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Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 21, May 16, 2015

Who is Afraid of History?

Saturday 16 May 2015

by Murzban Jal

If Hindu Raj becomes a reality then it would be the greatest menace to this country.
—B.R. Ambedkar,

Pakistan or Partition of India

The ideologues of the RSS are openly flexing their fascist muscles. Whilst Narendra Modi is presenting himself as a cross between a General going to war and an alleged statesman, there is a very clever move where his ideologues are pushing for an aggressive political war of attrition. What one finds is not merely the corporate media that portrays larger-than-life images of him, but also people who were once critics of Right-wing fundamentalists shifting to the Right and letting the communal agenda being brazenly displayed in their newspapers.

Subramanian Swamy lecturing on how evil Islam and communism are, and how both are out to firstly denigrate Hinduism and then deci-mate it should not shock anyone. For this is the essence of someone trained in the dominant American way of thinking whose hatred for the socialist project is well known. What surprises one is that what one thought to be a liberal paper (at least till May 2014) The Hindu now publishes his advocacy for not only the infamous rewriting the history textbooks, but also burning those that do not fall in line with his fascist way of thinking. This sign is a dangerous one for it shows that even the paparazzi, who showed some form of autonomy, have succumbed to the pressures of big business backing Modi and the RSS. This is a sign that the Indian liberals are going to show allegiance to the RRS mode of politics. One wonders why such liberal papers never publish articles of Subhash Gatade, who has been continuously exposing the role of the RSS in terrorist activities, and are instead giving space to advocates of genocide.

Swamy’s article “History and the Nationalist Project” in extolling people to burn history books written by secular historians, whilst evoking the memory of the burning of books by the Nazis whilst the liberals merely looked on, also reminds us of Walter Benjamin’s angel of history from his celebrated essay Theses on the Philosophy of History. According to Benjamin (he is examining a painting of Paul Klee), there is a picture of the angel of history looking backwards (in history) despite it being blown forward by the storm of progress. Below this angel lie ruins.

If that was Benjamin’s rendering of Klee’s painting, Swamy renders quite another picture. According to Swamy, the angel of (contem-porary Indian) history whilst looking backwards is also being blown in the same direction, whilst consciously darting below towards the ruins. Now a liberal rendering of this will suggest that Swamy is free to evoke as many angels of doomsday and as much hysterical melancholia as how Nehru with his socialist and secularist leanings betrayed what the Hindutvavadis fan-tasise as “Hindu history” and the “Hindu people”. But a more serious reading suggests that there is nothing accidental in the article that he has penned. It is a conscious experiment with untruth that he and his political fellow-travellers are experimenting with.

Whilst Swamy has talked a lot of things there are two main motifs: (1) that there is something called “Hindu history” (with under-ground Vedic rivers and submerged cities) and (2) books that do not abide by this strange dictatorship of Hindu historians should be banned. Whilst one could ignore this as the moaning of an apocalyptic politician, the burning of books that he suggests is a clear message of the present political disposition of creating a fascist Raj and this must be taken very seriously. Remember that his suggestion follows the banning of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History. At one level it is clear that Swamy is trying to construct something called “Hindu politics” from the cranium of the pre-independence nationalist project by driving a wedge between Nehru and Vallabhbhaii Patel. At that level he is trying to claim that Nehru was wrong (and feminine) and Patel was right (and masculine) and that the (masculine) BJP is the sole heir to the politics of Patel. This he is doing because he cannot find any erstwhile mass leader who could be used as an icon for his type of divisive politics. At a deeper level he is trying to popularise the politics of Hindutva and Hindu supremacy. And anyone who opposes this is said to be an agent of what he calls “British imperialists”.

Clearly Swamy has no idea of either Indian history or politics. There are multiple errors in this piece. He is trying to deduce his version of Hindutva from his magic hat that has no rabbits. What jumps from his magician’s hat is not real Hindutva, but its sad and mourning ghost. Swamy, the magician with the duplicate ghost, then claims that he intends to work with scientific methodology. He says that “in spite of the application of science to questions of history, Nehruvian historians are refusing to update and review the materials that go into making history books”. He forgets that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the not so celebrated ex-President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, also said almost the same thing when he claimed that advanced historical material suggest that the Nazis did not create the genocide. Ahmadinejad was trying to veil a genocide that happened in the past, Swamy is preparing for a future genocide.

