The political and intellectual struggle for a new India narrative is deriving mutual strength, which poses a formidable challenge to those who wish to thwart the legacy of the ‘great ideals of Indian culture’
Five hundred years hence”, wrote the philosopher historian Ananda Coomaraswamy in one of his most celebrated expressions of deeper thought, “it will matter little to humanity whether a few Indians, more or less, have held official posts in, or a few million bales of cloth been manufactured in Bombay or Lancashire factories; but it will matter much whether the great ideals of Indian culture have been carried forward or allowed to die. It is with these that Indian nationalism is essentially concerned, upon these that the fate of India as a nation depends…”
The essential struggle thus in India today is that of trying to discover and carrying forward the ideals of Indian culture. The struggle is between the idea of a civilisational India and that of a fragmented India; between the idea of an India that is transitory and not eternal; an India that is a caricature and devoid of uniqueness shorn of any exceptionalism. The struggle is between a civilisational India that seeks to re-express or even re-assert itself and an expression of India that argues that there never was an India or Bharat and that these are clear imaginations.
This struggle is building up in ideational dimensions and its expressions are visible on the physical plane too. The academic, the political and the social are the realms where this struggle is being played out. The adherents of cultural and civilisational India, hitherto underdogs in independent India, who have faced repeated castigation and have been constantly told that their past was one great wasteland, whose ideals where not worth re-discovery and re-statement or emulation, are now finding their voice to talk back. The Padmavati episode, whatever may be its merits and demerits, is a manifestation of that talking back; of that urge to resist efforts to falsify and misrepresent selectively those episodes in our civilisational march that has greatly impacted the collective Hindu psyche over ages and formed an integral part of our mind space.
This talking back is naturally being resisted by the high-priests of the narrative of the ‘Idea of India’. High priests, who controlled, directed, patronised and promoted a narrative of India, in which Bharat had no speaker or taker, in which civilisational and cultural India ceased to exist and was replaced by a field full of conflicts of class and of communities. In their control of the discourse, these high-priests suppressed truth and discoveries that went to counter their intellectual and political propaganda and pushed instead those, which even if weak on facts and often devoid of truth, seemed to substantiate their false discourse.
In the realm of thought, victims of this suppression have been many and have retarded our quest for many-sided collective self-discovery. Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Ananda Coomaraswamy himself, BR Ambedkar — Ambedkar has faced a selective approach, with a substantial part of his radical thoughts being suppressed or kept out of mainstream discussion for the sake of political convenience and ideological expediency — Dharampal, Sister Nivedita, Tilak and Savarkar and so many others, like Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya and Syama Prasad Mookerjee, Ram Manohar Lohia, Ramananda Chatterjee of Modern Review and Prabasi. Their thoughts and articulations could have helped to shape and firm up the contours of our national thinking and could have instilled a certain deep rootedness in our civilisational foundations while also gradually preparing us to situate and navigate ourselves through the currents of the wider world.
I was surprised to see the other day, while addressing a group of academics at a certain refresher course in the University of Delhi, many of these teachers of history, who have and are making a career out of exclusion studies, had not heard of the social philosopher, historian and Gandhian Dharampal and had not read at least a part of the substantial corpus of his work. They had not read Dharampal’s opus, The Beautiful Tree: Indigenous Indian Education in the Eighteenth Century, that gave a different perspective on the understanding of the Indian society and particularly on the indigenous framework of its educational outreach and composition and how it did not discriminate among sections. That they were not exposed to Dharampal was through deliberate design, because his work, through solid empirical research, challenged their propagated theories and impeded the furthering of its political objectives.
The prime objective of the peddlers of this narrative was to give rise to a sense of self-deprecation when it came to civilisational India and to a sense of a perpetual state of conflict and siege. The Congress has been the primary pusher of this narrative, but since it did not have the interest or capacity to see it through; it outsourced such a mission to the communist parties and its intellectuals and ideologues. Interestingly, while through their machinations, patriotism became a dirty word in intellectual and academic circles in India, the Indian communists lauded the efforts for example, of President Jiang Zemin’s “patriotic education campaign” in 1991, which sought to re-examine and re-state Chinese history, instill a sense of patriotism among young minds. Indian communists passed off patriotism as the first manifestation of fascism by Indian communists, a pejorative term that was to be deplored and denigrated.
The result of this deprecatory approach towards civilisational India, towards our Hindu past and towards its huge output — philosophical, cultural, aesthetic and scientific — is that it created a climate, which saw the strengthening of, in the words of Sita Ram Goel, “every factor and force which was out to disintegrate this country, uproot its people and destroy its culture heritage.”
Such a climate gradually gave rise to a situation where, to cite Goel again, “Hindu scholarship which [dealt] with Hindu themes sympathetically and knowledgeably [remained] a private preserve most of the time. Once in a while, this scholarship [was] praised in public ceremonies held primarily for the benefit of some politician in power. Occasionally, it [was] also honoured with awards and prizes. But, all the same, it [failed] to make an impact on public opinion, and [was] almost always eclipsed by the howls raised by Hindu-baiters. On the other hand, hacks who [hawked] half-truths or plain lies about Hindu history and heritage, [won] instant and wide spread recognition and [sold] as know-alls.”
An initial reversal of this state of things is now distinctly visible. Such a scholarship is now emerging out from the private realm, it has ceased to be hesitant, it has begun asserting itself, is rich in intellectual riposte and content and is being grudgingly accepted by the so-called mainstream in the media and among publishers. Nearly three decades of preparing the ground by a legion of thinkers and scholars who strove against great adversity is now bearing fruit. The political and intellectual struggle for the new India narrative now derives mutual strength and subsistence, this mutuality poses a formidable challenge to those who wish to thwart the carrying forward of the ‘great ideals of Indian culture’ with which Coomaraswamy was so concerned. It disconcerts them and makes them more aggressive, wild and scheming…by