The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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History race: Satyagraha versus 1857

New Delhi, Jan. 28: Not to be outdone by the Congress that is commemorating the satyagraha centenary, the Left today launched its own campaign to present the “people’s history” of India’s Independence as part of the 150-year celebrations of the 1857 revolt.

As opposed to the programme chalked out by the official committee overseeing events to commemorate 150 years of the revolt, the CPM declared it would present a comprehensive view of India’s Independence.

This would be achieved mainly through educational campaigns about people’s movements starting from the Battle of Plassey in 1757.

CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechury kicked off the campaign by releasing a special edition of party mouthpiece People’s Democracy that carried an essay by historian Irfan Habib on remembering 1857.

Expectedly replacing the footnotes was a quote by Karl Marx on 1857: “…not a military mutiny, but a national revolt”. People’s Democracy will carry a series of essays by historians in its forthcoming editions.

“We are going to present a people’s history of India’s Independence as opposed to the official history,” said Yechury, critical of the satyagraha convention organised by the Congress.

“If the Congress wants to monopolise the satyagraha movement, they are welcome to do it. It should ideally have been a national event. Are they aware that the government of South Africa is also commemorating the event' Both governments should organise it together instead of making it a party-centric programme,” he said.

Explaining why the CPM was organising a parallel programme when the government had already set up a committee to oversee events relating to 1857, Yechury said: “We should have taken this opportunity to educate the people about the historical lessons of 1857. But the national committee does not have a single historian.”

The government had included historians in the committee but most opted out because they objected both to its composition and the manner in which they were appointed.

The committee is headed by the Prime Minister and includes all chief ministers, former Prime Ministers, leader of the Opposition and politicians of all hues. Historians Romila Thapar and Ramachandra Guha, whose names were included in the committee without consulting them, refused to stay in it.

“The clear message of 1857 is anti-imperialism and anti-communalism. There is a direct parallel between the way Bahadur Shah Zafar’s sons were executed and he was exiled… with the manner in which Saddam Hussein’s sons were killed and Saddam was hanged,” Yechury said.

“There is no greater evidence of communal harmony in India than the national revolt of 1857 in which the Rani of Jhansi celebrated the anointment of Bahadur Shah Zafar as the sovereign. We plan to take these lessons to the masses in the coming months.”

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