Though the relentless pressure of several aggrieved groups has forced left historians to backtrack on some of their more contentious assertions on Indian history, this seems a tactical retreat rather than a sincere rectification of position. The cosmetic changes made by Professor Satish Chandra in his Medieval India, textbook for Class XI, as well as the response of the Committee of Historians to the objections raised by Shri Dinanath Batra and others in the Delhi High Court, smack of a forced withdrawal. But whether forced or voluntary, the petitioners have undoubtedly secured some acceptance of their viewpoint, by no means a small achievement.
Nonetheless, objections even to the revised left interpretation of Indian history remain, some of which bear recording. Despite the newly donned mask of neutrality, the antipathy to indigenous culture and traditions remains strong. This manifests itself, for instance, in the continued reference to the so-called Hindu take-over of Buddhist and Jain sacred sites. Two specific instances have been cited?that of the Jagannath temple at Puri (said to have originally been a Buddhist site) and the temple at Qutub (stated to have initially been a Jain shrine). However, no evidence to substantiate the claim has been presented.
The persistent reference to temple desecration by Hindu kings is obviously intended to underplay Islamic iconoclasm in the subcontinent. In this connection it is relevant to recall that Professor Andre Wink (Al-Hind, vol. II) found the evidence of Hindu destruction of Buddhist and Jain places of worship ?too vague to be convincing,? and equally pertinently, not backed by shastric injunction.
Hindu rulers who appropriated idols of rival kings in times of warfare, honoured the images thus acquired, even building stately temples for them. The Chandella ruler, Yasovarman, for instance, built the Lakshmana temple at Khajuraho to house a gold image he had acquired from the Pratihara ruler. The Vijayanagar ruler, Krishnadeva Raya, likewise constructed the Krishnaswami temple for an image of Balkrishna procured during a campaign against the Gajapatis of Orissa, and the Vitthalswami temple for a Vitthala image brought from an expedition to Pandharpur. Such acts can hardly be viewed as at par with Islamic iconoclasm.
The continued attempt to put a secular gloss on the iconoclastic fervour of Mahmud Ghaznavi is of a piece of the Marxist endeavour to sanitize medieval Indian history. Mahmud'sreputation in the Muslim world rested on two inter-related accomplishments? breaking the idols of Al-Hind and dehoarding the temples of their treasures. The destruction of Somnath was hailed as ?the crowning glory of Islam over idolatry, and elevated Mahmud to the status of a hero?. Mahmud'siconoclasm, moreover, was always directed against non-Islamic objects. When he attacked the Ismailis (regarded as heretics by the Sunnis) in Multan, he did not destroy their mosque, but left it to decay.
The Committee of Historians has brushed the objection of the petitioners on the inadequate treatment of Hindu dynasties between the eighth and thirteenth centuries. That the objection is not without substance can be judged from the fact that among the ruling houses summarily dismissed or not mentioned at all are the Chandellas of Bundelkhand; the Paramaras of Malwa; the renowned Jayasimha Siddharaja of Gujarat: and the builders of the Lingaraja, Jagannath and Sun temples in Orissa. Surely exclusions of such magnitude reduce the authenticity of the text.
A few more examples of faulty presentation may be mentioned. Shankara has been dated to ?probably? the ninth century, without clarifying that the tradition places him considerably earlier. An honest rendition demanded that the earlier dates associated with him also be given. Finally, it is remarkable that even now, while reconstructing the troubled history of the last two Sikh Gurus, recourse is taken to eighteenth century Persian works, and the Bichitr Natak, the near contemporary account written by Guru Tegh Bahadur'sson, Guru Gobind Singh, is not taken note of. But then selective use of sources has long been a Marxist preserve.
(The author is a noted columnist.)