This is the second part of Sudhir Bisht’s interview with Dr Anirban Ganguly.
In this part, Dr. Ganguly discusses how history has to be reviewed, once again, through a non-Leftist lens, and how the Right wing has to develop a platform for itself, for crucial expression of its opinions in the way that the Congress and the Left have been doing for years.
This is a continuation from Part One of Sudhir Bisht’s interview with Dr Anirban Ganguly.
SB: Recently, BJP Party President Amit Shah went to Andaman and unveiled the Veer Savarkar Jyot at the Cellular Jail. I have studied the lives of various freedom fighters and found that there were not many who spent 11 years in jail and, that too, in the Cellular Jail, the dreaded “Kala Pani”. It is widely believed that he was tormented – mentally and physically – and he pleaded for mercy. My point of view is that even if he pleaded for mercy, he remains a freedom fighter. Then why is it that his legacy is unknown? Like Rahul Gandhi said in the Parliament, “We believe in Gandhi and you (the BJP) believe in Savarkar.” Is Savarkar anyone to be ashamed of?
Dr Ganguly: The problem with Rahul Gandhi is that he neither knows who Gandhi is, nor knows who Savarkar is. That is the problem with him and all his fellow members. Today, the Congress has reduced itself to an intellectual rump. Actually, the Indian National Congress, which was a vehicle of the struggle for independence, was born in 1885 and died in 1969. That is the point we all forget. It has ceased to exist. After that, it has been basically Indira Congress, Sonia Congress, Rahul Congress – it goes on like that.
It was not only Savarkar but others too, like Barindra Kumar Ghosh (Barin) – Sri Aurobindo’s younger brother – and Ullaskar Dutt, who were accused in the Alipore Bomb Case and sent to Cellular Jail. Barin Ghosh and Ullaskar Dutt were the first batch of political prisoners to be sent to Kala Pani in 1909. Savarkar went, I think, in 1911. He went one-and-a-half years after this group went. My great-great grandfather, Upendra Nath Banerjee, was part of that first batch of political prisoners to be sent to Andaman. They were all released in 1920 under a general amnesty, which Savarkar did not take.
So the stories of all these people, you just start this deconstruction of these great men and they are forgotten. Even the communists say that their people were part of the freedom struggle, but the freedom fighters did not work in silos during those days. You know, the communists will never accept your contribution to the freedom movement. Earlier it was not like that. It was kind of an amorphous thing; you could be in the Congress and yet believe in your individual ideological position. That Congress was the real Congress.
SB: Yes, even Hedgewar and EMS Namboodiripad were in the Congress once.
Dr Ganguly: Exactly, they too were volunteers. So you see, today’s Congress has forgotten what the actual Congress was. But that is a separate issue. The point is, you can interpret Savarkar the way you like. It is a very interesting phenomenon, and I read about it in a two-part article that was published in Vijayavani. The writer said that till 1996, there was no criticism of Savarkar. Nobody doubted Savarkar’s patriotism. Not an iota of evidence was found of Savarkar’s involvement in the Gandhi assassination case. It was actually a ploy by Nehru to humiliate him. Look at the tributes Savarkar got when he died.
It was in the mid- and late-1990s, and this I say from an article in Frontline. It was during this period that this entire propaganda actually started – of questioning Savarkar’s patriotism. And this was purely a malaise. The propaganda machine started around mid-1990s when they suddenly thought that Savarkar needed to be deconstructed, whereas Savarkar, in any case, was not in mainstream politics. Somewhere they felt that he needed to be deconstructed. Before that, this discussion did not exist at all. At least that is what that article said. I have not made a detailed study about this, but it was an interesting point that the writer had made.
Now, if you read Savarkar’s letters and relate it to the question of his amnesty, you will know that through his letters he was actually mobilising public opinion. He was asking his brothers to generate a public opinion by saying that prisoners must either be released or treated in a particular manner. If you see my great-great grandfather’s writings also – his writings on that period in Andaman – and if you read Barin Ghosh’s writings, Barin Ghosh got a little reprieve after a while. Because of his conduct and health, he was given duty in the jail library. And what would he do there? He would smuggle the official letterhead of the jailer or the librarian, and send letters about the condition in Andaman to people in the mainland. Obviously because those were in the official letterhead, they were not censored, and the letters were allowed to go. That’s how people came to know what the condition there is.
