognise the reality as it existed then. Wisdom dictates that we should be proud that while Gandhi in South Africa thought women should stay at home, he was in 1945 saying they should become generals, that there should be no discrimination between them and men. We should be proud of that transformation, not only in Gandhi, but in the whole country.

    Gandhi was constantly evolving. Do you think the Dalits didn’t accept the caste system in the 1920s? Even today, for marriage purposes, Dalits recognise and subscribe to the caste (subdivisions) among themselves. It is absurd to think that all issues should have been raised at the time the British were being opposed.

    Weren’t you denied a passport because you were a communist activist?
    In 1954-55, the Central government issued an advertisement inviting people to send their academic data for overseas scholarships. I applied, and on the basis of my academic data – I had a first division throughout – I was selected. I got admission to Oxford. But I was refused the passport until I agreed to surrender the scholarship.

    That’s bizarre, quite like Catch 22!
    (Laughs) So I wrote to Panditji (Jawaharlal Nehru). My wife and I drafted the letter together. I suppressed the fact that I was the son of one of his friends. However, it was on the basis of that letter Nehru called me and scolded me and….

    Scolded you for what?
    For being a communist, because, as he said, the communists don’t recognise Constitutionality. He criticised Russia and China, where he had just been to. He spoke for a long time, but said he couldn’t do anything because the matter of the passport was in Pandit GB Pant’s hands. However, I got the passport two days later.

    Are you telling me, Nehru personally phoned you, a student then?
    There was no phone in those days. The secretary to the Aligarh Muslim University Vice-Chancellor, Zakir Hussain (who became India’s third President), sent me a slip saying I should meet Nehru at 9 am in Delhi. I found no security, no guards...

    I read Nehru as Prime Minister went to Regal Cinema in Connaught Place to watch the film, Of Human Bondage.
    That was how it was then. I wasn’t frisked until I entered (private secretary OP) Mathai’s room.

    Would you say the influence of orthodox elements on the Aligarh Muslim University, which has such a pull on Muslims even now, has grown over time, in comparison to what it was in your student days there?
    First, we must remember that the Muslim League wasn’t orthodox. They were communal, but not religious. Jinnah was himself not religious. In fact, among the Muslims supporting the Congress, there were a large number of theologians, who began to dominate parts of government policy.

    Did this impact Aligarh Muslim University adversely?
    Yes, but there were also other reasons. When I was studying there, one-third of students were non-Muslim, as also one-fourth of teachers. Today, 90% are Muslims. There are very few non-Muslim teachers left now. They are simply weeded out in the recruitment process. There are a few Hindu students living in hostels. The change in AMU’s composition has changed its mentality.

    In my student days, Diwali and Guru Nanak’s birthday were celebrated. Truckloads of ladoos would come from the city gurudwara to AMU. The atmosphere was different. Hindus and Muslims would really live together then. Today, that isn’t there. It has influenced everything.

    In an essay in the Little Magazine, you wrote, “The Partition of India in 1947, accompanying independence, was undoubtedly a setback in the battle for minds, in which, as we have seen, the nation dwells.” Do you think the implications of that “setback in the battle for minds” continue to linger even today?
    We lost the battle of minds in the sense we wanted to keep Hindus and Muslims together – but the Partition took place. In this battle the setback was greater (for secular nationalists) among Muslims than Hindus. Whatever you might say about the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, they were a very small minority of Hindus and were hardly elected. This you can’t, obviously, say of the Muslim League. Because of India’s secular democracy, Muslims gradually turned to the nation. I think the kind of irrational sympathy for Pakistan that existed when I was a student is hardly there any longer.

    But, unfortunately, communalism has become very strong among the Hindus now.

    Do you feel the Indian variant of secularism, in which the state allows all religions to flourish and discriminates against none, is undergoing a reversal? Is it time we move to the European idea of secularism
    Actually, one of the difficulties, ideologically, is that we have rejected the global notion of secularism. The word secularism as used by Pandit Nehru, or by my father, was that religion would be excluded from the state, as it was in the French Revolution. The term was not used then, but the phenomenon was there. It was first used by (George Jacob) Holyoake (in 1851), who said secularism is morality without religion, without any idea of after-life. He also said secularism is linked to the idea of welfare (of people). This is the correct notion of secularism.

    But the Radhakrishnan (Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, India’s second President) idea of secularism opens the door to majority communalism. It says all religions must be tolerated, which should be, but it also says religion can’t be separated from the state. There is nothing like an abstract religion. It is absurd to say that if we treat all religions equally, then religion can play a part in the state. Since there is no abstract religion, then only the majority religion can play a part.

    This idea was upheld by the Supreme Court, which said instructions in religions should be there in all schools, despite the fact that the Constitution prohibits religious instructions in (government) schools. The judgement said it has to be allowed because all morality comes from sants and saints. This is historically a false statement. The sants and saints didn’t know about (social and economic) equality, gender equality. This kind of secularism is wrong. The global idea of secularism should have been upheld.

    Why has the Left declined? Is it because, as it is often said, it didn’t factor the reality of caste in its strategies
    Well, we can’t blame the country’s conditions. We can only blame ourselves. The communist movement did make many mistakes, the first of which was to support the demand for Pakistan. In 1948, we went in total opposition to the government and consequently destroyed much of the communist base. For instance, we opposed the Zamindari Abolition Act. We should have had a greater ideological campaign than we undertook, instead of concentrating on trade unions and peasant organisations so much.

    It is easy to say caste was not factored in. In fact, all important communist leaders in Aligarh lived in what were then called Harijan bastis. We didn’t advertise it, we didn’t proclaim it. Nevertheless, as long as long as poverty and inequality exist, I can’t imagine the communist ideology not having an appeal for the nation.

    You have been quoted saying the present Modi regime is attempting “not saffronisation, but fictionalisation of history”. How do you distinguish the two terms?
    In history, it is possible to have different interpretations from the same set of facts. If there are a large number of facts available, as would be, say, in the 19th and 20th century history, then selection becomes very important. When we don’t have a large number of facts, because of disappearance of records, then you have only a partial knowledge of the past. In the latter case, different interpretations are possible. Now interpretations based on historical facts or data could be communal or non-communal, Marxist or post-modernist, etc. So long as you are dealing with recognised historical facts, you can argue your case.

    For instance, RC Majumdar was a communal person. He had very harsh things to say about Gandhiji. But he was a historian, he dealt with facts. He refused to write for the Organiser when the RSS wanted him to endorse its theory that the Mughal monuments were not built by the Mughals. He thought it was nonsense. One still argues with Majumdar because he is a historian – and a tall historian at that. But what the RSS is promoting is fiction.