Hinduism: from Geo-cultural Category to Geo-political

Since Swamy’s entire premise is built on a premise that is extremely flimsy, a premise which he borrows wholeheartedly from colonial writers, one needs to expose that this apocalyptic writer lives on alien oxygen. What is flimsy in Swamy’s construction as to the entire Hindutva tradition? It is something called “Hinduism” itself. Swamy claims that the secularists have digested “the historical concoction handed down to us by Macaulay’s intellectual progenies”. What he forgets is that the trend that he represents—especially with the case of Hindutva—is extremely colonial. It lies with the colonial historians, and James Mill is the best represen-tative of this colonial and communal view of history that Swamy copies (and plagiarises) without giving due credit to his English master.

But first it is necessary to state that the politics of Hindutva is dangerous and going to divide the country and lead to further multiple partitions. To argue for a democratic opposition to the extremist designs, it is necessary to state that the very idea of a “Hindu Rashtra” that they claim is not indigenous to India. What is strange in this narrative of ultra-nationalism is that they cannot invent indigenous categories. What they do not realise is that the very word “Hindu” is not Indian. It is Persian and it is the ancient Iranians who called this land HaptHindukan.

And since Swamy wants to build his fantasy on the myth of “Hindu Rashtra”, we once again rebuke him for his very banality and extreme ignorance. Though it has been stressed a number of times over that the original term “Hindu” is Persian, it seems that the votaries of this infamous monster called “Hindu Rashtra” do not understand this. It seems that neither Swamy nor the RSS know that the Achaemenians, who ruled Iran from 559 BCE to 330 BCE, mentioned the people on the east of the river Sind as Hindus, whilst the Holy Book of the ancient Iranians—the Avesta—calls this land HaptHindukan. One wishes if Swamy manages to read the Zoroastrian Pahlavi Vendidâd (Zand=Î Jvît-Dêv=Dât), transliteration and translation by B.T. Anklesaria (Mumbai: K. R. Cama Oriental Institute, 2002), p. 12, he would find in which civilisation and also in which religion the term “Hindu” originates.

What is important to suggest is that the term in antiquity was geo-cultural and strictly from a West Asian point of view. The ‘Hindus’ were what the Iranians called the people living on the eastern part of Sindh region. Later the Arabs too used this Persian term. Remember that for the Arabs, India was and yet is what they call “al-Hind”, just as for contemporary Iranians India is “Hind”. This geo-cultural West Asian usage was then inserted in the readings of India, especially by Albêrûnî. Mughal rule in India continued this Persian usage, but they India-nised it. What the ancient Iranians called HaptHindukan became “Hindustan”. In ancient India, there were no people called the “Hindus”. Instead one had the “bamanshramanan” (the Brahmans) and the “shramanas” (the Buddhists and the Jains).

What happens now is that this original geo-cultural term has become geo-political in nature where the Huntington inspired “clash of civili-sations” thesis is inserted in not merely the state policies of India, but injected in the veins of the Indian people itself. What Swamy is trying to do is what Huntington tried around two decades back—to divide the world between the West and the Rest, where the West, as representing itself as the ideology of the WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) allies with its junior partners. What Swamy says is not the rambling of some fanatic of the far Right fringe. What he is doing is presenting what the New World Order should do in India.

Development and Hate

In this sense there is no gap between the politics of “development” as the official policy of Narendra Modi and the hate speeches of the Hindutvavadis. There is a concrete fusion of these two. For “development” that shall now enter India is the development of neo-liberal capitalism where what David Harvey calls “accumulation through dispossession” rules the roost.

What happens is that the dominant narrative of secularism and Constitutional Democracy no longer suits the political economy of neo-liberal development. Just look at Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and one will understand what development via neo-liberalism means. Swamy and the ideology that he represents is the ideology of brute development where the popular masses of India are divided on communal lines. The politics of development do not lie outside this communal hatred. And this is because development is no longer going to be peaceful development, no longer inclusive development. The present government’s FDI in the militarily sector is just one example of what development is going to mean.

