My academic affiliation attracts a lot of uncensored criticism not just from the laymen in the neighbourhood but also from the rather radical masses of blind political pawns, for the lack of a better word. This screenshot was the reply a Higher Secondary school in Tinsukhia, Assam had sent to an official invite for our university’s very own Model UN conference. It reads, “it’s high time you people stop being antinational by tolerating anti national protests by antinationals (azaadi group) in your university.” I’m not about to contest what my university believes in or why this tolerance has nothing to do with the event we are trying to organise but what I will do is set some records straight on what Indian Nationalism was actually built on and how little of the historic past is ever remembered in the truest sense of the term.
Late 18th century India was as depressing as Charles Dickens’ ‘Bleak House.’ Now lauded to be the founding principle of the Indian National Movement, the Moderate wing of the Indian National Congress was a flicker of a brighter future that collapsed due to the elitism of its own founders. Notwithstanding many of the early congress members were compradors with the Raj and virtual supporters for its continuity, there was never a seed of communal discontent so strongly sown until the arrival of the V.D Savarkar. Savarkar and the contemporary ‘league of extraordinary gentlemen’ that found a vocal platform to counter the colonial rule bend over their backs to present before the alien imperialists the esteem of India’s historical past. The batch of such historians were proud advocates of what is now known as the nationalist school. Savarkar, however, was never the pioneer of Hindutva although he happened to coin the term. The mendicant policies of the moderates ushered a strain of a new plan of action; action that involved the masses on a greater scale and indoctrinated them in the true spirit of nationalism. That’s a cue for mentioning the forerunners of this batch of extremists who aimed for a religious mode of political mobilisation. Tilak, Bipin Pal and Lajpat Ray indefinitely took recourse to periodic festivals and taking vows in front of idols. This not to mention was none but Hindu festivals and the trio were not the only ones to carry the torch of undue glorification of the religion.
Savarkar happened to make it official when he strived to create a collective Hindu identity as an imagined nation. He, therefore, went on to shape the concept of Indian nationalism as predominantly Hindu in nature to the exclusion of other religions. The nationalist historiography of the Freedom Movement that followed welcomed other writers echoing the same stance. The motive of the nationalist school was to counter the negativity of the colonial school which validated and encouraged the British Raj all over the subcontinent besides berating and devaluing the Indian culture. Thus, the consequent reply to that the uncritical adulation of the Indian culture centred around the events of North India. Shivaji, therefore, became a moniker of nationalism who challenged the might of the Mughals. The Mutiny of the Sepoys was projected as the first war of independence when it was pre-political to the modern definition of nationalism itself. Savarkar outlined the vision of an ‘akhand Bharat’ (united India), a vision that has been distorted by his later followers along with many more of his principles. Ironically, Savarkar, who was absolutely disaffected by the orthodox practice of cow worship, regarded Hindu as a cultural and political identity. His loyalty and patriotism as seen as a criticism towards other religious minorities subjecting mostly Islam to blatant discrimination. Right from the Khilafat Movement to Partition, Savarkar preached the modal abstention from Muslim appeasement. He implored on the restoration of Hindu elements to this constructed Hindu nation such that there was large scale reconversion to Hinduism, those who had converted to another faith. The fact that RSS were vehemently against granting Kashmir a special status should therefore not come as a surprise. Savarkar, Ranade and the likes of nationalist historiographers have gone beyond required measure of upholding a national identity and therefore share an equal responsibility in encouraging a distorted view of historical figures to the point of deification.
Nothing even about the Indian National Movement stacks up to the eulogy presented to impressionable minds in elementary education. Hence the only strain of history we retain is a pathetically manipulated one. Long story short, seventy years into independence and it’s still tangled in the merry-go-round of blind leading the blind. What then is a democracy that cannot recognise its own potential? Seventy years into independence and it has simply become a large-scale caricature of the same. Need I remind you of the last line of ‘Hollow Men’?