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Forward to a mythical past

by Jawed Naqvi, 22 September 2013

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dawn.com

19 September 2013

ONE of the features of fascism is its invention of a golden past. The retrieval and projection of the mythical era into the future becomes the stated objective of its leaders to work their followers into a violent froth.

Hitler and Mussolini harked to a glorious past but there was a line of crassness even they would not cross. They seem to have left that endeavour to their Indian protégés, and presciently so. The European duo would not be disappointed with the Indian outcome.

In their imitation of right-wing movements in early 20th-century Europe, though much of that was not objectively germane to their context, India’s fascists began to conjure up intriguing notions of the cosmos.

First, they needed to prove that all agreeable cultures flowed from India to the world and not the other way round.

Al-Biruni, the late 10th-century chronicler from Khorasan, noted with frustration how Indians whom he met during his long tour of the country would uniformly claim that “there was no king like their king, no religion like theirs”.

To keep the spirit from flagging, even Wagner’s theory of continental drift was subsequently harnessed to show that light-skinned Indians originally came from the Indian region located on the border of Bihar and Orissa.

Later, the border drifted away to form the North Pole, thus proving that Caucasian and Central Asian genes travelled from India to their current abode, not vice versa.

Let’s grant that all this was necessary to give some kind of legitimacy to the light-eyed Chitpawan Brahmins of Maharashtra who were to lead the formation of the early fascist impulses in India in the early 20th century.

They were the true sons of the soil and not of foreign origin, the subverted version of Wagner’s theory would reveal.

In his remarkable book We or Our Nationhood Defined, a revered head of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the group that this week effectively anointed Narendra Modi as India’s prime ministerial candidate, held forth on the theory of continental drift.

In the course of his ramblings, he also praised Adolf Hitler’s treatment of the Jews while exhorting Hindus to mete out the same treatment to India’s Muslims.

It must really take an appalling amount of cretinism to sway to jingoistic movie songs in Indian fascism’s charge towards another myth — a happy horizon with its roots in the golden past.

“Jaha’n daal daal per soney ki chidiya karti hai basera, wo Bharat desh hai mera.” (Birds of gold flock on the tree branches. That’s my country, India.) A Hindi-speaking Raja Porus, the projected son of the soil, would thus take on a Persianised Urdu-speaking Alexander of Macedonia, the alien in Sikander-i-Azam. That movie from the 1970s sought to cleverly juxtapose Hindi and Urdu (both non-existent in Alexander’s time) as adversarial languages.

Using a conjured past for current and future mischief doesn’t stop there. A similar song from Upkaar, another box office hit about a trader’s notion of nationalism, claimed in its lines that India’s farmlands were lush with gold and assorted jewels.

An uncle, in his 90s now, revealed recently to me, however, that an early culprit behind the gold idiom as an ingredient of jingoism was not a Hindu revivalist but Majrooh Sultanpuri, the impish leftist poet.

Carried away, not about an imagined past but over the promise of idyllic socialism to which he subscribed, Majrooh declared in his lilting tarannum: “Ahle dil ugaen gey khet mei maho anjum. Ab gohar subuk hoga ek jau ke daane se” (In times to come, despondent lovers will harvest not grain but a glistening moon and twinkling stars, when the shine of the grain will humble the glow of the sun.)

It goes to the credit of Majaz Lucknavi, a perpetual backbencher and chronic hooter in poetic symposiums, to have deflated Majrooh’s hyperbole. “Bhaiya, phir hum log khaenge kya?” he shouted to everyone’s mirth. (What do you suppose we will get to eat then, brother?)

Asking searching questions is not fascism’s métier, injecting cretinism in a discourse is. Sullen and abusive demeanour is its forte.

My daughter perhaps mischievously gave me a book on Indian history recently. Lucknow imambargahs are Hindu palaces, the title says. Its author P.N. Oak is known as a pathetic self-proclaimed historian. He has also written trashy books about how the Taj Mahal was a Hindu temple and so on. A blurb on the cover of the book on Lucknow imambargahs advertises another work of the author’s creative mind. Christianity is Chrisn-nity, asserts the author in this masterpiece.

“This volume expounds our finding that the term Christianity is in fact a popular variation of the Hindu, Sanscrit [sic] term Chrisn-neety ie the way of life preached, advocated or exemplified by the Hindu incarnation Lord Chrisn, spelled variously as Crsn, Krsn, Krishn, Chrisn, Crisna or Krisna also,” Mr Oak writes.

I would understand if you did not wish to read the book at all. But it is fables like these that are driving India’s religious revivalism, a feasting ground for Modi-style wooing of the unlettered, gullible voters.

Your knowledge of Lucknow’s Bara Imambargah would be that Nawab Asaf-ud-Daulah who ruled Oudh between 1775 to 1797 built it. That’s how it came about. Mr Oak’s claim? It is an ancient Hindu palace “dating back to Ramayanic times”.

The frightening thing about revivalism in India and its cousin, Hindu fascism, is that it does not seem to worry a whole gamut of intellectuals and journalists that have rushed to Modi’s defence, not without a nudge from his corporate minders, shall we add.

In their effort to play down his pronounced obscurantist edge, some writers have likened him to Margaret Thatcher, except that there is no evidence the British prime minister subscribed to the existence of the unicorn.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi. jawednaqvi at gmail.com

P.S.

The above article from Dawn is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use.