Historians like Prof Irfan Habib need to realise that there is a world beyond the Leftist paradigm and that there are other ideologies which need equal recognition and respect.
In a recent interview to the Times of India, Prof Irfan Habib, Professor Emeritus, Aligarh Muslim University, spoke eloquently about the degeneration of Bharatiya history under the current dispensation. Prof Habib stated that attempts were on to ‘destroy Bharatiya history but history’s not mythology or theology.’ Considering the school of thought to which Prof Habib belongs, his argument did not come as a surprise. It was indeed an attestation of his ideological standpoint which condemns anything other than Left-oriented history writing. Very unfortunately, for scholars like Prof Habib and his colleagues and compatriots, time has changed and after a very long struggle, attempts are being made to wrest history from the hands of the Left-oriented scholars. Ever since 1950s and 60s, history writing in Bharat has been a preserve of the Leftist historians who have dominated the academic scene to such an extent that only history written by them was considered to be history, and that written by nationalist historians was considered to be reactionary, religious propaganda particularly targeted to defame the Sultanate and Mughal rule. Hence, the works of nationalist historians was rebuked and contested on the grounds of being false and propagandist. Therefore, the writings of scholars such as Sir Jadunath Sarkar was criticised by Left-oriented historians who attempted to justify the Muslim rule in Bharat, and scholars such as Prof Habib went to the extent of arguing that Islam brought about equality and justice for the common man in the otherwise caste ridden Hindu society which did not allow for upward social mobility.
The successful campaign carried out by the Left-oriented historians, particularly those belonging to the Aligarh School, to subjugate any other kind of historical narrative has made generations of history students to study and believe only in the kind of history written by Leftist historians. It is extremely unfortunate that ideological biases have marred the analysis of history from a neutral perspective. In fact, all attempts were made to keep the ideology of the Right Wing at bay and for many centuries, the Left-oriented historians were successful in doing so. This bias recently manifested itself in the interview given by Prof Habib to the Times of India where he contended that the RSS has always attempted to run down Gandhi and Nehru. It is interesting to note that many Left-oriented historians have, in the past, labeled Gandhi as a bourgeois politician (reference may be made to the works of historian Sumit Sarkar) and Nehru a wily fox. Opportunism, it seems runs parallel to the Marxist ideology.
Like history writing, the Marxists had made certain institutions their preserve and used them to propagate their ideas successfully. One such institution was the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), which has been finally seized from the hands of the Marxists and those who claimed to be historians but were mere biographers of the Nehru-Gandhi family. It has indeed come as a welcome relief, but according to Prof. Habib the ICHR has now been “filled by RSS men unknown to professional historians.” Well, perhaps Prof Habib’s critical thinking does not allow him to look beyond the Marxist perspective and, therefore, he cannot consider historians belonging to any other school of thought to be historians of some merit.
Talking about the revamp of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML), Prof Habib contended that “It seems the idea is to make the institution a propaganda centre for RSS heroes who during our freedom struggle kept on the good side of the British while pouring venom on the national movement’s leaders.” Prof Habib’s argument reflects his limited knowledge of the freedom movement in which leaders such as Shri Vinayak Damodar Savarkar played a critical role in ousting the British from the country. People have been made to forget the contributions of members of the Hindu Mahasabha who played a critical role in spreading the message of nationalism and nation building. However, historians such as Prof Habib have overlooked their contribution because it does not fit into their mandate. To appreciate the contributions of anyone other than the Congress and the Left would obviously undermine their position as intellectuals in a Left-dominated academic discourse. It would also be worthwhile to note that Left-oriented historians have also been critical of Bal Gangadhar Tilak who was very much a Congress leader but a thorough patriot and nationalist. They have criticised him time and again for being a fundamentalist and a Hindu bigot. It is easy, therefore, for the left-oriented historians like Prof Habib to be up in arms against anyone who stood for the cause of nationalism, be it leaders of the RSS or some leaders of the Congress.
In his interview, Prof Habib also spoke about the renaming of Aurangzeb Road and again to no one’s surprise, he made a very amateurish remark when he said that “renaming places to remove Muslim names is one of RSS’s programmes.” Well, if that was the case, then all the roads in Lutyen’s Delhi, many of which are named after Muslim emperors, would have been changed by now. However, it is only Aurganzeb Road which is being renamed and every Bharatiya must be proud of the fact that it is being renamed as Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Road, a true national hero, a nationalist par excellence for whom the nation came first. Aurangzeb, as we all know was a religious bigot who left no stone unturned to harass the non-Muslims of our country and all his actions were reactionary and fundamentalist in nature—the destruction of temples, re-imposition of the jiziya on Hindus, banning of Hindu festivals like Holi, banning of music, to name a few. Many have also attempted to justify the actions of Aurangzeb by claiming that he was compelled to take such harsh steps because of economic exigencies. What these historians fail to explain is what can possibly lead an emperor to destroy temples worshipped by the majority of the populace? What economic necessity facilitated the banning of music and celebration of Holi? There are ample evidences to suggest that Aurangzeb
exhibited the kind of intolerance which no other emperor in the history of Bharat could even dream of, and even though all the Muslim rulers right from the 12th century onwards (barring emperor Akbar who was slightly more sympathetic towards Hindus and people belonging to other religious denominations) exhibited signs of bigotry, Aurangzeb was a bigot par excellence. It is indeed extremely disheartening to see how the Left-oriented historians like Prof Habib have created a controversy out of nothing. They have truly exhibited their anti-national traits which keep manifesting from time to time whenever any issue regarding the Muslim period of Bharatiya history crops up.
Prof Habib’s interview to the Times of India reveals a kind of paranoia which has set in among the ranks of the Left-oriented historians who have become extremely nervous about their position in the academic scene ever since the establishment of the BJP Government last year. The fear of these historians who have dominated academics and have moulded it according to their own ideological orientation is palpable in their writings and interviews. They are unable to fathom that their monopoly over academia has been broken and that their anti-national views are no longer going to be supported and backed by the government, unlike the Congress Government for which all these historians acted as mouthpieces. They are also not able to come to terms with the fact that Gandhi and Nehru will now have to share space with nationalist leaders from the RSS in institutions like NMML where a one-sided hero-worship of Nehru will be replaced by a more holistic approach wherein all the leaders who contributed to the national movement will be given equal recognition. Students of history will also come to learn more about national heroes other than Gandhi and Nehru, the latter being the prime mover for the partition of Bharat, and the former being a silent spectator to all the events that led to the partition of the nation in 1947. Historians like Prof Habib need to realise that there is a world beyond the Leftist paradigm and that there are other ideologies which need equal recognition and respect, and by bad-mouthing national heroes like Shri VD Savarkar, he and his compatriots are inflicting immense injury on the sentiments of millions of Bharatiya for whom the RSS is an organisation which upholds and stands for nationalism at all cost.
(The Writer is PhD in history & associated with Amity University, Gurgaon)