By Chandan Mitra
I recall these personal anecdotes only to underline my anguish at the attempt to rewrite history textbooks and the tragic politicisation of the subject at the hands of Marxist apparatchiks masquerading as scholars. In view of the flagrant abuse history is being subjected to, I believe the time has come for every thinking person to ask some fundamental questions about the way it should be taught.
The basic question is about the very purpose of teaching history. As some of my colleagues often point out, the only time most Indians learn any history is in school, pragmatically assuming that 99.9 persons do not choose history as their subject in college. In other words, their view of India’s past is conditioned by what they read in their formative years from say, six to 16.
That purpose cannot be to run down the country’s civilisation, selectively black out facts, delete whatever is deemed “politically incorrect” and indoctrinate youngsters into believing that everything good that happened to India was the contribution of foreign invaders (pre-British) and all the bad was caused by indigenous forces or white imperialists. (Sorry, at a time when a Left-sponsored Congress leader of Caucasian origin was being extolled as goddess, I should be careful of using the now-sensitive term “white” negatively, lest I be accused of being racist and fascist).
The astonishing part of the proposed rewriting of history by the Marxists was that interpretations changed quite merrily with their contemporary political proclivities. In our time, the Congress was Enemy No 1; it was a bourgeois-landlord party that collaborated with the imperialists to deny the people their true political rights. This culminated, according to the Leftists, in a false freedom in 1947.
Promptly, therefore, the “toiling masses” of India rose in revolt and an armed insurrection began in Telangana. Gandhiji, we were told, was funded by the “comprador bourgeoisie” — collaborators with British industrialists — who made profits by sucking the blood of the Indian working class. That is why Gandhiji happily betrayed people’s struggles, be they the farmers of Bardoli or Pratapgarh, or workers of Mumbai’s textile mills.
With the rise of the BJP and the growing challenge of “communalism”, the focus shifted to the need to defend “secularism”. Howlers were, thus, perpetrated in history textbooks so that impressionable students believed that all Muslim rulers were adorable things viciously denigrated by trishul-wielding “RSS historians”. I believe the section on Nadir Shah’s sack of (largely Muslim) Delhi had been whitewashed in the SCERT textbook prescribed for Delhi Government schools.
Meanwhile, Shivaji was dismissed in a couple of paras, Sikh history was overlooked and both were clubbed as inevitable revolts by people in outlying regions caused by a weakened, post-Mughal Centre. An NCERT textbook altered by the NDA Government actually contained derogatory references to Guru Tegh Bahadur which described him as a bandit indulging in “rapine”!
The mindset of Marxist historiography is besotted with demolishing popular faiths and beliefs. In their arrogance, these historians assumed that people knew nothing; that all they believed from legends and tales was erroneous; and they must be rescued from blind faith and superstition. This zeal is comparable to that of the white missionaries who came to India and Africa convinced they had to deliver the ignorant inhabitants from the Dark Ages. Take Romila Thapar’s book on the Somnath temple that I reviewed in February 2004 for India Today. The entire exercise, albeit scholarly, was undertaken to exonerate Mahmud of Ghazni of his criminal offence in ransacking the splendid shrine. She takes pains to point out conflicting contemporary accounts to suggest nothing so traumatic happened.
She quoted foreign sources to say that Mahmud could have believed the temple contained the idol of the Arabic pagan goddess Manat whose worship Prophet Mohammad had initially permitted but later retracted claiming he was under Satan’s influence while approving this. Apparently, the reference to Manat is contained in the so-called Satanic Verses later deleted from the Quran. She said it’s also possible that Mahmud thought the name Somnath was derived from the Arabic su-manat, and thus connected to the pagan goddess.
I have no doubt that under the new dispensation, this is the kind of history that shall be prescribed in schools. Short of exhorting children to offer prayers to Mahmud of Ghazni, Mohammad Ghauri, Nadir Shah and Aurangzeb, our new textbooks will do everything to run down all indigenous achievements. Maharana Pratap, for example, finds just a one-line reference in the SCERT book and Aryabhata none!