    Can you cite some examples of what you call the fictionalisation of history?
    This Saraswati mania, for instance. A river of such a large size could have been possible perhaps five million years ago, though I have my doubts about even that. But it is an absurdity to conceive that such a large river flowed through the Thar desert in 3000 BC. This is an example of fiction.

    Why is the RSS obsessed with the Saraswati river?
    They have this obsession because they want to present history that would suit the RSS ideology. That ideology, of course, is that the Hindus, particularly of Brahminical persuasion, had a glorious past, that they even had plastic surgery.

    But where does the obsession with Saraswati fit into this?
    This is because when you say the Indus civilisation or Harappan civilisation, then, for them, it becomes a problem. Harappa is in Pakistan, the Indus flows mainly in Pakistan. Since we have recognised the Partition, and given away a part of Bharat Desh, they must have the Saraswati (and so the Saraswati civilisation). You will be surprised to learn that the Geological Survey of India, during the first National Democratic Alliance government, issued a book in which it showed that the Saraswati river doesn’t enter Pakistan. In fact, the river is shown avoiding Pakistan altogether to flow through the deserts of Rajasthan. This is for you the Geological Survey of India.

    In an essay you once wrote, you said, “What is of primary interest to us today is to ask whether there is still a case for India as a nation.” Has the case for India as a nation become stronger or weaker?
    A nation is how we construct it; a nation is not a natural thing. You create a sense of (national) community and within it, little communities. And if we promote sectional divisions or regional divisions, to that extent the nation is weakened or affected adversely. So a nation has to be built up. One of the most important ways of sustaining the nation is secularism and democracy and paying attention to different regions and meeting their needs. The problem with the present government is that it lacks inclusiveness, which is necessary for the construction of a nation. So they may shout they are nationalists, but they are in fact undermining the nation.

    What to you is the significance of Narendra Modi becoming Prime Minister?
    I must confess I never thought he would become the Prime Minister. I think I had what now seems to me a very idealistic picture of the Indian electorate. I was mistaken. The Indian electorate is just like any other electorate in the world. But, certainly, propaganda and some hope that he would be different from others were factors behind his victory. But one must also realise that the RSS ideology is spreading, particularly in the middle classes.

    Finally, in your opinion what has been the most traumatic event in India post-Independence?
    (Laughs) For me personally, the declaration of the Emergency was one of them. Next to it is the coming of Modi to power.

    Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist from Delhi. His novel, The Hour Before Dawn, published by HarperCollins, is available in bookstores.
  6. InfoWarrior

    InfoWarrior Lieutenant FULL MEMBER

    Apr 8, 2017
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    Inventing history to inculcate hatred
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    Irfan Habib's article is an eye opener explaining the roots and evolution of word ' secularism' along with summorising World History of Democracies including India and its constitutional provisions. In India , rise of such elements is also due to the fact of their ignorance due to not having proper education in formal way. Once such elements are in power , as in position of ' king' whatever they think and tell become ' gospel' among the followers and ' chorus' starts.This may be certain psychological complexes which is developed in such elements. May I submit about the Hitler in Germany.
    from: shambhoo sharan
    Aug 28, 2017 at 21:22 IST
    As secularism and reason are driven out, prejudice and ignorance extend their sway with disconcerting rapidity. A serious task awaits parties that are committed to a different future for the country, envisaging a truly secular democratic India, where reason and science might serve to sustain a welfare state. By IRFAN HABIB

    When 70 years ago India obtained freedom it also got divided on religious grounds. It was a momentous decision on the part of the leadership of the major political party in India at that time—the Congress “High Command”—to keep the Indian Union free of any religious or sectarian colour. The phrase “democratic and secular” was commonly used for the state that was now envisaged. (I find it used, for example, in the Presidential Address at the Indian History Congress, Bombay, on December 26, 1947.) It is true that the word “secular” did not occur in connection with the nature of the prospective republic either in the Objectives Resolution passed by the Constituent Assembly in December 1946 or in the Constitution that came into effect on January 26, 1950. Yet, one finds Jawaharlal Nehru specifically saying in 1961 (and possibly also on earlier occasions) that “our Constitution lays down that we are a secular state”. It was, however, only in 1976 that the words “Socialist, Secular” were inserted in the Preamble to the Constitution so as to define India as a “Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic Republic”. In formal terms, too, therefore, “secularism” obtained the status of a principle which should exercise a determining influence on interpretations of the detailed provisions of the Constitution.

    Now, the word “secular” has a specific meaning, which needs to be carefully preserved. The word comes from the Late Latin word speculum, meaning “world”; and so “secular” literally means “worldly”, and, therefore, something that is non-spiritual or non-religious. Its more specific sense of a system of ethics is due to the ideas of J. Holyoake (1817-1906), who is supposed to have brought the word into the English language in 1851. In the words of the authoritative Oxford English Dictionary, the word now referred to “the doctrine that morality should be based solely on regard to the well-being of mankind in the present life to the exclusion of all consideration drawn from belief in God or in a future state”, the words “future state” here doing duty for “afterlife”. The total exclusion of religion—no particular religion, but all religions—was emphasised by Holyoake himself when, in 1854, he said that he had chosen the word “secularism” as “expressing a certain positive and ethical element which the terms ‘Infidel’, ‘Sceptic’, ‘Atheist’ do not express”. When the term “secular” began to be applied also to the mode of education and then to a particular form of the state, it carried the same strict sense of totally excluding the influence of any religious belief or ritual in determining the content of a state’s laws or the nature of its executive action. It may here be mentioned that much before the term “secularism” came into use, the United States Constitution of 1787 and, particularly, the French Revolution of 1789-94, by barring religious influences from all conduct of state affairs, had already produced fair models of a secular state, the French being clearly the more radical one than the American.

    Whenever the word “secular” is today used outside India in respect of the state it does not, therefore, mean just the pursuit of neutrality among religions, or dharm-nirpekshita as secularism is officially rendered in Hindi, but invokes a more positive notion of rational conduct, uninfluenced by the requirements of any religion or set of religions.

    Yet, what is taken as the meaning of secularism worldwide was expressly rejected by Sir Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, philosopher and India’s second President, in his book Recovery of Faith (1956), page 202, in a passage that is now apparently a standard quotation in Indian legal commentaries:

    “When India is said to be a secular state, it does not mean that we reject the reality of an Unseen Spirit or the relevance of religion to life or that we exalt irreligion…. We hold that not one religion should be given preferential status or unique distinction.”

    It is clear that Radhakrishnan here offers a definition of secularism which has no sanction and divests it of all significance. As we have seen, secularism all over the world is invoked to ensure that religious beliefs are excluded from affecting the policies and laws of the state, while Radhakrishnan insists that “religion” still remains a “relevant” source.