Over two decades back the RSS changed the image of Rama as the god who goes to self-exile in the forests, the image that Gandhi cultivated, into the bow wielding Rama. This one must stress was not an accidental change in image. It was a conscious construction of the image of the warrior tradition that Savarkar celebrated in his Essentials of Hindutva. Swamy celebrates Savarkar claiming that the “Hindu fraternity” is totally distinct from “Macaulay’s intellectual progenies” (meaning Nehru and the secularists). But he forgets—no one could be as faithful to the colonial project as Savarkar. In fact it must be noted that the very term “Hindutva” is a colonial creation.

For Savarkar one had to manufacture the ideology of a masculine Hindutva that was different from the feminine ahimsa-inspired ideology that so fascinated Gandhi. Remember that Savarkar was penning this little book when Mussolini was capturing power in Italy. Remember that Savarkar and M.S. Golwalkar (the second Sarsanghachalak of the RSS and the ideological guru of Modi) eulogised the Nazis. Remember that for him, as was for Golwalkar, India was a “Hindu Rashtra” driven by what they both called the “race spirit”, the spirit of being of the “Aryan race”.

Remember that for both Savarkar and Golwalkar being Hindu implies being members of this fetish called the “Aryan race”. Remember that for both, Hindus belong to one race and Muslims to another. Also remember that for both of them, Muslims had to be purged from India, just as the Nazis purged the Jews. This is the essence of the Hindutva ideology. It is not something contingent that can be simply forgotten. The BJP cannot close its eyes to this essence of the Hindutva ideology. It cannot claim to be secular, democratic and inclusive. At one moment the mask of democracy and decency will have to fall off.

According to the Hindutva ideologues (Savarkar and Swamy included), there is an imagined “Aryan race” that is in perpetual battle with the Muslims. As Savarkar said in Hindu Rashtra Darshan, Hindus and Muslims are “two anta-gonistic Nations living in India side by side”. In the same work he talked of the idea of Hindu-Muslim unity as ghost like “Will-o’-the Wisp”. Remember that the original two-nation theory that led to the balkanisation of the Indian subcontinent was Savarkar’s idea.

Modi is now, here and there, with broom in hand, evoking the memory of Gandhi. But at the same time Savarkar is the master puppeteer, who hated Gandhi and wanted to militarise and industrialise the Hindus, that controls Modi. Modi’s spectacle of development is the realisation of this militaristic industrialisation.

For Savarkar, Hindutva was not Hinduism, but Hindudom. His model was not merely Hitler, but also medieval Europe, especially its feudal idea of Christendom. There was nothing indi-genous in the thinking of Savarkar or Golwalkar. Their ideas of nationhood were borrowed lock, stock and barrel from the Right-wing thinkers of Western Europe. If Swamy eulogises Savarkar, this is not out of reason. Recall Savarkar’s motto: “Hinduise all politics and Militarise Hindudom”. In this sense the model state for the Hindutvavadis is Nazi Germany. But it is also Zionist Israel and strangely the Islamic Republic of Iran that serve as their models. After all, the RSS shares a lot with the Iranian clergy, especially their hatred for secularism and their great zeal for religious nationalism.

In this sense, the BJP under Modi is not merely departing from the liberal and secular legacy that we have inherited. Swamy’s game- plan is not merely to “underplay the contri-bution of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in India’s history” as Digvijay Singh claims. (“History, battleground of politics”, The Hindu, October 10, 2014) It is to consciously create a militaristic version of the Indian state. It is to make Modi look like a General on battlefield taking India to the Promised Land of eternal development. The people of India need equality, liberty and fraternity. But what Modi shall present them with is infantry, artillery and cavalry.

Look now at the sky and try sighting Walter Benjamin’s angel of history. This time the angel does not appear as angel, nor does history appear as history. This angel of history turned into the monster of mythology is dressed in battle-gear and jackboots. This is what Savarkar wanted. This is precisely what Gandhi and Nehru did not want. That is why the RSS and its rag-tag army of mythologists will always hate Gandhi and Nehru. And that is precisely why they will either want to ban books or simply burn them. Fascists, one must always remember, cannot think, nor do they want people to think. For them burning books is a substitute to reading them.

The author belongs to the Indian Institute of Education, Pune. He can be contacted at e-mail: murzbanjal@hotmail.com