The unstated purpose behind this savage attack on Indian history is not mere jobbery; it is a deliberate attempt to berate India, its civilisation, religion and culture. It is aimed at emaciating the people morally and psychologically so that instead of taking pride in the country we become ashamed of its past. Once that is accomplished, we shall no doubt be expected to quietly acquiesce in many “nation-building” projects such as reconstruction of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya!
By Swapan Dasgupta
India is wallowing in denial and bad news has ceased to be news—till the last day of voting.
Unfortunately, there are some disconcerting footnotes. The 6 per cent estimate of the fiscal deficit has been mocked as a piece of Satyam-style accountancy by not merely Arun Jaitley in Parliament but by other stakeholders. It is instructive, for example, to read the assessment of Goldman Sachs: “We estimate that the consolidated fiscal deficit will go up to 10.3 per cent in FY09 and 10 per cent in FY10, among the highest in the world… Thus, the gains from a reduction in commodity prices and therefore in the Subsidy Bill, will be more than neutralised due to substantially weaker revenues and election-related spending pressures.” This is a polite way of saying that the Government’s optimism is poppycock.
Next, take Labour Minister Oscar Fernandes’ admission in Parliament on February 20 that an estimated five lakh people were retrenched in the four-month period ending December 2008. This is only a woefully conservative estimate of happenings in the organised sector. It does not take into account the layoffs and sackings in the unorganised sector. We need not take the estimates of CPI’s Gurudas Dasgupta that the real figure is one crore job losses and another crore in the coming months as the last word. But the discrepancies between what the Government claims and what is happening on the ground is too vast to be bridged by another tranche of Bharat Nirman advertisements.
If the problem was limited to five lakh families, India could have boasted of emerging from a towering inferno with just a toenail singed. But when Pranab Mukherjee issues a simultaneous plea to both employers and workers to accept voluntary pay cuts, you can be rest assured that there is something terribly amiss with the claim that the UPA under the “guidance of UPA Chairperson, Sonia Gandhi, the inspiring leadership of Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh and the hard work put in by… P Chidambaram” has “successfully steered the country through difficult times.” Earlier this month a media delegation met relevant Ministers to press for a bailout package for the apparently beleaguered sector. The passage from what a blogger described as “handout journalism to bailout journalism” may be rewarding for some but it does reveal why up-front depiction of Indian reality has been replaced by the deductive charms of Kremlin-watching.
By Kanchan Gupta
There is sufficient reason to be worried about the gutless civilian Government in Pakistan abjectly capitulating to the Islamic fanatics of Swat Valley who have prohibited girls from attending school, ordered women to stay at home, instructed parents to give their daughters as ‘wives’ to the Taliban, begun flogging men in public squares, and will soon replace popular entertainment by way of films and music with stoning victims of rape to death in bazaars. With the Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi — never mind that we are talking about the Pakistani variety of Mullah Omar’s masked Afghan killers — virtually coming to power in Malakand division of North-West Frontier Province, reducing the secular ANP Government to no more than a nominal ‘authority’ forced to do Islamabad’s bidding, it’s only a matter of time before the geographic expanse of ‘Jihadistan’ increases to consume large chunks of what remains of Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s moth-eaten Pakistan.
Mr Arun Jaitley of the BJP was not being facetious when he said that the Taliban are a mere five hours away from India. Parliament may have missed the point and the Prime Minister’s flatterers may be upset that he should have compared the absentee head of Government as a ‘night watchman’, but it would be outright stupid to ignore the fact that the barbarians are at the gate. Let us also bear in mind that the Deobandi madarsas which produced the taliban who then went on to become the Taliban — in Pakistan and Afghanistan — are not entirely dissimilar to the madarsas which have mushroomed across the length and breadth of India, nurtured by both mullahs and their patrons in the ‘secular’ political parties, of which the Congress is just one example.