    Supreme Court judgment on ‘religious instruction’

    It is not the international sense of secularism but the one asserted by Radhakrishnan that has been accepted by the Indian judiciary to the extent that even explicit provisions of the Constitution have been set aside in its light, while his warning that not one religion should be given a unique position has been increasingly overlooked. This is illustrated by the Supreme Court’s judgment of 2003 in respect of the imparting of “religious instruction”, on which the Constitution in its Article 28 imposes clear restrictions. Educational institutions maintained by state funds are, by this article, absolutely barred from providing any “religious instruction” and even state-recognised or aided institutions cannot make such instruction compulsory for students. Yet, despite the clear language of the constitutional provisions, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court in 2003 claimed (quite unhistorically!) that most of our essential values have come from the mouths of “sanths and saints” and so held as if it was the duty of the state to provide “instruction in religion” in its schools. From the court’s own specific references it could be assumed that Hinduism was the main faith to turn to, with some space given half-heartedly to other religions. The judgment has sounded the death knell of secular education wherever the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has come to hold the reins of power.

    Radhakrishnan’s redefinition of “secularism” thus opened the way to its increasing subversion which has taken place with the growth in the power of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and its political front, the Jana Sangh, now renamed the BJP. From its foundation in 1925 until 1947, the RSS worked as a Hindu communal organisation with an openly fascist ideology, with no intention to take part in the national movement. Before and after Independence it conducted bitter propaganda against Muslims and against Gandhiji, with its slogans of “Hindu Rashtra” and “Hindutva”, the latter term borrowed from V.D. Savarkar. Its hand in the communal massacres of 1947-48 was officially recognised as well as the fact that its members celebrated Gandhiji’s murder on January 30, 1948. At the elections of 1952 and afterwards it bitterly opposed the proposal for the Hindu Code, which was finally legislated in 1955-56, giving women rights that had been denied to them for millennia. To this body Radhakrishnan’s definition of secularism is probably quite acceptable, and for the past 20 years, if not more, we have heard spokesmen of the RSS and the BJP loudly denouncing “pseudo-secularism” by which they obviously mean secularism in the proper sense of the word.

    It will, however, be inaccurate to attribute the growth of communalism in India solely to the work of the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha. After Independence there was much bitterness within Congress ranks (which by 1947 had few Muslims left in them) over Partition and the subsequent treatment of Hindus in Pakistan (especially East Pakistan, now Bangladesh). Not only were riots frequent, but there was much official discrimination practised against Muslims in recruitment and promotions to official posts. Nehru himself in a letter to the United Provinces Chief Minister, Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant, in April 1950 recognised the seriousness of the situation prevailing there, but his acute expression of distress had little immediate consequence. Credit should be given to the Communists, the main opposition party at the time, for their stout opposition to the communal forces. In actual fact, however, the bulk of the defenders, as well as opponents, of secularism were still to be found within the Congress itself.

    Winds of change

    It has been argued by Professor Bipan Chandra and his colleagues that it was the Jayaprakash Narayan-led mass movement of 1975, the subsequent Emergency (1975-77) and the opposition it aroused that made the RSS a respectable part of India’s political establishment. The Congress, however, recovered, though the massacre of Sikhs in 1984 in Delhi under its stewardship greatly tarnished its own anti-communal image. It is yet possible that the real change in the RSS’s favour came still later. We ought to remind ourselves of the transformation that took place all over the world in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Congress had, since its Avadi resolution of 1955, adopted “socialism” as its ultimate objective, and the construction of the public sector and, later, the nationalisation of a large part of the financial sector (banks, insurance) and coal mines under Indira Gandhi were seen as measures leading to socialism. As we have seen, words expressing the aspiration to make India a socialist republic were inserted into the Preamble of the Constitution in 1976. In 1980, even the new incarnation of the RSS-led Jana Sangh, the BJP, declared its adherence to the cause of “Gandhian socialism”. But the wind sharply changed direction in the closing years of the ensuing decade.

    Around 1989-90, socialist regimes in Eastern Europe began to collapse, and in 1991 the Soviet Union itself was dissolved and the socialist system rapidly demolished there. The Indian economy received a great jolt through India’s loss of ties with the Soviet bloc, and there was therefore a total shift (“liberalisation”) in India’s economic policy. “Socialism”, of whatever kind, was now off the table for all parties, even those named “Samajvadi”, except for the two Communist parties. This sudden destruction of a widely held ideal provided rich ground for the spread of the RSS’s communal ideology posing as ultra-nationalism. The shift was marked by the destruction of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya in December 1992, loudly proclaimed as a great national achievement. The synchronisation of this event with the worldwide shift to the Right is surely remarkable.

    That event also established the sheer electoral value of communalism. Without any economic programme worth the name, except for the dismantling of the public sector and removal of constraints on Big Business, the BJP governed India from 1999 to 2004. The Gujarat massacre of Muslims in 2002 established Narendra Modi’s credentials as Chief Minister to govern Gujarat and then to become India’s Prime Minister 12 years later. Unburdened by the legacy of any ideological “socialist” baggage, the BJP can give all the possible concessions that Big Business may seek. The bland slogan “Make in India” is a happy replacement of the work of the Planning Commission whose demolition was one of the first acts of Modi’s government in 2014. In return, the BJP’s coffers, one supposes, are being duly filled. Devices such as “electoral bonds” are surely directed towards easing the process of corporate donations. The combination of communalism and collaboration from Big Business imparts to the present regime a seeming invincibility.

    Elimination of reasoned thought in education

    That invincibility is being further strengthened by the steady elimination of secular and reasoned thought in our educational system. The Prime Minister’s seat was once occupied by Jawaharlal Nehru, who argued constantly in favour of science and the scientific spirit and who laid the foundations of India’s large apparatus of scientific research. Modi, who has occupied Nehru’s seat fully 50 years after Nehru passed away, invokes the god Ganesha to sustain a claim of ancient Indians’ knowledge of plastic surgery and puts forth Karna as proof of Indians’ knowledge of genetic engineering in some distant age! To the shame of this country not a single eminent scientist in India took him to task for such claims, which may now well enter our textbooks in Central schools and the schools in most States. Already schemes are afoot to invent a new kind of mythical history to inculcate hatred of Muslims along with a virulent form of racial chauvinism.

    Needless to say, India, except in some corners here and there, can now hardly be called a secular state. As I pick up the Sunday edition of a leading newspaper, I read in a piece by a supporter of the regime that there are leaders who look forward to the next lynching of Muslims after the hue and cry on the present one dies down. Perhaps, such acts will soon turn into cold statistics, so frequent that details would hardly bear reporting. All possible positions in governmental organisations and all the administrative and academic posts that the Central government can fill are being occupied by the RSS’s nominees, often with laughable qualifications. Even right-wing professionals and academics are not considered reliable enough (though an element of personal favouritism may also be involved here). By controlling grants and favours the BJP regime is manifestly enforcing silence and consent to a degree undreamt of under previous regimes, including even the National Democratic Alliance (NDA)-I.

