While many leftist historians fume in public over minor changes in NCERT textbooks, they are actually preparing for a much more radical, dangerous new version of history. As and when a new ruling party comes to town, this might be the version they teach in schools
Have you heard the expression “idea of India?” Most likely, yes. For a lot of people, it means doing things the Nehruvian way. They just want to roll back everything that has happened since 2014 and go back to how it used to be in the good old days. What could be so bad about that?
Not so fast. Because we are actually looking at a moving target here. ‘Pre-Mughals, I don’t think there was any idea of India,’ says historian Rudrangshu Mukherjee, who is also the chancellor of Ashoka University. He is also one of the authors of a new book with a rather bold title. They called it “A New History of India”.
Do you see what is happening? It used to be that eminent historians would attribute the idea of India to Nehru. Here it must be said that Nehru himself made no such claim. In fact, Nehru writes most humbly about his effort to understand India and to discover the ancient nation to which he belonged. But that is not surprising. The courtiers are always more loyal than the king.
But that was then. The Congress party has not been in power for a while now. And for a number of historians, Nehru is no longer good enough. The idea of India must belong to the Mughals now. Of course, both points of view are ridiculous. A thousand years ago, Adi Shankara established four mutts at the four corners of Bharat. Over two thousand years ago, the Greeks came in contact with the Mauryan emperors. After Chandragupta defeated Alexander’s former general Selukus Nikator, the Greek traveller Megasthenes visited our land and recorded his impressions in his book ‘Indika.’ India has always been around, before the Mughals and before Nehru. But it is still disturbing if they want to switch one myth with another.
You must have heard about the recent changes made by the NCERT. No, they did not get rid of the Mughals from the textbooks. They merely removed one chapter for students in the twelfth grade. But while many historians fume in public over these minor changes, they are actually using the downtime to revise their old narratives. They are preparing for a much more radical, dangerous new version of history. As and when a new ruling party comes to town, as it inevitably will, this might be the version they teach in schools. In the name of “desaffronising” textbooks, of course. Nehru would be too much of a Hindu name for their liking. This time it would have to be the Mughals instead.
‘India is an overarching and inclusionary idea; Bharat is atavistic, emotional, exclusionary,’ Aatish Taseer wrote in 2020. At the time I thought the remark was an aberration or even a joke. The word ‘Bharat’ is exclusionary? Since when? But Taseer explains his view. The name ‘Bharat’ reminds Hindus that this is their holy land. Yes, but so what? What is wrong with a Hindu remembering their own culture? Do we all have to become like the soulless bots at the New York Times, the Washington Post, the BBC and Atlantic magazine? You know, serving the US military-industrial complex, and the objectives of globalism.
But in the world of intellectuals, no bad idea ever goes to waste. Rudrangshu Mukherjee now claims that the Sanskrit word Bharatvarsha does not even include Dakshina or the south. In other words, they are sowing the seed. The name Bharat is too much of a reminder to Hindus about their ancient nation. Even after Partition, the current geographic form of India is too close to that glorious ancient nation. Too close for comfort, in fact. And thus, it cannot be trusted. It must be torn apart, thread by thread.
It is no use telling these people about Adi Shankara establishing four mutts at the four corners of Bharat. As it happens, Adi Shankara was from modern-day Kerala. One of the places that they think was not included in Bharatvarsh. You cannot even embarrass these people by pointing out that our constitution begins with the words ‘India, that is Bharat.’ They already know. The whole point of their radical ideology is to give a handle to those who want to break up the republic. We can guess the ugly ways in which this will play out. Before long, you will see street protests against the use of the term Bharat, from passports to currency notes. The intellectual class knows our faultlines very well, and how to use them.
MAHATMA GANDHI, PUBLIC ENEMY
“The Hindu religion was invented in the early 20th century in order to hide the fact that the lower caste people are the real majority of India. In fact, religious minorities have been victims of this false majority and Gandhi played a very significant role in its construction. He helped to construct a false Hindu majority and a new Hindu identity.” So says philosopher Divya Dwivedi. A bold new conspiracy theory is taking root, with Mahatma Gandhi as the main oppressor of Indians. And what better way to deny a nation to Hindus than to argue that Hindus never existed in the first place.
