Known for his insightful and well-researched writings, Balbir Punj is a veteran journalist who has written extensively on socio-political issues ranging from Hindu-Muslim relations and the Partition to the undivided Punjab. Shri Balbir Punj wears multiple hats with effortless ease. He has also been a two-time Member of Parliament in Rajya Sabha, BJP’s vice-president, and an intellectual of a different league who is accepted and respected across the board. This seasoned columnist-cum-politician is a keen observer of the ills plaguing the country and what are the solutions to counter anti-Bharat forces. He’s now in the spotlight with his new book ‘Narrative Ka Mayajaal’ Balbir Punj spoke to Prafulla Ketkar, Editor Organiser, on the significance of his seminal book. Excerpt:
At the outset, I would like to ask why the word ‘Narrative’ has been used in the title of your book and why your writings have now appeared in a book form?
This is an interesting question . I have been writing for almost half a century now, and I have lost count of the number of words and articles I have written. However, one thing is there about the columns that appear in newspapers and magazines, their shelf life is very small.
Many friends suggested that I should be penning down whatever so-called wisdom I had gathered in a book form. However, I think the cutting edge to this idea; the trigger was Dattatreya Ji’s suggestion that I must write a book.
Now your second question is why ‘Narrative’. The title ‘Narrative’ is an English word, but the entire book is in Hindi. While finalising the title, we thought of Vimarsh ka Mayajaal. However, the word ‘Vimarsh’ does not do justice to the spirit of ‘Narrative.’ Even I thought that so many times I have used the word ‘Narrative’ in my book. We started searching for the right word for narrative in Hindi. Nevertheless, during that research, we realised that every language has certain limitations. Moreover, if in Hindi, we do not have the exact word or concept for the term ‘Narrative’, then we should accept the term in English as it is.
Understanding this Narrative Ka Mayajaal in reference to India is crucial. The British suppressed the Revolt of 1857. The British had understood that it would not be possible for them to fight Indians every time. They realised that if they wanted to rule India for a longer period, they needed to create differences between Indians. The British studied the different dimensions of our country and identified seven-eight faultlines. They also prepared an academic paradigm to make different groups fight each other. Universities in Madras, Bombay and Calcutta’s presidency were founded to establish these academic paradigms. We, as a society, had many differences, but we knew how to live with them.
However, the British made us believe that we are obvious enemies if we think differently.
It is understandable that this narrative remained until 1947, but it should not have continued after we gained Independence. The reason it continued is that before 1947 aliens ruled us, and after 1947, those who took over from them were alienated from the ethos of this country. They continued with the same distorted narrative that they had inherited. This book explains that narrative. Narrative is
something that defines you in your own eyes and the eyes of others.
What we have lost, perhaps, is the idea of telling our own story with our own prism. In fact, we have started perceiving ourselves from the prism of others. That is why these ideas that Hindu means only casteism, India means only divided in linguistic identities, and there was no sense of nationhood, for that matter. These were the things, which did not prevail after Independence. In fact, post-1960s, since communists took over the intellectual baton from Congress, they were further perpetuated, and new faultlines were created in society.
You are absolulely right. This must be the only country in the world where people are still confused about their own identity. I’ll just refer to a very small incident. Rahul Gandhi, during his ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ used the term Adivasi, which is a terminology created by the British meaning ‘original inhabitants,’ implies that those who are non-Adivasis are outsiders.
Rahul said, “My grandmother (Indira Gandhi) used to tell me that the real owners of this country are Adivasis and those who are not Adivasis are outsiders, and their eyes are on your Jungle, Jameen and Jal.”
Rahul Gandhi gave one more statement that India is a union of states meaning that India was born in 1947. If the concept of India was born in 1947, then why did the British call itself the East India Company? The statement by Rahul Gandhi is against the basic ethos of Congress. In 1909, Gandhiji wrote that no two Englishmen are similar to the way two Indians are.
Decolonisation of the Indian mind started after 2014, and see what happens. From 1947 to 2006, we reached an economic size of 1 trillion. In 60 years after gaining Independence, our economy became one trillion. In the next seven years, up to 2014, the economy added another trillion. From 2014 to 2019, we added yet another trillion and are close to becoming a four trillion economy. In 2014, we were the 10th largest economy, and now we are the fifth largest economy, overtaking Britain, once our colonial master. Now, we are poised to become the third largest economy in another three years.
We were the most innovative and progressive economies in the world. When women had no rights, in our society, women were mathematicians, they were leading in education, and all of us know about the debate between Mangala Mishra and Shankaracharya. The two greatest scholars of their time were debating, but who is the judge? Mandala Mishra’s wife.
How to get rid of this ‘Narrative Ka Mayajaal?’
The biggest asset in this war of ideas is the correct information. I will not claim that I have given something very original in this book. Most of the ideas, or almost all the ideas, which are discussed in detail in this book, have been dealt with by various scholars. Whatever is reflected in this book is a cherry-picking for almost 5,000 books, and that too starting from Vedas to right up to now. If one follows the content, then one is fully equipped to dismantle the disruptive, divisive narrative that the colonials and the Congress have built forus.
Do you believe that if it is done our original thinking will automatically come out?
We are Sanatans; we are not stuck at Vedas or Upanishads or Brahma Sutras or Puranas; we are people who try to build on them. This is an ever-growing idea, and this is why I do not even call it a religion; it is a philosophy, and there is no end to philosophy. We need to re-establish, not for the sake of India, but for the sake of the world, the culture that ideas can always be challenged and ideas can always be revised. We have to be very careful about ideologies and creeds, which claim that they have the last word, and after that, no thinking is possible.
Fortunately, I come from a tradition where sky’s the limit, and I can continue to experiment, think and share my thoughts without being termed a heretic or a confidant.