by Sharmistha Mukherjee
Whenever an intolerant regime comes to power, there’s an attempt to destroy educational and cultural institutions. History is abused because it’s through history we learn about our past, and defines our present and shapes the vision of our future...
Hitler lent dignity and prestige to the German government within a short time by establishing a strong administrative setup. He created the vast state of Greater Germany. He adopted a new economic policy and brought prosperity to Germany. He began efforts for the eradication of unemployment. He started constructing public buildings, providing irrigation facilities, building railways, roads and production of war materials.”
This is not a quote from history book of Nazi Germany. It’s a quote from a Class 10 social science book that was taught in Gujarat between the years 2000 and 2005 under BJP chief ministers Keshubhai Patel and Narendra Modi. The book goes on to say: “Hitler instilled a spirit of adventurism in the German people, but in doing so it led to extreme nationalism and caused the Second World War.” Not a word on the Holocaust, or the consequence of the war on Germany itself! This not only shows ideological inclination of the current ruling party to one of the worst dictators in human history, but also how by deliberately presenting some facts and withholding far more important ones, the government was trying to influence young minds. The book was withdrawn after the consul-general of Israel visited Gujarat in October 2005.
Compare this eulogy of Hitler with the new social science textbooks for Class 8 in BJP-ruled Rajasthan, where Jawaharlal Nehru is mentioned as one-liners in two different chapters. The book is silent about his participation in the independence movement, about his immense contribution as the architect of modern India, and a simple fact that he was the first Prime Minister of independent India. It’s a shame that attempts are being made to relegate a global personality like Nehru to the footnotes of history. Like the Taliban in Afghanistan who destroyed the Bamiyan Buddha, some people are trying to demolish our own national icons.
These are two glaring examples of historical negationism and revisionism. Education is one of the most potent tools to capture young minds and influence generations. Whenever an intolerant regime comes to power, there is a deliberate attempt to destroy educational and cultural institutions. History becomes the most abused discipline because it’s through reading of history we learn about our past, and that in turn, defines our present and shapes the vision of our future.
Historical negationism and revisionism is not reinterpreting or questioning well-established tenets from a different perspective. It is an attempt to revise past by disregarding all well-established technique and methodology of historical research, by deliberate acts of omission of historical facts to create a biased opinion, by deliberate distortion of historical records, even by creating forged documents and tampering with evidence; and making outrageous claims based on most flimsy evidence. One RSS scholar, late V.S. Wakankar, claimed that modern homo sapiens evolved and diffused from upper Saraswati region, an area held sacred by RSS vedic scholars. The basis of this assertion was the discovery of the fossil of a pre-humanoid ape, the Ramapithecus, during the British period in the region. However, the scholar failed to note that this species was not in the lines of humans, but of orangutans. Currently, books by self-proclaimed historians like Dinanath Batra, who credits everything like stem cell technology and automobile industry to the Vedic age, are being given credibility as his books are being taught in BJP-ruled states of Haryana and Gujarat. There’s an open aggression about the way RSS ideologues are trying to capture the intellectual space.
However, other subtle methods, probably far more dangerous, are at play. Last year, we saw a newly generated interest and heated debates regarding declassification of the Netaji files. A vicious atmosphere was created wherein a deliberate attempt was made to implicate Nehru and the senior leadership of Congress of a heinous make-believe crime that never happened. A host of so-called Netaji experts were given media space at the cost of serious, rational academic discourse. There were selective leaks of classified files, forged documents doing rounds on the Internet that were taken as evidence to influence the viewers. Outrageous insinuations were made. Serious academic works on the subject, including a definitive biography of Netaji, His Majesty’s Opponent, by his great-grand-nephew Sugata Bose, a professional historian who taught at Harvard, were completely ignored. At no point, the Government of India through the Prime Minister’s Office or the home ministry or external affairs ministry made any statement except for announcement of a decision to declassify the files. It let its party spokespersons, cronies in the media, and some dubious “experts” on Netaji do the job. It’s another matter that the interest on Netaji seems to have died down after the West Bengal polls were over.
This was a classic case of false propaganda being used to create false perceptions. In current age, the Internet and social media are other informal tools that are being used to spread false information, twisted interpretation of history and historical personalities. Just a cursory Google check on Nehru shows what kind of vicious and poisonous propaganda machinery is at play.
In this frenzied atmosphere of intellectual dishonesty and intolerance where the RSS and the right-wing forces are trying to monopolise the dominant space in the ideological discourse, any one who falls outside this narrative is termed anti-national.
In the last two and a half years, we have seen how heavily they have come down on anyone attempting to speak a language different than theirs. Whether Rohith Vemula or Kanhaiya Kumar, rationalists who were murdered or the artists and writers returning awards, are all “anti-nationals”.
Some people do not learn from history. They think that by using brute force or false propaganda they can rewrite history. They do not realise that fanaticism and falsehood do not pay dividend in the long run. Otherwise they would have remembered that the regime that carved out an empire in Europe by using brute force and false propaganda collapsed within a few years. A Reich that was supposed to last for 1,000 years crumbled to dust within a decade.
India is a young nation but an ancient civilisation. The people of India will not let a few fanatics destroy India because we are guided by the millennia-old collective wisdom that said: “Asato ma sadgamaya, tamaso maa jyotir gamaya, mrityor maa amritam gamaya (Lead us from untruth to truth, from darkness to light, from annihilation to eternity).”
The writer is chief spokesperson, Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee, and national media panelist, AICC