    As secularism and reason are driven out, prejudice and ignorance extend their sway with disconcerting rapidity. At one level, we appear to be following in Pakistan’s footsteps, what we had refused to do in 1947. But we are not simply a country of four provinces like Pakistan, we are the second most populous country in the world. What happens here will be a disaster on a corresponding scale. One cannot help thinking of Germany, a country with such advanced culture, at the time the Nazis took possession of it 84 years ago. The same claims for the “Aryan” race, the same bitter prejudice against a minority (in Germany, the Jews), and the same collaboration with Big Business. The Nazis were successful not because they ever obtained support from the majority of the German people in elections, but because their opponents were divided, with some being won over by the Nazis, to be suppressed later. That process, too, we can now see coming to pass in India, the Bihar example being the latest instance, immediately celebrated by the beating up of three men because they were allegedly transporting meat: “We are in power now,” the mobsters are reported to have said.

    A serious task awaits parties that are committed to a different future for the country, envisaging a truly secular democratic India, where reason and science might serve to sustain a welfare state. Perhaps the conflict over whether such a state would be socialist or a free market one can be postponed until the present crisis is over. Those in the Congress and other liberal parties may remember how Gandhiji, a firm opponent of socialism, could combine with Nehru, an avowed socialist, to fight British imperialism. The Left parties may recall how Popular Fronts were formed in Europe in the mid-1930s to block the path of Fascism. Surely, anyone with any foresight can see that unless a broad unity of all secular forces is now forged in India, the country’s present slide into darkness will doubtless continue.
  7. InfoWarrior

    InfoWarrior Lieutenant FULL MEMBER

    Apr 8, 2017
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    The Colonial Roots Of Hindutva ‘Nationalism’
    Indian nationalism’s anti-colonial, and inclusive, origins are increasingly being trampled underfoot by votaries of Hindu majoritarianism. In this essay, Romila Thapar shows how the cant of Hindutva was built on the myopic and tendentious tradition of colonial history-writing.
    Romila Thapar
    A ‘march for unity to save the country’ in Delhi in February 2016 protests ‘anti-national’ activities by JNU students
    Photograph by Sanjay Rawat

    N On Nationalism
    By Romila Thapar , A.G. Noorani , Sadanand Menon
    Publisher: Aleph | Pages: 162 | Price: Rs 399
    For Indians of my age who grew up on the cusp of Independence, nationalism was in the air we breathed. Nationalism was not something problematic. It was an identity with the nation and its society. The identity and consciousness of being Indian did not initially need to be defined. We understood nationalism to be Indian nationalism and not Hindu or Muslim or any other kind of religious or other nationalism, and a clear distinction was made between nationalism and other loyalties. Nationalism could only be Indian. And Indian meant that which was above all the smaller loyalties to religion, caste, ethnicity and region. Nationalism meant differentiating between the nation and the state, and it was clear that no government could take upon itself the rights of a nation. Sovereignty resides with the nation and not with the government. A nation referred to the people that inhabited a territory who saw themselves as an evolved community, one that was created by drawing upon the range of communities that existed prior to the nation. It was based on a shared history, interests and aspirations frequently expressed in a common culture that in turn drew from multiple cultures.

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    At the most visible level, a nation is identified with territory. For the Indian this was the territory of British India that the colony hoped to inherit on becoming a nation. This had to be bifurcated with Partition in 1947, and that was problematic when identified with the erstwhile territory of British India. So the territory of what constituted India had to be redefined.

    Nevertheless, the subcontinent remained the framework when thinking about India in historical terms. We learnt from history that through the centuries there was a constant changing of boundaries and the coexistence of many political units within the subcontinent. This raised the question of whether a permanent boundary of a nation-state was feasible, but for the purposes of nationalism it was assumed to be as permanent as possible, with the caveat that it could change.

    This also turned our attention to the real entity of nationalism and that was the people who inhabited the territory. This was meant literally and it included all the people, irrespective of their sub-identities of religion, caste, language, region and such like. There was an axiomatic belief that the primary concern of nationalism was to ensure the welfare of the entire society, and of all its citizens. This was defined as establishing the equality of all citizens and their entitlement to human rights. National interest meant ensuring that every citizen lived with dignity. This required both economic growth and social justice as fundamental to the establishing of a nation. These essentials of a nation were discussed extensively, especially in universities and research centres, in the first couple of decades after Independence.

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    Nationalism had, and has, much to do with understanding one’s society and finding one’s identity as a member of that society. It cannot be reduced merely to waving flags and shouting slogans and penalising people for not shouting slogans like ‘Bharat mata ki jai’. This smacks of a lack of confidence among those making the demand for slogans. Nationalism requires a far greater commitment to attending to the needs of the nation than mere sloganeering, and that too with slogans focusing on territory or ones that have a limited acceptability. As was recently said, it is indeed ironic that an Indian who refuses to shout this slogan is immediately declared as anti-national, but an Indian who has deliberately not paid his taxes or stashed away black money is not declared as such.

    The question of what is national and what is anti-national does depend on what is understood by nationalism. A commitment to the nation if it encourages concern for and an ethical attitude towards other citizens of the same nation is always commended. However, this should not be expressed by vicious hostility towards neighbouring nations. Hostility, in particular situations, has to be tempered with reason and this is one difference between good governance and bad. Nationalism, therefore, cannot be without its limits and the limits have to be carefully worked out.

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    Colonial histories claimed to apply the criteria of Enlightenment rationality, but was imposing a history not divorced from justifying dominance.
    The question is sometimes asked whether there was nationalism in pre-modern times. Historians would think not. Internal distinctions are part of the stratification of every society. Yet, as an entity, a society differentiates itself from others. Societies in the past were more often known by the characteristics of their elite. An example is the defining of civilisations. Indian civilisation was located in the territory of British India, its language was said to be Sanskrit and its religion Hindu. This definition was of course the contribution of colonial scholarship that we have dutifully appropriated, without giving attention to other significant features that went into the making of the civilisation, or questioning whether this was all that was required for defining a civilisation. The culture of the elite went into defining civilisation. Non-elites and their cultural patterns, especially in rural areas, were hardly recognised. They had a circumscribed existence. Even within this very limited definition of civilisation, physical boundaries constantly changed, languages changed, religions mutated, as did the cultural identity and what was recorded as history. These again pertained more to the elites than to others.