It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words, Orwell wrote in his famous dystopian novel. Once the word Hindu is no more, you can do anything to the leftover groups of people. To their holy places, their history and their culture. How will you describe the oppression of a people if you don’t even have a name for who they are?
The old kind of leftist, or “sarkari leftist” if you will, used to have a bit of a compromise position. But with the Congress party no longer in power, the radical new left wants to take a wrecking ball to Hinduism itself. And openly so. And for that, they must take on Gandhi, arguably the world’s most fondly remembered Hindu. “Gandhi theologized politics just when it was beginning on the subcontinent…Of course, he was one of the many upper caste leaders who constructed this origin for this polity, but today we must discard it,” Dwivedi adds.
He is often pictured holding a Bhagavad Gita. He had favourite bhajans such as “Vaishnav jan toh.” He opposed cow slaughter. He died with “Hey Ram” on his lips. In fact, one wonders how leftist intellectuals let him be all these years, without attacking him. Most probably because the Congress party wanted to claim the legacy of Gandhi. It suited them to keep connecting the Mahatma’s assassination to the RSS. As the Congress goes into decline, the left will turn on Gandhi. And Nehru too.
BHAGAVAD GITA, A BOOK OF HATE
By now, you can guess how they would approach this. Where was the Bhagavad Gita revealed? On a battlefield. And so, it “rationalises mass slaughter.” That is according to Audrey Truschke, now a celebrated historian on the left. She admits that many Hindus, including Gandhi, read the Bhagavad Gita as a ‘standalone work,’ and even use it to justify non-violence. “In the Mahabharata’s plot, however,” writes Truschke, “The Bhagavad Gita rationalises mass slaughter.”
In other words, Gandhi and all those other Hindus who honour the Bhagavad Gita are simply taking things out of context. Deliberately or otherwise. Much of Truschke’s work has been about establishing Aurangzeb as an enlightened, generous and secular ruler. So maybe Gandhi was bad, but Aurangzeb was good.
Would any historian turn such a lens upon any other religion? Do we dare name the books or quote the passages? No, we would not want to be accused of having any phobias. In fact, Truschke complains about how the story of the Mahabharata blurs the line between ‘good’ and ‘evil.’ ‘The bad guys sometimes act more ethically than the good guys,’ she tells the world. Yes, because that is how reality works. And that is what makes the Mahabharata so wonderful. Unlike the simple-minded absolutes of Abrahamic religions, the pagan mind view of the world is more complex. Our minds can deal with ambiguity. The Westerner has always looked at this with disgust. They have always accused pagan cultures of being uncivilized, having no sense of right or wrong. Old prejudice is not new research.
But such research may find its way into Indian textbooks one day, in the name of “desaffronising” them. Along with stories of how Hindus were behind the 2021 attack on the US Capitol, which is another of Truschke’s inventions. They are already telling that to the world anyway.
WHO LET OUT THE RADICAL LEFT?
Ironically, it was the downfall of the Congress. The radical left has come alive. They sense the opportunity to teach their real agenda the moment the BJP is dislodged from power. The small changes made by the NCERT recently are not even a scratch on the old establishment. School textbooks contain no original research. They can only put out what historians are saying. The left has all the keys to the establishment. And the establishment is getting more radical.
Meanwhile, a word changed here and there, or a chapter deleted, makes little difference. It does not affect the tone and tenor of these textbooks, nor their emphasis. Worse, they provide a soft target to the radical left. The left will use this as a licence to make sweeping changes to textbooks the moment they get another chance. The sarkari intellectual of the old talked of Nehru. The new intellectual talks only of the Mughals. The sarkari leftist would offer Akbar, but the new ones prefer Aurangzeb. The old textbooks had comforting myths around secularism. And all religions being peaceful. The new ones will denounce the Bhagavad Gita, and Hinduness as the root of all evil. It is coming. It is just a matter of time. Because no government lasts forever.
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