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The reasons for the polarization of history, and the future of the historical narrative

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Samved Iyer
Samved Iyer
Eternal as evolution is, I cannot purport to have grown in thorough measure, and I am hopeful of augmenting my perspicacity in the company of beings far more erudite than me.

I suppose for the purposes of this article that the readers have accounts on Twitter. At some point, they invariably would have encountered WhatsApp forwards being circulated as history. Drivel such as Prime Minister Nehru’s grandfather being a Mughal named Ghiyasuddin Ghazi who adopted the name Gangadhar Nehru in order to escape prosecution by the British, is but an unsubstantiated claim routinely circulated as history.

I attempt to explain this phenomenon. Bear in mind the difference between justification and explanation. Justification is the process of employing desperate fallacies in the garb of reasons in order to prove valid one’s argument that may be either critical or commendatory of an event. Explanation is the process of examining the root causes behind an event and the sequence of other events that must have led to it. I do not justify this trend, for it would be in contravention of academic principles. I merely seek to explain the causes behind this trend.

An examination of teaching history in India — modern history in particular — would evince the lack of objectivity. History has been restricted by the academia to obsequious praises of the ruling elite who formed part of the Indian National Congress. An inordinate share credit for India’s independence has been attributed to the non-violent mass movement presided over by Gandhi, and Nehru has euphemistically been depicted as nothing short of a godsend for the country.

Under no circumstances do I seek to trivialize the contributions of Gandhi to the freedom movement. For all his paradisaical notions of a classless and stateless society, there was one tenet that Karl Marx put forth correctly. That tenet is that economics is the base of all else. A penurious man, so long as he cannot feed his family today, shall care not who governs his country tomorrow. India was full of such penurious men and women, courtesy of British colonial exploitation. Having rendered most of the masses penurious and divided along caste and religious lines, it would be inane of an individual to expect them to resort to armed rebellion. It would be utopian to expect the masses to spontaneously resort to arms and rise as one against the peremptory British regime. The natural solution would have been an alternative to armed rebellion. Gandhi was certainly successful insomuch that he was also able to bring the poor masses into his mass consolidation — truly an arduous task.

Yet, there existed in parallel a steady armed movement against the British, the significance whereof must not be overlooked. Bipan Chandra et al may like to derisively dismiss the crucial role played by the naval mutiny and subsequent mutiny in the army, but the book “Bose or Gandhi: Who Got India Her Freedom?” by Major General G.D. Bakshi, replete with declassified letters written by top-ranking British officials to one another, clearly evinces the terror felt by the British at that incident.

What must further be noted is George Orwell’s observation: “Those who ‘abjure’ violence can do so only because others are committing violence on their behalf.” Gandhi could afford to abstain from violence because there were other great men who had embraced violence for the cause of Indian independence. His deification, therefore, is an abominable travesty of objectivity.

Yet, that is the precise point of error for which the academia is responsible. What could be a greater misfortune than the fact that books authored by Bipan Chandra et al which serve as grovelling hagiographies of the Congress party, remain the officially sanctioned books for the subject of Indian nationalism, as opposed to those authored by R.C. Majumdar and Sita Ram Goel?

Much of this contemporary trend can be attributed to the advent of social media, which has led to the democratization of public discourse. Bear in mind the difference between a republic and a democracy; the people elect the representatives in the former, who formulate policies on behalf of the people. The people themselves wield power in the latter. Social media has in a sense ensured the latter. No wonder, therefore, that online mob justice has become a problem. It is the people who themselves decide what trends and what does not trend. The people, however, lack the dispassionate temperament that befits an academician.

Added to that is the fact that re-investigation into history has been invigorated after 2014, ever since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister. With the emergence of new facts, one could truly not have expected the masses to accept the fabrications and omissions hitherto propagated by the academicians. It was but natural for them to be gripped with fury at having discovered the manner in which they had been lied to.

Why did the academia expect the outcome to be any different than abuses hurled at Gandhi and Nehru? Supposing that it is as intelligent as it would have us believe, how did it catastrophically fail to understand that the Indian society is highly sentimental, as a consequence whereof, all kinds of sensational claims would be given immediate attention?

For all its delusion of being the “intelligentsia”, it failed to understand the nature of Indian society. Not that we understand its complexities any better, but that the Indian society is sensationalist, constitutes very rudimentary knowledge about the propensities of Indians. The adulation of Gandhi and Nehru made them apt targets for the sensationalist right-wing masses to vent their suppressed frustration. Evidently, the academicians were not prescient enough to realize that their fabrications and omissions could keep them influential only for so long. Sooner or later, they would have lost all respect and credibility.

There is hope for this so-called right-wing — better termed the “nativist wing” in my humble opinion — which is in its emergence today. Nascent as this nativist wing is, the institutions that are arising slowly yet steadily such as Sangam Talks, The Jaipur Dialogues, Arth: A Cultural Fest, Pondy Lit Fest, The Festival of Bharat et al who adhere to the nativist narrative — rooted in India’s cultural heritage — have an incentive to stay committed to the truth. That incentive is their very survival, against the forces of status-quoist academicians, who retain control over academia even today. These institutions have voluntarily taken up the cause of repudiating the fabrications of the established and I daresay pampered academia. Ipso facto, they have no alternative to the truth.

Unlike the right-wing masses who are by and large prone to sensationalism, these institutions are characterized by unfettered rationalism. The eminent personalities they invite for panel discussions or lectures such as Sanjeev Sanyal, Dr. Vikram Sampath, Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, Dr. Anand Ranganathan, J Sai Deepak, Sanjay Dixit, Nilesh Nilkanth Oak, Dr. Manish Pandit, Sandeep Balakrishna, Anuj Dhar, Dr. David Frawley and innumerable others are all very erudite and refined personalities who have unique and profound knowledge to disseminate, rooted in historical research and indubitable scientific evidence.

I do expect the historical narrative to gradationally gravitate towards a centrist position. Eminent author Ashwin Sanghi once gave an apt analogy: the analogy of the pendulum, in order to explain such phenomena. The hitherto unidimensional propagation of history by the academia was akin to the act of pulling a pendulum to one extreme. The emergent mass contempt for it was akin to the pendulum having been released from that extreme, whereby it reached the other extreme as it was wont to do. Akin to the gradual dissipation of the pendulum’s energy would be the gradual dissipation of the sensationalism of the masses. Finally, as the pendulum shall return to the position of equilibrium, so shall the masses gradually accept balanced, nuanced history as opposed to extremes of either side.

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Samved Iyer
Samved Iyer
Eternal as evolution is, I cannot purport to have grown in thorough measure, and I am hopeful of augmenting my perspicacity in the company of beings far more erudite than me.
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