    Nationalism as it evolved historically was inclusive and drew on the idea of the unification of diverse groups to form a new community of citizens. Nevertheless, there were, and are, some ideologies that claim to be nationalisms but where the identity gives priority to only one group, and this acts as a force of divisiveness. This has led to identifying genuine nationalism as a form of unification. It does not require the cultural idiom of a specific community and often creates new idioms. More correctly, therefore, concepts of nations based on a single exclusive identity—religious, linguistic, ethnic etc—are actually pseudo-nationalisms and should be precluded from being called a nationalism, without the accompanying qualifier of their identity.

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    Thus, in India, we distinguish between secular, anti-colonial nationalism that was the mainstay of the national freedom movement, and the other movements that called themselves nationalisms but were doubtful as such and were more correctly religious or communal nationalisms that drew their identity from individual religions, such as the Muslim, Hindu and Sikh nationalisms. Many historians would refrain from calling these nationalisms. The rise of such categories can, if one chooses to be charitable, be called subnationalisms, although some may hesitate to use any association with nationalism for such groups.

    Historians see the nation as a modern concept and do not trace it to antiquity. It emerges at a specific point of time that dates to the post-Enlightenment period in Europe. It coincides with a major change, namely the emergence of societies out of the earlier feudal or similar systems into what became the interrelation of industrialisation with the growth of capitalism and an economy based on both capitalism and colonialism. As a universalising concept, it lent itself to asserting a new form of political power and that became the direction taken by most nationalisms.


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    People in Mumbai visit a memorial to B.R. Ambedkar on his birth anniversary

    Photograph by AP
    The nation is different from the state and from government. The state can have different forms of government, as it did in the pre-modern past. The use of the term ‘nation-state’ qualifies the kind of state. Nationalism is a function of the nation. Conceptually, it consolidates aspects of the nation such as democracy, territory and power and endorses the value systems that ensure equal rights and justice. The nation is generally not centrally and directly ruled by a dynasty, it is the representatives of the people who govern it in a democratic system. In other words, ultimately, it is the people who determine the nation. Unfortunately, this definition is not appreciated by the many who think nationalism is only about shouting slogans and keeping the territory unchanged. The question of nationalism and anti-nationalism when it hovers over territory is not as central when compared to the other aspects of a nation that all its citizens share, even if territory does on occasion become the focus.

    A few decades ago, there was much discussion on what goes into the making of nationalism. The discussion was varied, since nationalism is an abstract concept. Benedict Anderson, the political scientist and historian, referred in his influential book Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism to an imagined community as constructed by people who think of themselves as a community with common perceptions that unite them. The unity was more feasible in modern times than in earlier periods because of the spread of literacy with the assistance of the printing press and the reading of newspapers, etc. To this one could add, if so desired, the influence of television and the cinema as sustaining or even assisting in creating a national feeling.

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    In Nations and Nationalism (1983), Ernest Gellner, the British social anthropologist and a leading thinker on the subject of nationalism, linked it more closely to a new society that grew out of an earlier society and differed from it in various ways. It permitted the growth of an impersonal society where individuals were bonded through defining a shared culture and learning a shared history. Again, to this one could add that the observance of the same code of laws was also a binding factor.

    The inclusiveness of the anti-colonial nationalism is discarded. In claiming legitimacy from the past, it is made into an assemblage of what’s most desired now.
    Eric J. Hobsbawm, the British thinker and historian, made a connection in Nations and Nationalism since 1780 (1990) between history and nationalism and explained how history is reconstructed in a way that suits the ideology of nationalism and is essential to the construction of nationalism. It is essential to the making of a state and this incorporates not just the elite but also the less privileged. Nationalism may begin with ideas among the elite but its propagation involves having mass support. Initially, anti-colonial Indian nationalism had a more limited role as compared to what it became when converted into a mass movement in the 20th century. History plays a crucial role in both creating the basis of the unity and for sustaining it. Hobsbawm compares the role of history to nationalism with that of the poppy to the heroin addict.

    This is one explanation for why history in India has become the arena of struggle between the secular nationalists and those endorsing varieties of religious or pseudo-nationalisms. Nationalist historical writing visualised history as supportive of the interlinking of the communities that constituted Indian society. Occasionally there were deviations from this when a particular religious community was given greater centrality than was appropriate to a nationalist perspective. Differences among historians arise when the pseudo-nationalisms exaggerate the importance of a single history of one religious community as being the pre-eminent history of the nation, and denigrate and distort the history of other communities. The public historical confrontations today are between secular historians and those who write history from the perspective of communal ‘nationalisms’. Needless to say, the discipline of history has moved well beyond this debate, but the latter are oblivious of this since they are grounded in their political agenda.

    We have seen this clearly in the nationalist history written by historians who were part of the anti-colonial nationalist movement with their emphasis on understanding Indian society in terms of its continuity and common characteristics. As a contrast to this is the ‘history’ as written by the RSS and Hindutva ideologues for whom the past has only to do with Hindu history of the early period and the victimisation of Hindus under Muslim tyranny in the medieval period. They speak of Hindus being enslaved for a thousand years by Muslim rule, but do not pause for a moment to give thought to at least two facts.

    One is that caste Hindus victimised the other castes, Dalits and adivasis for two thousand or more years, and most caste Hindus, with a few exceptions, regarded it as quite legitimate. Some continue to do so. Secondly, that some of the more powerful propagation of Hindu religious sects dates to the last thousand years—such as the Bhakti and Tantric traditions in northern India—and these characterise the kind of Hinduism that is practised by the larger number of people currently called Hindu in census reports.

    The bhajans of Mira and Surdas and the poetry of Kabir and Tukaram, as well as the many renderings of the Ramayana, such as by Tulsidasa and Krittivasa, were composed in this period. Their popularity was so immense among various communities that phrases and verses from them became idioms in the languages of their composition such as Hindi, Bengali and Marathi. This was paralleled in other languages of the subcontinent.

    Furthermore, some of the most notable achievements in knowledge of various kinds, from literature to mathematics, can be ascribed to Hindu scholars during this period. Among these achievements were some singular traditions of Hindu culture as well as some highly creative interfacing with other religions and cultures. Far from being victimised, Hindu culture flourished along with other cultures in these centuries. This is demonstrated in texts such as Madhava’s Sarvadarshanasangraha on the prevailing schools of philosophy and Samayasundara’s Artharatnavali on linguistic explorations and belief systems. Sayana wrote his renowned exposition of the Rigveda in the fourteenth century. Commentaries on, and digests of, earlier social codes and the Dharmashastras reflected new situations. Some incorporated discussions on the status of those converted to Islam. Others debated the status of the now greatly empowered temple priests who were performers of rituals as well as administrators in the many wealthy temples that became a part of the urban scene.


