The unfortunate part of “history rewriting spree” is that it doesn’t serve national interest in any way. Ignoring true history and distorting it to serve the narrow political ends and agenda of our political class is detrimental for our nation. We need to learn from our errant neighbor’s example where there is a tradition of rewriting history with every change of regime, writes Dr. Smita Pandey, former IAS officer V.S.Pandey
Mark Twain, the famous American writer, humorist, entrepreneur, publisher and lecturer wrote nearly two centuries ago that “The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice.” Its aptness is resonating loudly currently. Historians are humans and are afflicted with prejudices, like the rest of humanity. Humans are not only biased but also frequently untruthful. Hence humanity is forever aspiring to attain the truth but gravitating increasingly towards falsities. So how can we expect historians to be super humans, totally free from prejudice and truthful to the core? Hence this inherent human weakness leads to the writing of history with a blinkered vision.
Every student of history commences its study with the exhortation that History is a study of the past which helps us to understand our present and enables us to build our future. History, as a discipline, is only relevant if it helps humanity not to repeat the mistakes made in the past and helps in building upon past knowledge and experiences to create better societies, nations and a superior world. When we have great rulers like Ashoka and Akbar, then the nation makes gigantic strides and justice, tolerance, morality and compassion define governance. India prospered and was an economic superpower to reckon with on the world stage. All the world’s gold sank in India. Angus Maddison, the British economist estimated India’s GDP to be be nearly 27 percent of the world economy in 1700 A.D. and was horrifically reduced to three percent in 1950.
Imperialist historiography portrays the opposite. Indians were poor savages whose lives were to be redeemed by enlightened British rule! Now the propagandists are not the “gora Angrez” but our own “dhartiputra” leaders-who are striving for their own vikas while the nation wallows in underdevelopment. “Garibi hatao” and “samajik nyaya” remain mere slogans to delude the masses. History has to be rewritten to camouflage this reality. In most democracies, politicians lacking requisite morality and virtue rule and have to use Machiavellian tools to consolidate their political hold and perpetuate their rule. History is a vital and effective tool to create this hegemonic narrative. This has happened in the past too in every nation, including ours. In the initial years after independence, left-leaning historians held sway and they utilized that opportunity to create a biased history. Their unchallenged hold over history departments in many major universities and related institutions left no space for more truthful historical narratives. Now, a new set of historians, the ideologically Right leaning ones are dominating the discourse, with the change in the political power equations. Hence an all-out effort is underway to present their version of Hinduised history. Whether history will be ‘Right’ed by this change in guard or not, is a question which the future will ominously answer.
Every individual is different as far as his thought process , background, ideology and life’s experience is concerned, so he is bound to form different opinions about events which occurred in the past or are taking place at present. Accordingly he will tend to record his subjective impressions about events. Where lies the truth becomes debatable. For people belonging to a particular community/nationality rule by a leader of their community/nationality is dubbed a golden period while for others the same is not so. The ‘imperialist’ historians applauding Europe’s civilizing mission and carrying the brown man’s burden were finally contradicted by the ‘ Orientalists’ who revealed the brutality and expropriation of colonialism. Presently also ,superpower nations invade other countries, at will, to fulfil their nefarious agendas and proclaim brazenly that their aggrandizement is to restore Democracy.
After independence, history had to be written afresh. It was necessary after nearly 200 years of British rule which had propagated its imperialist agenda. But post independence, revision of history is done after every government change post elections-is that necessary? The current episode of rewriting of NCERT history text books isn’t surprising. It has been made the norm in our country for decades. When leftist historians wrote history according to their narrative, there were few Rightist historians who had the heft to challenge their distortions . Why did our historians never mention the demand made by left leaders in the constituent assembly? Dr. Ambedkar speaking in the constituent assembly on 25th November 1949 had said ,“The Communist Party wants a Constitution based upon the principle of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. They condemn the Constitution because it is based upon parliamentary democracy.” They demanded the dictatorship of the proletariat instead of a democratic republic ! None of our political parties can don a halo or cover up their moral deficit by writing false accounts.
The unfortunate part of this “history rewriting spree” is that it doesn’t serve national interest in any way. Ignoring true history and distorting it to serve the narrow political ends and agenda of our political class is detrimental for our nation .We need to learn from our errant neighbor’s example where there is a tradition of rewriting history with every change of regime and Orwellian scenario prevails, ’’And if all the others accepted the lie which the Party imposed-if all records told the same tale-then the lie passed into history and became truth.’’
Ultimately honest and principled governance will only lead to a better future. Not an agenda driven rewriting of our past. What we sow today, we will reap in future. The distortions made in our history books in the past do not justify or exonerate distortions at present. Prodigious efforts should be made to record events that took place in the past truthfully, and the right lessons learned from them. History should not be dictated by our elected democracy’s victors .Like Napoleon, we should not reduce it to ‘’a fable agreed upon’’ but instead our rulers should heed Gandhi and transform into, ’’a small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.’’ Virtue must define politics for leaders and their nations and consequently their history to become great. Then the composite history of our culture, its syncretic ethos ,its unity in diversity will saliently prevail and the propaganda and revisionism of historiography will become unnecessary.
(Dr. Smita Pandey is a well-known writer on historical and social issues, V.S.Pandey is former Secretary government of India)