Let it also be said that the ‘intolerance’ of the Taliban which so alarms us is not specific to the ‘murderous thugs’ of Swat Valley and Kandahar. We have seen dissident Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen being hounded out of Kolkata by Islamic fanatics and forced to leave India by the ‘secular’ UPA Government which now wrings its hands and waxes eloquent on the dangers of the rise of Talibani fanaticism. If only such concern had been expressed over the editor and publisher of The Statesman being arrested for reproducing a scintillating article from The Independent, written by Johann Hari, Mr Anand Sharma’s vapid reaction to the fall of Swat Valley would have carried some conviction. If Pakistan is now paying a steep price for its duplicitous policy of using violent Islamism to further its strategic interests in Afghanistan and bleed India through a ‘thousand cuts’, we too shall pay a price for following a line of least resistance and legitimising appeasement by grafting what the Prime Minister described as “Muslims first” to the policies of an allegedly secular state.
Cut to India. The vast Muslim underclass remains unaffected and untouched by the Prime Minister’s “Muslims first” creed. While Mr Manmohan Singh spends sleepless nights agonising over the plight of those suspected to be involved in jihadi terrorism, millions of Muslims spend sleepless nights — as do millions of Hindus — wondering where their next meal is going to come from. When the Government decides to reward the families of slain jihadis, it sends out a loud message to Muslims: Take up the gun, die in action, ensure a better life for your families. By casting aspersions on Delhi Police and accusing them of killing ‘innocent’ Muslims, the Prime Minister’s Cabinet colleagues encourage moderates to turn extremists. When madarsas are euologised and Saraswati Sishu Mandir schools are relentlessly demonised, the ulema feel sufficiently emboldened to include hate in their teachings. When the Government slyly allows the setting up of qazi courts, which dispense justice according to shari’ah, and lets them function without so much as a whimper of protest, it tells Muslims that India’s secular justice system is incapable of protecting their interests. When a wholly illegitimate All-India Muslim Personal Law Board is allowed to dictate how Muslims should run their personal lives, the state abdicates its responsibility to its citizens. As in Pakistan, here too the Government has come to believe that Islam is a substitute for jobs, housing and health services. Azamgarh to Alappuzha, Dibrugarh to Dharwad, a fetid swamp similar to that of Pakistan’s is spreading; the ‘Indian Mujahideen’ are the produce of this swamp.
The distance between Swat Valley and Islamabad is 160 km. Jamia Nagar is in Delhi.
By A Surya Prakash
Some sections of the chatterati, which are obviously not well-groomed in the democratic tradition, have been trying relentlessly over the past week to whip up public sentiment against Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami for recommending the removal of his colleague, Mr Navin Chawla, for his avowed pro-Congress leaning.
The arguments advanced by Mr Chawla’s supporters centre around two points: The CEC has overreached himself in recommending the removal of an Election Commissioner; and, second, it is wholly inappropriate of Mr Gopalaswami to make the recommendation just before the general election. Members of this group, however, make no mention of the allegations against Mr Chawla. Their deafening silence in regard to the controversial Election Commissioner’s appalling curriculum vitae tells its own story about the democratic upbringing of his promoters. However, this is an aspect on which we need to turn the spotlight if we are genuinely committed to democracy and political plurality.
Those who advance the argument that the CEC is not constitutionally equipped to sit in judgement over his colleague are obviously under the spell of a modern day legal luminary called HR Bhardwaj. We must appeal to them to turn their attention instead to the opinion given by a lawyer who rose from humbler circumstances like BR Ambedkar.
Introducing Article 289 (now Article 324) in the Constituent Assembly, Ambedkar took pains to explain why the CEC could be removed only through the process of impeachment, but an Election Commissioner could be removed on the recommendation of the CEC. Ambedkar said the idea was to have a centralised Election Commission and “to have permanently in office one man called the Chief Election Commissioner”. Thereafter, it would be up to the President to appoint additional Election Commissioners and Regional Election Commissioners.
