Revolutionaries in the past had countered the negative narrative around India by presenting its true picture before the world; the same needs to be done today
“It is necessary and desirable that you should make the most of your stay in Europe and learn as much as possible. At the same time, you will have to remember in common with all Indians, that outside India, every Indian is India’s unofficial ambassador. His country will be judged by foreigners according to the impression that he is able to make on them”, wrote Subhas Bose in 1932 to his nephew Asoke, from the sanatorium at Bhowali, where he had been finally allowed to be shifted while in detention because of a rapidly deteriorating health condition.
In Europe, between 1933 and 1936, Subhas himself was the best ambassador of India’s struggle for freedom. India’s freedom struggle saw a large number of revolutionary nationalists and thinkers frequent foreign shores to spread India’s civilisational message and essence and to speak of how India, under subjection, was gradually being desecrated of her potential, her core values and her rich resources and heritage. Stalwarts such as Lala Lajpat Rai and Bipin Chandra Pal, for instance, in their forced exile in the West — the former in America and the latter in England — were some of the finest advocates of India’s freedom in foreign lands. Not only the political narrative, these personalities were also perceptive interpreters of India’s civilisational and cultural imperatives and dimensions.
The likes of Dhan Gopal Mukherji and Tarak Nath Das were some of the best articulators of India’s aspirations in the West. Not to speak of the formidable polymath Benoy Kumar Sarkar (1887-1949), product of the national education movement, who, along with Radhakumud Mukherji, Radhakamal Mukherji and others, formed the nucleus of nationalist research scholars and young thinkers who were prolific in their output on research in culture, history, sociology, linguistics, education, and more, from the Indic perspective in the early decades of the last century.
An indefatigable world traveller throughout the 1920s-40s, Sarkar had access to and connected with the Western intelligentsia, and he wrote prolifically. His works amount to some eighty plus volumes, besides papers and articles, published internationally. In his lifetime, Sarkar came to be recognised among the youngest and most articulate interpreters of India’s knowledge corpus. Sarkar’s last months were also spent speaking of India. In 1949, by the time he suddenly fell ill and died, Sarkar had delivered 150 lectures across the United States starting with Harvard University. The subject of his lectures was ‘The Dominion India in World Perspective.’ A newly independent India would have to be presented, situated and explained to the world and Sarkar took it upon himself to do that. As he lay silent and ill from a debilitating stroke in Freedman’s Hospital in Washington, Sarkar was asked whether he thought of his family, he replied, “no, I think of my Motherland and the work I still have to do.”
Not only intellectuals and political personalities, India’s sannyasis too contributed to creating the India narrative in foreign lands. In 1906, at the height of the Swadeshi movement, shortly after the Partition of Bengal in 1905, Swami Abhedananda’s lecture series on ‘India and her People’ delivered to a large audience at the prestigious Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences in New York, had provoked a section of the Western intelligentsia into realising India’s degraded and exploited condition. “My main object has been”, wrote Abhedananda, “to give an impartial account of the facts from the standpoint of an unbiased historian, and to remove all misunderstandings which prevail among the Americans concerning India and her people.” To the legendary director of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts, scientist Franklin W Hooper, Abhedananda’s lectures constituted “an exceedingly valuable description of the social, political, educational and religious conditions of India’ and contained ‘precisely what the American’ wanted to know about India. It was more valuable since they were ‘by a native of India’ and were ‘not coloured by foreign prejudice.”
Abhedananda argued that “centuries before the Christian era, nay, long before the advent of the prophet and founder of Judaism, when the fore-fathers of the Anglo-Saxon races were living in caves and forests, tattooing their bodies, eating raw animal flesh, wearing animal skins, in that remote antiquity, the dawn of true civilisation broke upon the horizon of India or Bharatavarsha as it [was] called in Sanskrit.’ In his lectures, Abhedananda also made a frontal attack on British rule and exploitation in India. He spoke of Curzon as ‘the most unpopular Viceroy ever in India’ whose policy was one of ‘interference and distrust.’ Curzon took away, Abhedananda castigated, “the freedom of the press, he wasted the resources of the country on the vain show and pomposity of the Durbar, while millions were dying of famine and plague. He [Curzon] condemned the patriotic and national spirit of the Indians…If people of America wish to know what would have been the conditions of the United States under British rule, let them look at the political and economic conditions of the people of India today.”
Abhedananda’s Brooklyn lectures had aroused “so much interest in the minds of the people of America that there was a persistent request to have them published in a book form.” The book, titled, ‘India and Her People’, when it appeared was promptly proscribed by the British government in India. “No other Indian of his time’, wrote the intellectual historian Moni Bagcchi, of Abhedananda’s lectures, “had vindicated the cause of India as Abhedananda had done. His Brooklyn lectures bear ample testimony to the fact that apart from being an ardent and successful preacher of the Vedantic gospel, he at the same time was the most formidable champion of Indian culture and civilisation.”
Such intense intellectual activism in the West, over the years, succeeded in forming an active and articulate group of India’s champions among the Western intelligentsia. The likes of JT Sunderland, for instance, author of ‘India in Bondage’ (1929) a resounding riposte to Katherine Mayo’s malicious ‘Mother India’, generated waves in the emerging pro-India and free-India narrative in the West. This rich canvas lies vastly unexplored. The story of how the India narrative was created and defended abroad when India was in a state of subjection is a fascinating and inspiring story.
Post-independence, especially after communists took control of the academic discourse and institutions, having been outsourced that task by the intellectually depleting Congress, a reverse band of India denigrators and de-constructors were trained to go to foreign lands and spit on India. Hamid Ansari and Rahul Gandhi are some of the lead specimens of that species of India denigrators in our times. While Ansari represents the worst of retrograde Islam and of reactionary communism, Rahul is the leader of the illiterate league of India breakers. Both have taken to foreign platforms to spew venom on India and deliberately peddle fallacious narratives. They represent that class, which was vehemently countered and opposed in the past, by India’s revolutionary nationalists and thought-leaders. Hence, they need to be opposed, exposed and defaced. They belong to that class who see the denigration of India, of India’s past, of her civilisational aspirations as, to use a phrase, from public intellectual S Gurumurthy, ‘the first index of modernity.’ That apart, this section in India today, is driven by an overweening hatred for Narendra Modi and for his drive to rekindle civilisational India in all her dimensions.
But our thought-leaders had also anticipated such a class of Indians as Ansari and Rahul. One of them described them as those who saw nothing good in India and wanted her to become a rag-picker at other people’s dustbins. In a sharp tract, Rabindranath Tagore cautioned, “We must not imagine that we are one of these disinherited peoples of the world. The time has come for us to break open the treasure trove of our ancestors and use it for our commerce of life. Let us, with its help, make our future our own – never continue our existence as the eternal rag-picker at other people’s dustbins.”
Those who oppose India coming into her own and who have always worked to prevent the making of our future by ourselves are the ones who are mindlessly opposing Modi today. For this, they have also clasped the hands of India’s adversaries. These breeds of neo-mercenaries need to be relentlessly countered with the same zeal that our revolutionaries had displayed in the past.