Passed over: Editorial on BJP's fascination for rewriting history
India is a fortunate country. All Indians — actors, jugglers, politicians, lion tamers, clowns and everyone else — are so learned in history that they are putting the professional historian out of business. The passion for history has had a renascence; the nationalist fervour — rather different in New India from older feelings of national pride — has now attached itself to the idea of a homogenous religious faith that New India’s new historians identify with Indian ‘culture’. Any history which says different can be discarded. This was what a film actor, representing on screen a Hindu king fighting against ‘invaders’ of another faith, underlined when he found children’s textbooks miserly in the account of such kings and eloquent in that of the Mughals. His viewers may be thrilled to know that he has read children’s textbooks, even if he missed a few pages. His profound remarks on history sprang from acting in a story that is more myth, though. Films are certainly allowed creative licence, but nowadays creativity generates a determined discourse that popularises myths as ‘historical truth’. This discourse comes from the top, most recently from the Union home minister, Amit Shah, himself.
Mr Shah has claimed all history as ‘their’ domain, presumably the saffron brotherhood’s. For the first time, Indians will write their ‘own’ history: they are now independent — who is to stop them from writing this owned history? ‘Actual’ history will have to be written with the prompting of society; since historians — were they all from the Left? — have severely disappointed Mr Shah and his colleagues. The harm this has done to India can be imagined by one ‘true’ fact that Mr Shah mentioned — it is only because of Veer Savarkar that the truth about 1857 was known. Historians have one job, to revive the glorious past. While Mr Shah was quite categorical in saying that governments do not create history but events do, he did not fail to mention that his government had already started on the project of ‘actual history’. Contradictions do not exist for the historic visionary. This government’s perception of the glorious past which historians can write about as ‘truth’ is that it belonged to one religion. They should be grateful for the easy job. No complications, just writing stories from a faith-based, single point of view.