How to Become a Good Secularist:  Starring Romila Thapar, Harbans Mukhia and Bipan Chandra
Commentary

How to Become a Good Secularist: Starring Romila Thapar, Harbans Mukhia and Bipan Chandra

A 1969 Marxist pamphlet titled "Communalism and the writing of Indian History" led to the wholesale falsification of Indian history and invented a new class of historians who were branded Communal

Shankar Saran

Shankar Saran

In 1969, the publications wing of the Communist Party published a pamphlet titled Communalism and the writing of Indian History comprising articles by three young academics: Romila Thapar, Harbans Mukhia and Bipan Chandra. Its Hindi version was published in 1970 from the same house. This pamphlet has seen several editions since then and till recently, the pamphlet was being printed without revision or addition. The enthusiasm with which the communist press kept printing it highlights its politico-ideological importance. Its authors regard it not as a typical propaganda pamphlet but a scholarly presentation. And so, they proudly advertise it in their CVs and writing lists.

If one examines this pamphlet -- ostensibly produced by academics -- with reference to academic standards, he or she will be stunned. It is typical Leninist writing which begins with a proclamation. An aggressive beginning indignantly accusing an opponent and repeating it in different ways in the entire article. A reader has only two alternatives: either he accepts those proclamations and accusations without a demur or face those accusations himself. Doubt, logic or asking for evidence are not permitted. More than a hundred years ago, a person that accepted Lenin’s view was a revolutionary; else he was a reactionary, opportunist, petty bourgeoisie etc. In much the same way, any person who concurs with the proclamations, illogic, deception, half-truths and proposals of our Marxist historians is secular and scientific; else, he or she is communal. This has been their approach for the last five decades.

How to Become a Good Secularist

This vile pamphlet singularly inaugurated the ugly Marxist tradition of branding alternative or opposing views as communal and regressive. It begins with objections about unnamed ‘communal’ historians. Then follow accusations, sarcasm, and dozens of proclamations on different subjects, innumerable, unverifiable claims and sarcastic comments. The claims, once made, are accepted as proven by mere repetitions of the same. The authors never bother to prove a claim by systematic study or rigorous logical presentation. Some obscure historical act, incident or apparent statement without giving the entire context is enough to draw a conclusive deduction. At the end of the essay, there is a list of directives for the reader, teacher, or activist as to ‘how to become a good secularist’; the dos and don’ts. Neither are these directives restricted only for historians and students but for everyone including the government and the media! The pamphlet ends thus with the Marxist historians issuing directives for all and sundry from a high pedestal.

The Marxist historians have also been busy in various agitations for the last our decades. The pamphlet contains all the traits not only of their kind of writing but also most of their propositions. It is no exaggeration to claim that whatever ‘new’ things they have stated about ancient, mediaeval and modern India during the previous four decades was all included in the pamphlet. They have only been repeating the same things since then.

Here are those propositions.

  • No great civilisation existed in India before the arrival (not invasion) of the Islamic hordes.

  • Hinduism is nothing; it is actually Brahminism which oppresses lower castes.

  • Islam is a great philosophy of human equality.

  • There was no Muslim period of rule as such in India.

  • Muslim rulers were as good or bad Indians as any other could be, and treating them as foreigners is the first, sure sign of communalism.

  • In fact, Indian culture actually developed in that period, i.e. only when Muslims ruled. There was no communal feeling during Muslim rule.

  • Nothing was new in the oppression of Hindus by Muslim rulers because oppression existed previously as well.

  • It is communalism to refer to Rana Pratap and Shivaji as national heroes.

  • In the early days of the twentieth century, stalwarts like Bankim, Dayanand, Tilak, Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Gandhi etc. inadvertently instigated communalism. The Muslims only reacted.

  • The same situation exists even today. It is, therefore imperative to defeat Hindu communalism and to desist from anything that might hurt the Muslims.

Long live secularism!

Shashi Tharoor
Shashi Tharoor The Quint

Only Hindus are Communal

In substance, the pamphlet holds that communalism is the outcome of communal history written by communal historians, and that Hindu communalism is the greatest danger, which needs to be countered. But what is communalism? What constitutes communal writing, who are the communal historians and what is their understanding of the charges levelled against their writings? Which books are said to be written from a communal angle? The reader does not find any answer to these questions nor can he attempt to do so because the articles do not provide any references. It does not facilitate any discussion. It was meant for providing stimulus to committed communist workers to move in a particular political direction. Hence, there was neither time (in four long decades!) nor need for enquiry, proofs, references etc. The main issue is to defeat the communalists, who were by definition Hindu. Needless, this tactic was a faithful reproduction of Lenin's manipulation: defeating the Mensheviks, beating opportunists, crushing the counter-revolutionaries, etc. The objective was agitation and not research and study.

