Erasing Nehru

Jawaharlal Nehru
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Fighting over history is nothing new in India. It’s all about power

YOU CAN FIND Jawaharlal Nehru on page 91 and 177 of a Class VIII Social Science textbook in Rajasthan. Make what you want to of this statement by a minister but it has further inflamed Congress party leaders in the state and elsewhere. Rajasthan is indulging in what Indian liberals consider a capital crime: re-writing history.

The anger is misplaced, for what has happened is pretty normal in India.

Of all the countries, it is India where wars of History—as opposed to wars in history—have been waged with almost the same intensity as the real thing. The first memorable one was 100 years after 1857 when historian SN Sen penned an ‘official’ history of the mutiny—sorry, War of Independence— removing all ‘British prejudices’ from the account.

Since then, the History wars have extended further and further into the past. The 1990s witnessed a ferocious fight over Aryans—who they were and where they came from. This continues even now, with some claiming that Aryans migrated from India to Europe and not the other way round. Never mind that many scholars express deep unease at the expression ‘Aryan’ being used to denote a historical people instead of a language-speaking group.

There is, however, an asymmetry in these proceedings. While any ‘Hindutva’ re-writing attracts opprobrium, the much more silent ‘secularisation’ is considered normal and right. Take, for example, Medieval Indian History. There are multiple ‘secular’ assaults on the subject. The very fountainhead is attacked as being an ‘unhistorical’ division of Indian history under the influence of the British historian James Mill. The pièce de résistance, however, is the total elision of any mention of barbarism in that period. Akbar’s ‘tolerance’ is celebrated. The tender mercy being the avoidance of the expression ‘secularism’—for the word had not been invented in that age. The Ghazi is celebrated for his ‘resourcefulness’ while those whom he ruled are, well, erased. The truth is that history writing is a victor’s sport and in contemporary India, it is the academic Left that is the winner.

Can there be a genuine Indian history, one that lets the facts—warts and all—speak and leave the interpretation to their readers? Unfortunately, no. For the Wars of History are as much about history as they are about power.