NCERT Class XII Textbook: A Case Study of Progressive History Writing
Of late, a large section of the Indian media has been going out of the way to flaunt their latest obsession with what normal people would consider non-issues. These large sections of the media seek to project it as the greatest ever threat faced by India. However, on closer examination, we would be shocked to know that this kind of media blitzkrieg is actually a pre-emptive tactic, and a pathetic attempt to prevent any discussion on the officially sponsored historical studies in India, and its substitution by a more balanced presentation of India’s historical narrative. The tactic and the aim is to stall the eventual rejection of substandard history textbooks imposed by the UPA I and II governments.
For example, we can examine this news item that appeared in the Economic Times on 12 June 2015: “Forget Zealotry, Focus on Reform. MHRD must focus on education, not past glory,” warning and sermonising the Ministry of Human Development Resources of “stuffing research councils and educational planning and administration bodies with zealots of India’s ancient glory.” In fact, there has been a continuous barrage of accusations about the “Rightists” and their agenda of saffronisation in the media.
Obviously they feel so rattled that they keep reminding the world of dangerous consequences if Indians just get a rare opportunity of looking at an alternative version of their own historical narrative. After all, it is as urgent a matter to clear this decades-old historical garbage, more odious than the uncollected garbage currently lying on Delhi streets.
To expose the fallacy of this genre of media propaganda, this brief essay takes up just one chapter from a NCERT history textbook for Class XII. Themes in Indian History, Part iii, (2007).
Theme Thirteen. Mahatma Gandhi and the National Movement. Civil Disobedience and Beyond
This chapter, written by a historian of cricket and everything else on earth is spread over pages 346-375 (29 pages).
This chapter begins with Gandhiji’s arrival in India in 1915, with a mere one third of a page (347) on the foundation of the Indian National Congress, without even explaining the factors which had led to the emergence of pan-Indian nationalism and the crucial role of the Moderates. We may remind the reader that the previous chapter is not on the factors helping the emergence of Indian nationalism and foundation of the Indian National Congress as you would normally expect.
In the process, students miss out the very basic ideas of the formative period of pan-Indian nationalism. The Bal-Pal-Lal trio are disposed of in two short sentences, without even a mention of Sri Aurobindo, one of the ideologues of what we know as the Extremist wing of the national movement.
Surprisingly, one finds nothing on the revolutionaries who had taken up arms to oust the British. While many of them were tortured and executed, and a large number was sent to the harsh jails of Andaman and Mandalay. There is nothing on the partition of Bengal (1905), Swadeshi /anti-partition movement.
The sheer absurdity of such history-writing boggles the mind. Here, you are teaching India’s freedom movement to students of Class XII, many of whom might take up History as a major discipline in college but then, they are not told of the Shivaji tradition and its crucial role in the growth of militant nationalism, the Chapekar/Natu brothers, Khudiram Bose, Prafulla Chaki, Jatin Mukherji, Ghadar Party, Kamagata Maru, Jatin Das(who died fasting in Lahore jail), Surya Sen (Chittagong armoury), Bhagat Singh, Sachindranath Sanyal and countless other selfless patriots.
Chances are that many school students from reasonably middle class families, where lowly career-only mindset is not nurtured, and who may have already heard about them at home would be sorely disappointed at this inexplicable attempt at excluding some of the most heroic chapters in our history and some of our selfless martyrs. This is most reprehensible to say the least.
The Khilafat Movement is covered in a box, fully sanitized, even without a mention of how it was a matter of extra-territorial loyalty for Muslims, which diverted their attention from the real issues of bread and butter, and the imperative need for an united anti-colonial movement. It does not mention that it was a fall-out of the Pan Islamic movement, which believed in the solidarity of Muslims all over the world, how it got a fillip from the Pan Islamic movement begun by Abdul Hamid II of Turkey (Ottoman Empire) and supported by the German Emperor Kaiser William, and eventually turned out to be the most dangerous phenomenon (present day ISIS).
Whether by sheer ignorance or deliberate design, the “learned” historian does not explain that Gandhiji and the Congress by supporting Khilafat, was actually encouraging an absurd, irredentist movement, and Gandhiji was actually interfering in the affairs of another nation. In fact, there is unanimity among historians that Khilafat movement in India and the success of the violent Moplah attack on the Hindus, greatly encouraged the cause of Islamic separatism and use of wanton violence.
Just lo and behold! the unprecedented violence let loose, on the hapless Hindus of Kerala by the Moplah Muslims of Kerala, who were also ardent Khilafatists, does not even find a mention. So much for the practitioners of scientific history and, in this deliberate omission, the cricket historian Ramachandra Guha is not alone.