As regards conditions of service, it was decided to give the CEC the same status as a judge of the Supreme Court. In other words, he cannot be removed by the executive through a mere fiat. “We, of course, do not propose to give the same status to the other members of the Commission. We have left the matter to the President as to the circumstances under which he would deem fit to remove any other member of the Election Commission, subject to one condition that the Chief Election Commissioner must recommend that the removal is just and proper,” Ambedkar said.
Later, while responding to the debate on this Article, Ambedkar reiterated that while the President would have the power to remove an Election Commissioner, this power “is subject to a very important limitation”, namely that “the President can only act on the recommendation of the Chief Election Commissioner”. He told the Constituent Assembly that with this safeguard, the provisions for the removal of an Election Commissioner “are adequate and nothing more is necessary for that purpose”.
The Constitution-makers saw the CEC as embodying the independence of the Election Commission and placed him above the other Commissioners. Therefore, the conduct of Mr Gopalaswami is constitutional and strictly within the scheme envisaged by Ambedkar. Any argument to the contrary only smacks of constitutional illiteracy or, worse, an attempt to subvert the Constitution to suit the petty interests of a political party and an individual like Mr Chawla.
The second argument against the CEC’s recommendation pertains to its timing. On July 21, 2008, the CEC sought Mr Chawla’s comments on the BJP’s petition. Mr Chawla sent his reply on December 10, 2008. The CEC’s recommendation to the President is dated January 16, 2009. Pray, how could the CEC have taken a decision earlier when Mr Chawla sent his reply only last December? Therefore, if there is some political game in the timing, should not the finger point in the direction of Mr Chawla?
Finally, a word about the fascist tendencies displayed by Mr Chawla during the infamous 19-month Emergency imposed by Mrs Indira Gandhi during 1975-77. A reading of the Shah Commission’s well-documented report provides us a frightening panorama of the diabolical goings-on during those months of dictatorship. It also gives us a glimpse of Mr Chawla’s democratic credentials.
The Shah Commission found that though Mr Chawla, a Sanjay Gandhi crony, was Secretary to the Lt Governor, he took undue interest in Tihar Jail and interfered in its administration. Mr Batra, the superintendent of the jail, told the Commission that when he informed the Government about the inadequacy of cells to house so many political prisoners, Mr Chawla asked him to “bake them” in cells with asbestos roofs. The Commission was also informed that on another occasion Mr Chawla suggested that certain “troublesome prisoners should be kept with the lunatics”.
This was not all. The Shah Commission found evidence of Mr Chawla’s involvement in the interrogation of opponents of the Emergency regime. He came up with the idea of a special sub-committee “to interrogate certain persons who had tendered apology for their past political activities”. This sub-committee included a psychiatrist. The Commission also found clinching evidence of him ordering arrests without valid grounds and threatening non-complying district magistrates with arrest.
All this convinced the Shah Commission that Mr Chawla had become a law unto himself. The Commission’s report said: “It is clear on the evidence that S/Shri PS Bhinder, KS Bajwa and Navin Chawla exercised enormous powers during the Emergency because they had easy access to the then Prime Minister’s house. Having acquired that power, they used it without considering whether the exercise was moral or immoral, legal or illegal.”
The Shah Commission was of the opinion that “though the involvement of these officers may vary slightly in degree, their approach to the problems of the period relating to the citizens was authoritarian and callous. They grossly misused their position and abused their powers in cynical disregard of the welfare of citizens and in the process rendered themselves unfit to hold any public office which demands an attitude of fair play and consideration for others. In their relish for power they completely subverted the normal channels of command and administrative procedure”. In its concluding remarks, the Commission said, “Tyrants sprouted at all levels overnight — tyrants whose claim to authority was largely based on their proximity to power.”
Therefore, while the Congress tries to deflect the debate onto the CEC, we need to go back to the basics and ask whether a person like Mr Chawla, who has been described as a “tyrant” and declared “unfit” for any public office, should have been appointed an Election Commissioner in the first place. It is not too late. The President must act on the advice of the CEC and remove Mr Chawla.