    In defiance of Owaisi, Muslims in Meerut write ‘Bharat mata ki jai’ with their blood

    Photograph by PTI
    Intensely devotional poetry was written by poets, some of whom were in fact born Muslim but worshipped Hindu deities. One of the best known among them was Sayyad Ibrahim, popularly referred to as Raskhan, whose dohas and bhajans dedicated to the deity Krishna were widely recited in the sixteenth century and are still remembered by devotees of Krishna and others. The intermingling of cultures is also evident in the new kinds of classical music that was composed and sung at the courts of this period. Best known among these was the creation and evolution of Dhrupad, regarded by many as the finest form of Hindustani classical music. The Mughal court became the most impressive patron of the translation of many Sanskrit religious texts into Persian. Among these the Mahabharata (translated as the Razmnamah) and the Bhagavad Gita hold pride of place. Brahmana priests worked together with Persian scholars on these translations encouraged by Hindu and Muslim noblemen at the courts.

    This was also the period when the gurus, pirs and sants wandered from place to place, preached their understanding of religion, founded sects and sometimes settled somewhere that became a place of pilgrimage. They were people of every possible religious background and their teachings were often a religious melange that defied identification with a particular religion. Some were localised and others spread across the subcontinent, like the Nathapantha. They ranged from informal religious sects to well-established formal sects with large bodies of followers. Such sects crossed religious and social barriers without a thought and none could stop them because their followings were so large. When they became well-established, even royal patrons received them cordially. They were the opinion-makers of their times.

    This does not support the idea of victimised Hindus but rather of people of different cultures investigating their cultures in order to find points of integration or of disagreement. Nor should this be taken as an indication of complete harmony among the various cultures. Since there were inequalities, there would have been points of dislocation and confrontation, as indeed are only too evident in the pre-Islamic history of India. But to speak of victimisation is merely to try and impose a particular kind of image of the past onto our present perceptions so as to propagate communal hostility. The purpose of historical research is to try and understand the interface between the cultures of the past and explain the different kinds of relationships they may have had. But if history is subjected to fabrication in order to make it the excuse for aggression against another community in contemporary times, then we cannot expect it to provide an understanding and an explanation of what happened in the past and why.

    Religious nationalism, or communalism as some prefer to call it, both Muslim and Hindu, was marginal to the mainstream of the anti-colonial movement. They did not confront the colonial power, focused as the two communalisms were on attacking each other in the interests of establishing an Islamic and a Hindu state. The catalyst in many anti-colonial nationalisms was the focus on removing the colonial power which was seen as exploiting the colony, accompanied by the colonised wanting the rights of representation in what was ideally seen as a democratic system still to be established. Both were essential to how the middle class saw its role and this was prior to its own eventual success that led it on occasion to curb these rights.

    What we take to be nationalism can be a positive force if it calls for the unification of communities, but it can be a divisive and negative force if it underlines exclusive rights for one community on the basis of a single identifying factor. We’ve seen a very severe example of negative nationalism in the case of Germany in the 1930s when the Nazis propagated the idea of the purity of the Aryan race and the origin of European Aryans. This was central to the Fascist understanding of European society and crucial to German Fascism and was not absent in Italian Fascism either.

    The Aryans were said to be superior racially and culturally and were not only given priority of place in German society, but it was even argued that the purity of German society could be achieved by annihilating non-Aryans. The non-Aryans were the Jews and the Gypsies, who were not merely excluded but were physically annihilated. This began with segregating and abusing them and ended with taking them forcibly, trainload by trainload, to special camps where they were gassed and killed. This was done through the Holocaust and the literal decimation of the Jewish population in Germany, using up-to-date scientific techniques. Liberal thinkers and intellectuals were special targets of attack and many among them had to flee Germany, although many more were gassed in the concentration camps. The irony was that the Jews were so well integrated into German society that they were major contributors to German culture, science and intellectual life. Those that did manage to escape became catalysts in the enrichment of intellectual life in Europe and the US in the post-World War II period. The loss was that of the Fascist countries. I am referring to this because these kinds of sentiments of excluding minorities is what we often hear in our own society and in other societies, with reference to people who are, for obnoxious reasons, regarded as unwanted.

    However, where nationalism has been inclusive, the effect has tended to be positive, at least initially. For example, the kind of nationalism we seldom refer to but whose ideology is pertinent to the Indian situation—African nationalism—was based on the idea of what came to be called Negritude. This emerged as an ideology from the Caribbean countries in the 1930s and through contact with Africans in other places, and its immediate context was French colonialism. Aime Cesaire, Leopold Senghor and Leon Damas formulated the idea. This brought together an African consciousness that stretched from Africa to the Caribbean to North America. It was an inclusive nationalism of a very extraordinary kind and I think we would do well to study it some more.

    The main thrust of Negritude was that it was an anti-colonial nationalism initially critiquing French colonialism as an example of European dominance. It celebrated black African identity and brought together black critics of imperialism. The derogatory term, negre (black), to mean black people, was deliberately turned on its head and given a positive meaning of black identity. This in a sense also caused it to challenge and oppose the popular ‘race science’ of the time in Europe and the notion that Africans are primitive and savage. Negritude became a major literary and philosophical movement among black writers, many of whom wrote from a secular perspective. Although the reinterpretation of religion was a subject of interest, culture was not defined as religion but as the articulation at many levels of the groups that constituted black societies in these various countries. As a precursor to decolonisation in Africa and the Caribbean, and because of its association with the anti-slavery movement in the US, it became crucial to black nationalism.

    Religious nationalism wasn’t anti-colonial. They sought to use history as given by colonial scholarship to legitimise their political ideology.
    In later years it, too, was critiqued when it was thought that the racial identity had become too singular in the definition. In areas where Negritude was influential, the population was not limited to Africans, especially in the Caribbean. Jean-Paul Sartre, the French philosopher who was appreciative of Negritude, referred to it as anti-racist racism. Later, some African writers were opposed to it because it accepted distinctive racial cultures and their characteristics. This was regarded as complicit with colonial thought. Other theories entered the discussion on Negritude, questioning whether it drew on biological or cultural roots in arguing for a difference. The point that I would like to make is that any term used in one historical context can be differently used in another. Therefore, the historical context is significant in discussing the term. Further, what goes by the name of nationalism can be used in various ways and it is necessary to seek out the historical context of each to grasp its political and cultural function in the society to which it refers.


    Sikh radicals shout slogans in support of Bhindranwale and Khalistan in Amritsar

    Photograph by AFP
    But let me return to the Indian situation and the evolution of nationalist ideas in India. This was tied to colonialism. All of us in the Indian subcontinent, not to mention other ex-colonies, have faced the same questions of how to define ourselves as citizens of a new nation. This relates to the question of identity or identities. We in India thought the answer was simple—it was the single identity of being Indian. But the reality on the ground has turned it into a complex question without a simple answer because even a single identity can subsume others. The utopia that we had wished for has retreated in the face of identities in conflict.