A Pattern of Distortion
A very vocal voice from the “progressive” camp, Sugata Bose, the Hon’ble Member of the Lok Sabha, a loyal follower of Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamul Congress fame, and moreover, a Professor of History at Harvard University omits the inhuman violence unleashed by the Moplahs in His Majesty’s Opponent. Subhas Chandra Bose and India’s struggle Against Empire(2011). This despite the fact that we know that Netaji himself was much disturbed by the horrific genocide. I mention this, because Sugata Bose has been in the forefront of the campaign of accusing the MHRD of packing the Indian Council of Historical Research with all incompetent people who are only committed to ideology.
What Guha and Bose have done has a technical term for it: Negationism. It amounts to—taking a parallel in the context of European history, the denial of holocaust in Hitler’s Germany, a punishable offence. Incidentally, I would also mention another aspect. Having personally gone through the papers (only those released so far) related to the disappearance of Netaji, I find this TMC politician and Harvard Professor’s assertion that Netaji was killed in the aircrash at Taipeh on 18 August 1945 most unconvincing.
As we all know, that the air crash never happened. We all know why some people wanted to see Netaji dead earlier than it actually happened. Guha has already gone one step forward, having totally blacked out Bose in his crass narrative in his Makers Of Modern India.
That takes us to the larger question, the basic issue with which we started this discussion-why historically important events just can’t be smothered, and frivolous matters with an added twist blown up, so as to present a narrative that suits a particular political dispensation or whatever ideology it seeks to promote. Let’s now look at the other contents of this textbook-
More than a page has been devoted to the salt satyagraha but not a word on the refusal to pay the Chaukidari tax in Bihar during that period, which was the most important aspect of the Civil Disobedience Movement there.
Gandhi has eleven photos while Subhas Chandra Bose has one photo, Nehru has four photos and Sardar Patel, three. Another very unique matter about this chapter is that every page has a mention of Gandhi-at least once and sometimes more. Have you ever come across anything like this ever? In cricketing parlance, I might say, it is like an opening batsman carrying on and remaining not-out till the end.
In the Question & Answer section, out of 12 Questions, Map Work, and Project Work, there are six Questions on Gandhi and none on Subhas Chandra Bose or the revolutionaries. Bose is only mentioned in three words among the younger associates of Gandhi along with Nehru, Mahadev Desai, Kripalani, and Rajagopalachari (p.354). There is no mention of Subramania Bharati or Chidmabram Pillai anywhere. That bias and hatred can stoop so low has been proved time and again by this “Eminent” historian, Mr. Guha. And this is how one puts oneself in the limelight and becomes a much sought-after intellectual.
Ramachandra Guha’s Jinnah Worship
Also, not a word here on the twice-elected President of the Congress who also defeated Gandhi’s candidate. Not a word on the career, political life, and unparalleled sacrifice and commitment of Subhas Bose, although Guha has not forgotten to mention Jinnah, one of the most successful mass murderers of 20th century. In Guha’s classy prose, Jinnah “ like Gandhiji, was a lawyer of Gujarati extraction trained in London”(p.347).
In fact, the non-existent section on the Moderate phase (1885-1905/1917), students must know, that one of the founders of Indian nationalism, Dadabhai Naoroji was actually the first non-British member of the British Parliament (House of Commons), and two (out of three recruits to the Indian Civil Service, 2nd batch ), Surendranath Banerjee and Romesh Chandra Dutt, were London-trained. Both of them became Presidents of the Indian National Congress, and Dutt wrote the first seminal work on the Economic History of India, published from London, and had also taught Indian History at London.
Ramchandra Guha’s queer attempt to whitewash Mohammad Ali Jinnah as merely a London-trained lawyer sounds funny, but then to the likes of Guha, Jinnah, one of the vilest mass murderers in history, was one of the “Makers” of Modern India, and not the venerable Lokmanya Tilak and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. In one stroke, Guha puts Jinnah on the same pedestal as Gandhi in his unique style!
Implicit in this is the fact that such a portrayal has but this objective: both Gandhi and Jinnah, being so similar in background were thus leaders of two parallel movements and were also the respective fathers of two nations with no difference in word, deed and legacy.
We experience the consequences of this approach every day. A large section of “opinion-makers” in India actually see no difference between a democratic, tolerant, plural and secular India and the rogue state of Pakistan, controlled by three As: Army, Allah and America, which has successfully finished off its Hindu and Sikh minorities and remains committed to sponsoring successful Jihadi terrorism against India.
