Part One of Sudhir Bisht’s interview with Dr Anirban Ganguly talks about the contributions of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, and others who have been subjected to “minimisation”, to Indian history.
It also explores the motivation for Leftist historians to write uneven and lopsided historical narrations of India.
Dr Anirban Ganguly is a scholar of Indian civilisation-history-culture. He is also a Director of the Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation.
In the first part of his interview to Sudhir Bisht, Dr. Ganguly talks about the contributions of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, and others who have been subjected to “minimisation”, to Indian history.
SB: Dr Ganguly, your foundation recently organised at Nehru Memorial Museum, so is it not ironic that Nehru Memorial is organising an exhibition for Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, given the history of bitterness between the two?
Dr Ganguly: See, one thing is that in Nehru Memorial Museum over the years, there had been such exhibitions which had been held, commemorative exhibitions, on various other personalities apart from Nehru. In fact, the exhibition just before Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee was on the life of Abdul Gaffar Khan. Last year, there was one on Lala Lajpat Rai. It so happens that after this government has come to power, they have consciously deiced Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. It is actually a symbol of those who fought for India’s independence as well as those who shaped India post- independence. It is the symbol of their legacy, kind of. It is a repository of all their papers, their documents, their private papers and all that. Therefore, they decided that there should be commemorations of such personalities; personalities who have been forgotten; Rani Gaidinliu, for example. There was an exhibition on her life last year and there was a programme also in commemoration on that. So, that’s why it is out of the way that they have done.
SB: But Nehru Museum hosting Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s exhibition?
Dr Ganguly: At the same time, at least if you read Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s speeches, his writings and Parliamentary debates, there was nothing personal that he had with Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru may have had, perhaps. His attitude towards his opponents may have a great tinge of the personal element in it but as far as Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s approach goes, there was nothing personal in his opposition to Nehru. You know, in an actual democracy, one should have space for all points of views. It has not happened thus far, that’s another matter.
SB: When I went to college in 1981, I came in contact with student bodies like ABVP, SFI and NSUI. I became interested in understating the political history of various organisations and their parent bodies. I studied history in school but I wasn’t aware that there was somebody like Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee who existed. It was not in the text books. So do you think that history has been unkind to him? That he got a raw deal as very few school students, even today know about the person who is responsible for the second division of Bengal, which virtually saved West Bengal for India?
Dr Ganguly: Yes, absolutely. The space to other leaders and their points of view has not been sufficiently given in our history narrative, post-independence. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, even though he was active after independence from 1947 to 1953, very short years, just about six years, but in those six years, he did a lot. From his standing, his stature, he contributed to enriching and stabilising India’s political life. He did it in his own way. And just because his politics did not conform to the dominant, political narrative of that period, there was an effort to either minimise his contribution or marginalise it. So he has become a victim of this minimisation and marginalisation.
Therefore, you see, even in this exhibition, sometimes I find it very ironical that 60 years after his death, Syama Prasad Mookerjee has been allotted a 300 sq foot area in Teen Murti for 15 days in 18 panels, and even that has raised the hackles of some people or some sections, whose only effort, as I have observed, very interestingly and quiet amusingly in the last 15 days, has been to minimise his contribution to our national life. You know, this is the expression of a malaise and that is why I say that right from the beginning, in our historic approach, this stance has been to minimise and segregate a certain section and glorify the other section, their contribution only to our national life.
So you know, when an exhibition is put up, and I am not going to give names, there is this war historian (who I think has not even visited the exhibition) but he tweets saying that this exhibition has got lot of howlers! And he is not a specialist on post- independent India’s political history. He is not a specialist on Syama Prasad Mookerjee. He has not perhaps visited the exhibition, but based on some report, he says that this exhibition had howlers. So you see, this is actually the expression of that mentality which has not given sufficient space to all point of views. Therefore, you don’t try to actually understand a personality who has held a view which may have been diametrically opposite to what you have would have held. You don’t try and understand his contribution, but the first thing you do is you minimise his contribution.
So you question his patriotism, whether he was a true patriot or not, you question his contribution as Industry Minister and then you laugh. You have such approaches that he divided Bengal, so good, the RSS doesn’t blame Jinnah any more. This shows a very shallow understanding of that period. This shows a very reductionist view of the period. Actually, luckily for Bengali Hindus, Bengal was divided, otherwise all of them would have had to live in East Pakistan and all of them would have to become refugees one day.
So you know, we have lost the balanced historical perspective, and that’s why Mr Amit Shah had made this point that both British colonialist and communist historians have distorted the history of India.