    History, as we were taught in school and even later, was a representation of the past based on information that we had gathered from the past. In the case of colonies such as India, colonial scholars claimed that they were writing the history of the colony since there was supposedly an absence of historical writing in the cultures of the colony. Therefore, a history had to be constructed for the region by colonial scholars and this they proceeded to do. But when this history was used to construct identities relevant only to the present but with claims of having roots in the past, it became necessary for more contemporary historians to unpack the past to discover the actual roots. In this process of unpacking, one realises that the past registers changes that could alter its representation. The past does not remain static.

    In examining the construction of the past in the form in which we had inherited it from colonial scholarship, it was further seen that aspects of nationalist thinking had borrowed from this colonial legacy. The colonial reconstruction of the past in India was the poppy of which Hobsbawm speaks. Nationalism was built by coalescing many identities and aspiring to be inclusive of the entire society. It inevitably opposed the defining of the nation on the basis of a single identity projected as superior to the rest. For this claim to superiority, an imagined history is put forth endorsing the dominance of the supposedly superior group. Inclusiveness is undoubtedly problematic since every society since early times has overlooked the need for equality and has acquiesced in the dominance of some and the subordination of others. These frequently become the issues of conflict. Inequality is thus predictable and results in multiple identities competing for visibility. Yet the wish for an egalitarian society, or one relatively so, has been a feature in envisioning future utopias.

    In our present post-colonial times in India, the multiple identities of the period contemporary with nationalism have surfaced and become visible. But the historical context is constantly changing. Each identity demands priority for itself and asks to be treated as exclusive, and this becomes an agency for mobilisation. The inclusiveness of the earlier anti-colonial nationalism is set aside. In claiming legitimacy from the past, that past itself is converted into an assemblage of what is most desired in the present. Separating what might actually have happened from the fantasies of political ideologues masquerading as specialists in religion makes it necessary to understand historical knowledge.


    Among our current identities in India, the more prominent ones go back to colonial times and were usually constructed with links to pre-modern history. Examples of this are identities of race, language, caste, tribe and religion. Economic poverty and inequality of a new kind is the colonial heritage for large segments of the population. In the couple of centuries just prior to colonisation, India and China were leading economies. This changed with the coming of colonialism. The identities constructed by colonialism in the nineteenth century became the prisms through which Europe viewed the past of India. The history of the colony was of prime concern to the colonial ruler in order to govern its strange peoples and to exploit its wealth and, to some extent, to understand its culture, so alien to European eyes.

    Some of this concern resulted in path-breaking work on deciphering scripts, revealing tangible history through excavations, and investigating language through philology—analysing its linguistic components. Much effort was made to collect data through archaeological excavations, linguistic surveys, and a systematic programme of collecting texts. The oral traditions of bardic compositions were also part of this effort. Ancient scripts, such as Brahmi, were deciphered so that inscriptions could now be read, thereby providing fresh information, not always in conformity with the normative and sacred texts, and therefore presenting an interesting alternative picture of society. All this data had to be organised and interpreted. The organisation was efficient but the interpretation reinforced colonial theories. Nevertheless, as Lord Curzon, the viceroy of India from 1899 to 1905, stated, all this was “the necessary furniture of Empire”.

    Three arguments were foundational to the colonial interpretation of Indian history. The first was periodisation. James Mill in The History of British India (1817-1826), almost two hundred years ago, argued for three periods, labelled in accordance with the religion of the rulers: Hindu civilisation, Muslim civilisation and the British period. The divisions were endorsed by the assumption that the units of Indian society have always been monolithic religious communities—primarily the Hindu and the Muslim—which were mutually hostile. Religion was believed to have superseded all other authority.

    On the basis of their numbers in the Census of 1872 and subsequently, the Hindus came to be called the majority community, and the Muslims and others were the minority communities. It was argued that there was an absence of historical change in India, therefore all institutions were static until the coming of the colonial power. The only thing that changed was the religion of the ruling dynasties. This periodisation became axiomatic to the interpretation of Indian history. It also had a major political fallout effect in the twentieth century when the subcontinent was partitioned on the basis of the supposed two nations defined by religion. Although discarded by historians, those that still hold to the theory continue to support the required hostility between Hindus and Muslims.

    The second assertion was that the pre-colonial political economy conformed to the model of what was called oriental despotism. This again assumed a static society, characterised by an absence of private property in land, despotic and oppressive rulers and, therefore, endemic poverty. This pattern, commonly applied to Asian societies, did not envisage any marked economic change. A static society also meant that it lacked a sense of history.

    The third aspect was that Hindu society had always been divided into four main caste groupings—the varnas. This division, it was argued, was based on Indian society being a collection of segregated races, with caste as the mechanism that controlled segregation through a code of regulations that determined how it was to function. Therefore, it remained unchanging through history. Racial identity was at the forefront in discussions on society at that time with the prevalence of what was called ‘race science’ in Europe. This notion of caste was derived by colonial scholars largely from what they saw as the Aryan foundations of Indian civilisation, both as a race and a language. The earlier people were labelled as Dravidian because of its being another ancient language group with a distinct geographical location and substantial numbers of speakers. Dravidian became the counterpoint to the Aryan. Sanskrit was viewed as the dominant language of the Aryan civilisation; the hegemonic religion was Vedic Brahmanism. In all three descriptions, India was projected as the alien, the ‘Other’ of Europe. Europe had to be projected as unique and Asia as lacking in characteristics of European civilisation.

    Colonial interpretations claimed to be applying the criteria of Enlightenment rationality to their interpretation of the history of the colony. But, in effect, they were imposing a history that was not divorced from justifying colonial dominance. These preconceptions, together with a focus on chronology and the narrative of dynasties, governed routine history. Colonial historians drew on texts encapsulating the elite-caste perspectives of Indian society and extended it to the whole of society. Indian historians writing on ancient India came from the newly emerged middle class and were of the privileged castes and therefore familiar with these texts. There may have been some hesitation in analysing their contents critically in the manner required by historical research, as among the texts were those often regarded as sacred. The colonial routine continued.

    Nevertheless, a debate did emerge, especially among historians influenced by nationalist ideas and opposed to some colonial preconceptions. The colonial periodisation was generally accepted. A few changed the nomenclature to Ancient, Medieval and Modern, borrowed from Europe and thought to be more secular, although the markers remained the same and there was no effective change. Oriental despotism as a theory that explained the pre-modern political economy of India had few takers. Nationalist Indian historians largely rejected it. However, alternative hypotheses on the early Indian political economy and society were limited. This would have meant critiquing the normative texts and giving greater credence to non-religious texts. Social history in standard works largely reiterated the description of the four varnas as given in the normative texts—the codes of caste society known as the Dharmashastras—registering little recognition of deviations, leave alone explaining them. Even where there was a conflict between the sacred text and inscriptional evidence, the conflict was not analysed and the textual statements were taken as correct. That the system need not have worked precisely as described in theory was not generally envisaged. Other ways of looking at the past were not admitted to the forefront of historical writing.

