An unbiased analysis by Indians of their own civilizational history is vital to remove the shroud of distortion that has covered them for so long.
It can be palpably said that the function of the discipline of history is to throw light on the dark corners of (mostly) human memory. Memory, by its very nature, is a mysterious faculty that humans have been bestowed with. At times, it yields remarkable clarity, and at other times it creates all sorts of confusion and misunderstanding. Yet on deeper introspection, history’s function seems to go beyond simply demystifying memories of the past. Through that demystification, history creates bridges between individuals, provides them with an identity; a common identity leads individuals to form communities; communities often derive pride and existential purpose from their history. It creates a bridge between people and their ancestors. Thus, history helps sustain traditions, conserves what is held dear by a community, and through this it helps build a nation.
History as is commonly known, is a narrative. A piece of ancient architecture or a tablet full of hoary inscriptions is no history. We get a history only when that piece of ancient artefact is interpreted through a narration. Narration requires human intervention – the mediation of human intelligence and consciousness. Thus, nation’s history can be of two kinds: one narrated by the organic members of that nation, and the other narrated by those who are not. The second kind often includes invaders, colonisers, and usurpers – in short, people who are hostile to the nation’s ethos. In India’s case, let us call the first kind Swadeshi historiography and the second Videshi historiography, where historiography is the term used to designate the writing of history, or more generally, narrating of history based on selected sources. We can understand that in selecting sources for constructing a particular historical narrative – whether of the Swadeshi kind or of the Videshi kind – human intervention and discretion is a key aspect. Further, after selection of those sources, interpretation of the same again brings human intervention into the scene. These two levels of human mediation does make historical narrative – as much as most other sorts of narrative – a heavily subjective one. The question is: which kind of historiography do we rely on, if all historiographies are so heavily subjective? This last question should be refined further by focusing on the word “we”: who are “we”, who makes up this constituency, who is seeking a historical narrative, who will be its consumers? This is a more useful and meaningful question to ask, and if the answer is: this “we”, this emphatic first person plural consists of the people who are organic members of the nation whose history we are concerned with, or people who wish to become members of the nation by way of assimilation into the national ethos, then the only historical narrative that can serve their purpose is provided by Swadeshi historiography.
But then there exist countries like India whose very ethos has been deeply injured, disfigured and subverted in the first place because of their political fate, which has been determined largely by hostile outsiders and their equally inimical worldviews, rather than by the Indians themselves. Marauding invaders and colonisers who have committed unthinkable acts of violence on the Indian peoples, culture, economy, knowledge systems and religion, are frequently held in high esteem by many people in the Indian subcontinent, who have either tried to form a different nation on this land, or have chosen to switch to ideological camps intrinsically antagonistic to the Indian ethos and worldview. It is a matter of good fortune that millions of Indians who still choose to remain loyal to the national ethos of India that the Swadeshi standpoint has managed to survive and experience occasional phases of resurgence. Not without serious challenges though, which brings us to the present moment – the here and now of this matter – where a fierce battle over historical narratives is being fought in the media and academia at both home and on distant shores.
Without fail, every cycle of surge in the interest in reading Ancient India from an Indic perspective attracts an equally strong and reactionary response, rising predominantly from the leftist halls of academe. The essence of this onslaught lies in reducing the Indic readings into Right-Wing philippic; in dismissively describing traditionalist views as “obsessive”, “paranoid”, “defensive”, and in such other pejorative terms; and in categorising the relentless inquiries of scholars and researchers with the Indic traditionalist outlook as a revisionist – sometimes even regressive – interest in the past.
True, excessive obsession can narrow down one’s vision and prove to be counterproductive for one’s survival as well as growth. But before giving away one’s opinion on an entire project of historiography – which happens to be spread across multiple generations – readily to a judgmental categorisation, one should carefully consider whether it is really an obsession. Despite the best intentions (if any at all) of such criticism, it must be pointed out that the field of Indian historiography has been so enormously laden with distortions and misinterpretations by leftist historians (as has been partly illustrated by R. Jagannathan in this Isn’t It Time For Left Historians To Apologise To The Nation For Their Dishonesty?) that dismantling and correcting all of it will take generations of dedicated, honest and immensely talented scholars and entire armies of academicians working diligently over each and every aspect of India’s past. For it is not just about rescuing Ancient India’s political history from the abyss of leftist historiography – created by suppression of facts and outright lies – the decolonisation of the narrative must be done at every level of historical writing: ethical, epistemological as well as metaphysical. Unless each of these levels are addressed carefully from an Indic perspective to carry out historiographies of the cultural, political and economic aspects of Ancient (and Medieval) India, the task will remain unfinished. This justifies and vindicates the continued engagement of historians, archaeologists and scholars from several other fields with India’s past. The scholars, Indian or otherwise, who are busy excavating and deciphering India’s past from a Swadeshi vantage point – which is the point of view of the conquered and not of the conqueror, which interprets the incidents in history neither from a sense of vainglory nor from an attitude of resentment – have to keep on doing so for many more years to come, perhaps indefinitely, to undo the sins of the leftist historians of this country and from abroad. It is the single most remarkable achievement of leftist, ‘secularist’ historians of India that the average modern, university-educated Indian cringes at the thought of dealing with their past. There is hardly any pride being taken in the fact that the Indian civilisation has been the single most successful civilisation among all the old and grand civilisations of the world in terms of preserving much of its foundational principles, despite the harshest adversities and persecution by hostile foreigners from Arabia, Central Asia and Europe. Hence there seems to be so much of talk around separatism, distinctiveness and antagonistic relationships based on social and economic power equations in the discourses in India.
Consequently, there isn’t much of a consensus on what constitutes its national unity and integrity, especially along religious lines where the followers of Indic religions and those of the Abrahamic ones can barely make sense of their oft-conflicting goals, worldviews and attitudes, while sharing the same political, economic and cultural space. There is a constant conflict between their interests and ideals. Similarly there exist other fault-lines: especially along a constructed racialist narrative across the North and the South, as well as along a carefully engineered and politically motivated class antagonism, which ultimately manifests in Leftist extremism. These conflicting interests are really overshadowed only by the organic cultural unity of the Indic religions – Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs – even that unity seems to be weakening of late on the face of the postmodernist, Neo-Marxist onslaught carried out through various ideological apparatus such as mass media and the prevailing education system, as well as by religious proselytisers. The Nehruvian secular conception of India has failed to prove effective as far as India’s national unity and national security is concerned; the violent separatist movements in Jammu and Kashmir, Mizoram and Nagaland in the post-independence era stand testimony to this fact. Time and again, history has demonstrated that any nation, which is ashamed of the deeds of its ancestors, can hardly make any real spiritual progress, and even its material progress can become untenable and unsustainable. Post-World War II Europe is a case in point here. Till this day, Europe remains ashamed and guilt-ridden due to its fascist and Nazi past, plaguing itself with a kind of psychological paralysis that helps Islamism make inroads into the continent in the name of a perverted idea of multiculturalism or cultural relativism.
In such a state of affairs, it is all the more necessary to indulge the best minds of the nation in search of the highest ideals, as reflected and recurred throughout its hoary history, that helped it persist in the face of antagonistic forces in the form of foreign invaders, colonisers, or even internal challenges arising out of material and spiritual weaknesses. Once the records of the nation’s past are set straight, its tangible and intangible ethos conserved and made to stand in good stead via educational institutions and mass media, it can automatically find the necessary resolve – the iron will – to move forward in the direction which its Destiny, its Bhagya-Vidhata has accorded it.