History, as Amit Shah wants to tell it

Busts of Veer Savarkar, Bhagat Singh and Netaji installed in DU

History is never writ in stone as immutable accounts of events, personalities and processes of the past, but always gets rewritten with the emergence of new facts and the rise of new methodologies and perspectives or when new interpretations become necessary and valid. Such rewriting has taken place in India as in other parts of the world. There are many different and contending versions of India’s ancient and modern history, and all of them contribute to a better understanding of the country and its past. The accounts of foreigners like Marco Polo and Hiuen Tsang (Xuanzang) and even the writings of British historians who had their own interests and biases have been useful in many ways. So, Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s call for a rewriting of history “from an Indian point of view’’ seems unnecessary or made with an intent to comprehensively amend history to serve the political and ideological ends of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar in the present.

There is no doubt that the country's history has to be written from an Indian point of view. But the problem arises when “Indian” means only what suits or conforms to the party’s and the Parivar’s idea of India. Such a view glorifies India’s past, considers as important only its Hindu lineage in politics and society, and ignores its diversities and the contributions of others to the making of India. Histories of subaltern or peripheral societies do not get attention. The attempt is to delineate one dominant theme running through history and to exclude, reject or denigrate others. For example, Islamic rule in any part of the country is dubbed un-Indian and oppressive and Hindu kingdoms are praised. The histories of the South or the North-East do not figure importantly in such a narrative. Myths are presented as reality and ridiculous claims about past achievements in fields like science are made. Facts are often distorted.

Such a view of history and its writing is wrong and dishonest. It is most likely that Amit Shah has this in mind when he says historians should rethink and rewrite history when “India is regaining its lost glory”. This poses another danger, too. Combined with the Parivar’s intolerance of other views, it may lead to a blacking out of other views of history. The Parivar has always complained that Leftists have dominated history-writing in India. There may be some truth in this, but there was always room for the right, and post-Independence many views have emerged and even flourished in India. A study of historiography would show this. History is notoriously the victor’s version of it, but other versions are equally valid and relevant in democracies.

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