    The predominant form of nationalism, described as anti-colonial and secular, was beginning to be imprinted on Indian historical writing in the early 20th century. This was the nationalism of the majority of the Indian population. But parallel to this, and initially less apparent in historical writing, were emerging the two religious ‘nationalisms’—Hindu and Muslim—much encouraged by the colonial version of the Indian past. These were not essentially anti-colonial, since their agenda lay in their political ambition of establishing separate religion-based nation-states. They were less interested in researching alternate paradigms and explanations of history and more in seeking to use history as given by colonial scholarship to legitimise their political ideology and the mobilisation that they sought. There was an even greater insistence that religious identity had always been the seminal identity in the past and continued to be so in the present. They argued that this identity of Hindu and Muslim would define the character of the nation-states in contemporary times, even if it meant establishing two separate nations. Religion for them was more important than democracy and human rights. In the case of Hindu nationalism, the religion referred to is the religion of the elite castes, and that in effect was the religion of the minority group within the count of those that called themselves Hindus.

    From these two perspectives, the project of history was directed towards justifying what was to be the outcome of independence—the partition of India into two states, one upholding Islam and the other encapsulating the struggle between those wanting a secular democracy and those proposing a Hindu state. The colonial view of Indian history was being echoed in these ideas. The argument that if the one came, the other was inevitable was only held by those who accepted the colonial version of Indian history, as did the ‘religious’ nationalists, although they never admit to their sources. Post-colonial mainstream nationalism, as different from the religious nationalisms, still insisted that the state of India should be a secular democracy and that is essentially what Indian nationalists had fought for.


    Where nationalism based on a specific religious, linguistic or ethnic identity has been successful in creating a nation-state, it is used to justify identity politics. The identities that fail to be dominant take on the characteristics of a kind of sub-nationalism until such time as they too aspire to the making of yet another nation, or else fall by the wayside. Identity need not always be derived from religion. With Bangladesh it was language. More recent but unsuccessful demands for nationhood, such as that of Khalistan among the Sikhs, stemmed again from religion within the context of a larger nation that is multi-religious.

    Secessionist movements are not unknown even to well-established nations—such as Scottish nationalism—but they need not be violent or identified with an extremist ideology, although Irish nationalism, for obvious reasons, was different. In India, there have been trends in that direction with language-based movements in the south and demands for regional autonomy. Movements oriented more to ethnicity are known from the Northeast.

    The colonial inheritance, where it remains unquestioned, persists, and religious nationalisms appropriate it and build on it. It dominates the thinking of those that regard themselves as defending all things Indian, by which they often mean Hindu, or else defending the religion they support and oppose the minority community from which non-compliance is feared. This is an explicit continuation of James Mill’s two-nation theory, with its insistence on the innate hostility between Hindus and Muslims, and the theory of the victimisation of Hindus by Muslim rulers. So, the counterpart to Pakistan has to be a Hindu India according to some, even if a secular India is more viable, given the nation’s history (and current reality) of multiple cultures and the plurality of religious beliefs.

    The argument that a religion-based state, drawing on majority and minority religious communities as its units, militates against democracy is of little concern to such opinion. The undemocratic intentions of religion-based nationalisms are brushed aside by them and more so now that we are enmeshed in a neoliberal market economy that reiterates hierarchies of inequality. Movements from below demanding equal rights are described as threats to the state. Muslim religious nationalism demanded a separate state using the colonial argument of two nations and, according to some, such a state could have been the core of a rejuvenated Islamic world. Not all Muslim organisations in pre-Partition India supported this argument, and some opposed it; but it claimed, as religious nationalisms have to, that it had the majority’s support.

    History as viewed by Hindu religious nationalism, in its incarnation as Hindutva, is a narrative of Hindus having been the original inhabitants of the land later known as British India, and thus the rightful inheritors of the past. It is said that the Hindus once had a great and glorious past that was destroyed by Muslim conquerors. Consequently, the creation of a Hindu state is projected as a legitimate return to a rightful inheritance. The unbroken descent of Hindu ancestry and religion (pitribhumi and punyabhumi) from earliest times, according to this school of thought, legitimises the primacy of Hindus in the present. It combines with this the construction by F.M. Mueller, the Orientalist and philologist, of a superior Aryan culture and the Aryan foundations of Indian (read Hindu) civilisation.

    Interestingly, it was the Theosophists, and in particular Colonel H.S. Olcott, the organisation’s co-founder, who were initially the major propagators of this theory in the nineteenth century. Olcott argued that the Aryans were indigenous to India and took civilisation from India to the West, an idea that is promoted by Hindutva, but with no reference to its colonial origins. The Theosophists were close to the Arya Samaj before they fell out.

    The advantage of the Aryan theory of origins was that the elite castes claimed an Aryan descent and thereby also an unbroken lineage of dominance since the beginning of the establishment of civilisation. They also claimed close kinship with the British, who were geographically at the other end of the ‘Aryan’ spread across Eurasia. The existence of the Harappan civilisation, discovered in the 1920s, questions this narrative. But by maintaining that the Harappans were also Aryans, this questioning is disallowed. However, there is as yet no evidence for this argument. Both the two-nation theory and the theory of Aryan origins are rooted in the nineteenth-century colonial interpretation of Indian history. These theories become a form of nurturing and continuing colonial explanations of Indian history, while claiming them as indigenous Indian history.

    Most historians have questioned these and other theories formulated, for instance, by the trilogy of Mill-Macaulay-Mueller, the authors of the more established colonial construction of the Indian past. (Thomas Babington Macaulay was a British politician and administrator and the author of the infamous 1835 Minute on Indian Education that dismissed the “whole native literature of India and Arabia” as worthless.) Ironically, the historians who have questioned these colonial theories are the ones who are accused by the Hindutva-vadis of being anti-national, the children of Macaulay, and ‘Marxist’. The contemporary historical moment is that of a post-colonial state, an independent nation, and the conflict is over the immense change in power relations this entails. The conflict is dressed up in the clothes of religion and the slogan is that the pre-eminence of Hindutva has to be established.
  8. vstol jockey

    vstol jockey Colonel MILITARY STRATEGIST

    Mar 15, 2011
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    The idea of Bharat mata is as old Ramayana.Lord Raam had stated-janani janam bhoomish che swargadapi gariyashi. Idea of land of Birth as equal to mother was propounded By lord Raam also. This means Bharat Mata predated Lord Raam.

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