SB: Can you please name any particular set of historians who were responsible for such an uneven narration of history? What was the motivation for them to write such an lopsided history? Was it coercion, was it other incentives, or do you think there was some political dividends for these historians?
Dr Ganguly: Actually, you see what happened was, I call these historians “Marxist historians with Stalinist mindsets.” You know, because these historians— Irfan Habib, Romila Thapar and Bipin Chandra leading among them—if you see their record, it is a very dismal record. ICHR’s ‘Towards Freedom Project’ has been going on for 40 years and one can make a survey of how much have been spent and what has been the output. So, basically academically, it has been a very dismal record. The dichotomy is, if you belong to the RSS, you can’t be a historian, but you can be a card-carrying member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and yet be a historian. So this is the set of standards that they have applied to themselves and a different set of standards for others.
Now, obviously, being communist Marxist historians, they have a certain ideological, a point of view, and they have studied India through that ideological bent of mind, and one of the prime expressions of that ideological bent of view is that there is nothing called “Nationalist”, there is nothing called “Nation”, and there is nothing called “Civilisation.” So this has inspired their study of India’s history. As a result, they falsely accuse the RSS of glorifying India’s ancient past. My point is that there has been no irrational glorification. The problem with them is they will not even acknowledge the high watermarks of Indian civilisation. They will always try to tell you that whatever Indian has achieved is because of external influence. Whereas, the other point of view says that there has been external influence, no doubt it, but in my perspective, you always have exchange, no civilisation has grown or evolved in isolation.
Benoy Kumar Sarkar wrote extensively on the positive background of Hindu sociology. My view is that there is no denial, that there was always a give and take, but the problem comes where you say there was no give at all, it was always take, take, take. Their position has always been that. Negation of India’s Hindu past, by saying there was nothing called Hinduism or there was no Hindu past, negating India’s high watermarks, minimising the effects of invasions that took place in India, minimising or totally falsifying their effects on the Indian civilisation that existed before these invasions, that was one thing. The other is they have very cleverly camouflaged the collaborationist past of the communist during the British period. They never talked about that.
SB: There is a perception that the RSS never participated in India’s Freedom Struggle. What do you say about that?
Dr Ganguly: These are the stereotypes like saying that RSS never participated in freedom movements. The understanding of what RSS was pre-independence, is totally nonexistent in their narrative, because they don’t even know. They (the Leftist historians) don’t even know that during the Quit India Movement, you had many Congress members joining the Hindu Mahasabha. During the Quit India Movement, you had RSS members being arrested for the Quit India Movement. You know that entire concept of what that period was is very unclear to them. So they develop these mono-narratives. When it comes to their collaboration, you will never find anything. So studying the nationalist period, from the lens of class war, class struggle, etc., etc.
SB: May I take you a bit backwards, to the 1857 Rebellion. We do read about Rani Laxmibai and the others who joined together in the 1857 war on the foreign rulers but there is no mention of the role played by certain Princely States who opposed this. Are we shy about naming those rulers who fought against the 1857 armed freedom struggle?
Dr Ganguly: No, no, definitely, you see, a complete historical picture should be presented. I mean, why not? If there were Indian rulers who collaborated with British East India Company, definitely there should be study of that, why not. Who collaborated with the British in stopping and stemming the 1857 War, there is nothing to hide on that account. But to say that they collaborated then with the British, so boycott them today, is again kind of a very myopic approach.
SB: The arm struggle by many Indian revolutionaries against the British Raj, starting from the 20th century, is largely unreported. Do you think that has been underplayed?
Dr Ganguly: Absolutely, it has been. You see, otherwise, why did Ramesh Majumdar have to find a separate publisher (whereas his work was supposed to be published by the Government) to get his three volume “History of the Freedom in India” published.
The Then Education Minister (Maulana Abul Kalam Azad) did not agree to it, I read.
Correct, they had a problem. RC Majumdar was not allowed to discuss certain personalities. In fact in his third volume appendix or the foreword, he has given in detail the entire background of this history writing. Now it is a recognized fact that all efforts for India’s freedom struggle contributed to the sum total of the entire movement. So you cannot minimize the contribution of one section and glorify the other. Some movements may have failed, their assessment may have been wrong, you know they may have fallen by the wayside, they may have internal squabbles which prevented the movement from succeeding; all this is matter of historical analysis. But one cannot say that they (the unsung heroes) did not contribute to freedom struggle.
(To Be Continued)