All the aforementioned propositions were published in writing for the first time in the Communalism and the writing of Indian History pamphlet. In a nutshell, this is also their whole expertise on communalism. The half-baked, obscure and patently false examples stated in this 1969 pamphlet are taken recourse to even today by every Marxist, secular, and Left-Liberal historian. One can verify this truth by reading articles on history published in say, The Wire or Scroll.

Defining Communal History 

However, none of the three authors of the pamphlet have cared to even define the term "communalism" even when they have taken to task ‘communalism’ and ‘communal historians’ ad nauseam. It is quite amazing when we think how they got away with that ultimate crime of all: of not identifying the guilt or the guilty. This kind of subterfuge is done largely in political speeches where the audience instantly recognises the target by just an indication.

The following examples of what constitutes communalism are hilarious if only they didn't cause such large-scale damage to our national psyche and public discourse.

  • Communalism is the outcome of communal ideology

  • Those who subscribe to communal ideology are communal

  • Communal politics is supported by communal ideology

  • Communal ideology is the ideology of communal people

  • Communal historical view point has been the main ideology of Communalism

This kind of endless loop of jugglery in circular logic was what was used in writing our toxic history textbooks. It was branded progressive and scientific. Needless, it couldn't be pulled off but for the stranglehold the Marxists acquired over institutions.

As a representative example, we can consider Romila Thapar's essay titled Communalism and the writing of Ancient Indian History in the aforementioned pamphlet. In the beginning of her essay, she has explained the origin and development of communal history writing in India. According to her, in the eighteenth century, some European scholars of Indology began ‘glorifying’ ancient India. Next, the British historian James Mill divided Indian history into the Hindu period, Muslim period and British period. According to Thapar, this periodisation was arbitrary and was done to support the imperialist design of divide and rule.

And then, from the beginning of the twentieth century, Hindu nationalist thinkers, revolutionaries and leaders started echoing Mill's viewpoint. Thus, this acceptance by Hindu leaders of the false glory of ancient India and presentation of its symbols as national greatness created a feeling of separateness among the Muslims! As a consequence, for the first time, according to Thapar, the Hindus and Muslims developed the feeling of being politically separate.

This is the gist of her "analysis" of the rise of communalism in India which the entire Marxist tribe has been repeating nonstop for more than half a century. Like the screenplay of a masala movie, this story apparently makes a logical sequence leaving little scope for doubt.

Except that it is just a story.

The element of deliberate falsification in this "analysis" is the curious fact that this historical development of the views and attitudes does not include the whole mass of Islamic scholars, Muslim primary narratives, theologians, rulers and representatives spread over several centuries. The scale of this falsification is truly stunning.

The phenomenon of Muslims lagging behind the Hindus economically in India is a recent, twentieth century phenomenon. It was not so in the 17-19th centuries. During this period, sections of the North Indian Hindu upper class looked up to the Mughal ruling class and internalised the Sultanate and Nawabi culture. The Nehru dynasty is a good example of this. The great-grandfathers of Jawaharlal used to move in the circle of the Muslim gentry and they regarded the Hindus in general as a lowly breed not fit to mix with. Thus, the Nehruvian upward-looking Hindu of those days wanted to interact with the Muslim matbars and considered it a mark of respect and accomplishment to be recognised by them.

Given this historical reality, the logical question arises: what did the Islamic leading lights and representatives of the 17-19th centuries write about the history of India? And, what happened to the Muslim historians, scholars, writers and social and political leaders of an entire century between James Mill and Dayanand Saraswati and Bal Gangadhar Tilak? Were they silent? If so why? Did they have no understanding of and opinion on Indian history from the ancient period up to the Mughals? Why did Romila Thapar blank the entire mass of Muslim thought and writing out of the purview of her ‘communal understanding of history’?

The answers to these questions would reveal the missing protagonists of the great fiction circulated incessantly by all Marxist historians.

To be continued

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