Akhil Bhartiya Itihas Sankalan Yojna is a subsidiary organization under the aegis of Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh. Recently in its programme, Subramanian Swamy (a new entrant in BJP) has given a call to set history books written by “Nehruvian” historians like Bipan Chandra and Romila Thapar on fire. Why did he assert so or what prompted him to speak like this? This piece is an attempt to investigate this desire.
First things first. Mr. Swamy is not an ignorant or illiterate person. He has a Ph.D. degree from Harvard and not innocent of intellectual- academic knowledge. He does not talk out of ignorance. Hence, it becomes necessary to know the reasons and compulsions of this statement by Dr Swamy.
Dr. Swamy is a thoroughly political person who holds high political ambitions. His life trajectory confirms that he has a deep desire to politically ascend higher and higher positions. Once he was close to Indian National Congress and also he has gained politically by aligning with non-Congress non-BJP parties and alignments. At present he has merged his own Janata Party with Bhartiya Janata Party. As Congress was signaling to be a “sinking ship”, Mr. Swamy started giving statements which, on the one hand were utterly anti-Congress but very dear to BJP’s ideological positions. He is a master of ambiguous political rhetoric and very adapt in combining mutually contradictory political moorings. So it was not difficult for a person like Swamy to come forward with a new political- cultural jest of an enthusiastic soldier of Hindutva brigade. He is a right person to be adopted by BJP because he has proved his bonafides of excessive anti-Congressism and having a high class Ph.D. degree his claim of being an intellectual is not always hollow.
Mr. Swamy suffers from some political limitations. He has too high political ambition and much craving for active interventions in national politics.But, sadly, he has no political base of his own. Confirmed well-educated as he is, to work at grassroots level by going to villages, towns, cities and connecting with general masses might be troublesome (or unworthy practice) for a man of a stature like him. So he is left with no option other than maintaining proximity to the top leadership of the political party with whom he would be attached. This is the only way by which he can fulfill his political ambitions and a superimposing ego. The fact is that Mr. Swamy is a standard representative of such opportunistic class intellectuals who all of a sudden change their political affiliations and commitments according to the prevailing political situation of the country. The type of politics Mr. Swamy pursues is thoroughly dependent upon media coverage. He has to present himself in such a way that he remains a darling of media. By showing his face on national media and presenting them masala bites is politically beneficial for him because it enhances his political bargain value. Moreover, the central political power is in the hands of those who are lovers and jehadis of Hindutva ideology. RSS has been the most prominent proud citadel of this Hindutva ideology. So, obviously in its function, Mr. Swamy proved his talent of being the best supporter of the group he is attached with right now. His statement of burning history books has to be understood in this framework of his political compulsions.
RSS, its ideologues and even the present central government knows it well that the basic hindrance against their Hindutva ideology is history. They have become a very powerful combined political force in India but their history is not great. Their past does not entitle them to gain legitimacy on Indian soil and claim the Indian soul. The Sangh Parivaris not ready to accept their past blunders. They are not willing to accept the fact that RSS as an organization did not take part in India’s glorious freedom struggle. Their ideological role in the murder of the greatest Hindu of all times is a historic fact. They did not consider British rule as their principal opponent. Rather they channelized all their energies towards spreading anti-Muslim feelings among Hindus. They work incessantly to propagate violence of all kinds against Muslims. They nourish stubborn orthodoxy like any other extremist religious group. They are baffled by the history writing in India because history tells a story which they want to hide from public. They want to interpret history without going into historical facts and real experiences of Indian people. Indian historiography not only Marxist historiography but all genuine historical writings have proved without doubt that communal interpretations of history are not only unscientific but also are false. Now ruling at the centre these quarrels with the past are an untenable situation for them. Their hatred based ideology cannot permit Indian history to be secular. That is why it is their political compulsion to destroy all authentic history of Indian people. So when person like Mr. Swamy give venomous speeches and calls against India’s secular history writings, he automatically gets a golden chance to become a fine soldier of that Hindutva brigade. In a way Mr. Swamy is desperate to consolidate his political future and be a reliable pawn in the hands of Hindu communalism in its long cherished quest to destroy history.
One wonders who can talk of setting books on fire. Not one who disagrees but one who is afraid of them. Professors Bipan Chandra and Romila Thapar have been such historians whom the academic world respects and acknowledges their contributions yet their writings and insights are not always uncontested. Scholars engage with them affirmatively or argue with their postulates. However, if one gives a call to set afire their works, it simply means that the destructive arsonists are clueless about how to fight against India’s secular tradition and history. Are they afraid lest Indian people read the secular past? And in the end, we were taught in schools and home that we should not touch books by feet, if a book false on floor we must kiss it reverently because books have wisdom. The question remains that how to judge those who wish to set books i.e. wisdom?
(The author is a historian and political commentator.)