In the same vein, Ramchandra Guha further writes that Jinnah, who “with his colleagues in the Muslim League worked patiently at expanding their influence”(p.363). Note the use of the word “patience,” which smothers the fact of how the Muslim League dubbed the Congress the Grand Fascist Council, representing majoritarian Hindu interest, anti-Muslim, and accused the Congress Ministries of subjecting Muslims to harassment and sufferings (Pirpur Report), and resorted to vicious anti-Hindu propaganda, much like today’s secularists and their devoted followers, the “progressive intellectuals” including the NRI types.
And this is exactly what the media is saying these days about the Bharatiya Janata Party and its government. The organised anti-Hindu violence orchestrated by Jinnah and his supporters are thus skilfully smothered.
Naturally, the column, “Timeline” (p.374) does not mention the basic fact about the call given by Jinnah and his Muslim League to unleash the “Direct Action” in Calcutta on 16 Aug 1946. Guha also overlooks the pogrom unleashed by Jinnah’s men on the Hindus of Noakhali after a few months. Indeed, the Guhas of this world appear to be building up a case for Jinnah as a “Constitutionalist” following in the footsteps of a Pakistani historian, close to many “progressive intellectuals” in India.
Suppresio Veri Suggestio Falsi
On Communalism/Hindu-Muslim relations, Guha persists with the same bias. In repeated acts of anti-Hindu violence unleashed by Muslim marauders, the author has carefully avoided any such term. About the politics of street violence unleashed by Mohammad Ali Jinnah that got him Pakistan so smoothly, the author remains scrupulously silent. After all, how could he do it?
The UPA was the most anti-Hindu government to rule India since the decline of the Mughals, with the Muslim League as its ally, and was particularly known for its pro-Muslim bias. Guha naturally also could not mention a fact which was obvious to all: that much of the systematic anti- Hindu violence for 1400 years has a “Holy” theological sanction !
Indeed, there seems to be no end to Guha’s mischief. Nathuram Godse is described as “a Bramhin from Pune,” and again described as a “bigoted Hindu.” How proper or decent is this casteist slur in a textbook written for impressionable minds? Was the mention of Godse’s caste really called for? If such details are necessary, why does he not mention that Gopal Krishna Gokhale was a Bramhin from Maharashtra, as was Lokamanya Tilak, or Nehru, a Bramhin from Allahabad, and Abul Kalam Azad, a Pan-Islamist Sunni, with a strong Deobandi predilection, although he’s sanitized as merely a “Nationalist” Congressman. By the same token, Jinnah also needed to be described as a second generation convert to Islam and that his grandfather was a Hindu.
Ignoble Objectives breeds vicious public discourse
This takes us to one of the underlying objectives of such history/social science textbooks—in fact the entire gamut of social science/literary teaching/research, media coverage and political discourse in post-independence India. One is just not allowed to examine and question the major fault-line in India’s history-Islamic expansionism and its damaging consequences on the majority of the people. This is the taboo all must scrupulously follow. The main objective is that unquestioned loyalty to the Islamic Ummah, its solidarity and agenda must be flaunted—that alone can give one the basic qualification, one needs to succeed. Of course, the mask of “secularism” if always at hand.
Ramachandra Guha also talks about the Congress resolution, “at the initiative of Gandhiji and Nehru” (p. 365) on the “rights of minorities” in India. People might like to ask why a similar interest was not taken for the minorities who were left to be butchered and converted to Islam in Pakistan. An inquisitive mind would also like to know as to how seriously one could accept the Congress claim of never accepting the two-nation theory while it had been actually abetting and quietly accepting the brutalization of millions of Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Christians in Pakistan/Bangladesh. What have the “liberal and secular” politicians and “intellectuals” done to save these minorities at the hands of Islamic zealots of Pakistan/Bangladesh and prevent their systematic ethno-religious cleansing? As I have repeatedly said elsewhere, that “secularism” and “liberalism” as often described and practised in India is nothing but Jihad-friendly.Let’s finally ponder over it. Should we still carry on with such substandard textbooks and teach distorted history to our children? Our “eminent” intellectuals, our “high-profile” and “sophisticated” media, and their political patrons are now so agitated and apprehensive that this sort of history might soon be replaced by authentic history, where basic facts would not be suppressed and a balanced presentation would be provided.
Before we end, we may demand that the most learned historians, Hari Vasudevan, Chairperson of the Textbook Development Committee, and Neeladri Bhattacharya, the Chief Advisor of the Committee owe an explanation to the taxpayers of India and an unqualified apology to all those unfortunate students who were imposed with this farce of a textbook for all these years.
(These are the author’s personal views)