Those who want to degrade or have an agenda will say Savarkar had written amnesty pleas. Those who want to look at the other side will say that this actually generated a huge public opinion in the country that the prisoners were treated poorly, like criminals. So it all depends on how you look at it.
Even I believe that from 1911 to 1937, Savarkar was either incarcerated, under rigorous imprisonment, under observation, or under house arrest. I have not done a very detailed study, but this is my broad knowledge on this matter. From 1911 to 1937- 38, you show me one more leader who underwent all this.
A collaborationist would not have his movement restricted. You read CP Joshi’s letter that he wrote to the Home member of the Viceroy’s council during 1942. The communist leaders are complaining, “Our such and such leader was arrested from this district in Bengal, where he was involved in anti-sabotage work.” What did anti-sabotage work mean in 1942? During the Quit India Movement, “anti-sabotage-work” meant to sabotage the the Movement.
Let there be some kind of debate and discussion on this. You will hardly see any historian or institution publishing books on these things. Arun Shourie did one, and Sitaram Goel has done work on it, that’s it.
But regarding communists, can you pass off your trade union activities as participation in the freedom movement? Obviously not.
SB: So what needs to be done, in the way history as a subject has been taught till now? Do we need to review all that which historians like Satish Chandra, Bipin Chandra, RC Sharma, DN Jha, and Romila Thapar have written? And what about the work of someone like RC Majumdar, someone who could not flourish?
Dr Ganguly: They actually laugh at RC Majumdar. If you talk to Irfan Habib in any debate, the first thing he will say is, “Why are you talking? You are not a historian.” You know, it’s like that. That is their approach. They are actually extremely intolerant to any kind of alternative approach or dissent to the line that they have already provided.
And Irfan Habib is the card-carrying member of the Communist Party of India. He is writing letters to the politburo, saying that you should have collaborations with Congress, etc. That is politics. But if you are a communist or a Marxist, you are allowed the freedom to be a card-carrying member of the Communist Party and yet be passed off as a historian.
But if you are a RSS person, or even if you are not a RSS person but someone who does not toe the Marxist feeding of Indian history, you are passed off as an ideologue. You are not a historian but an ideologue.
The nomenclature of ideologue is applied to these other people because, throughout their life, they have peddled the Marxist view, the communist line of history. They have not allowed other points of view of Indian history to rise. I call this an academic apartheid. They have monopolised the writing of Indian history textbooks, and that too very mediocre writing.
SB: That leads me to another question. There are people who believe you, but they also ask why the current government is erecting a statue of Patel and not a statue of somebody like Bhagat Singh, or Savarkar, or even Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee. Why is this government also embracing the old Congress stalwarts?
Dr Ganguly: Yes. Let this government be there for some more time. They will, I am sure, do these things. You know that Aurangzeb Road, today which is Abdul Kalam Road, used to be Patel’s residence. Why has that not been turned into a memorial?
Patel was particularly attached to that house. It is from that house that he did his work, like the integration of Indian States and uniting them. Why, in the last 60-plus years since Patel has died, has that house not been converted into a Sardar Patel Memorial Museum and Library? There was a proposal during the previous NDA’s time, but it could not materialise because the government in any case fell, and even after that for 10 years, there was a Congress government who never did it.
So that is what I am saying, Congress post-Patel – actually post-Patel, after Purushottam Das Tandon was eased out, JB Kripalani got disillusioned, Rajgopalchari left – from 1950 to 1964, you see the people who fell out from the Congress, the who’s who.
So, gradually, the Congress degenerated into a one-leader party. Then it degenerated into a one-family party. So this is the larger question. Why was Patel himself marginalised by the Congress? Why was Maniben (Sardar Patel’s daughter) treated so shabbily? If you read Verghese Kurien’s autobiography, he says that after Patel’s death, Maniben went and met Jawaharlal Nehru, and said that, because Patel used to handle the AICC funds and she used to help him keep the records, she went and gave the entire amount and records to Nehru.
Kurien writes that Nehru did not even ask how she would manage after Sardar was gone. Maniben came back to her bungalow, packed, and left Delhi. They did not stay back to perpetuate a legacy.
These are the leaders that Congress should have actually celebrated but did not. Somebody has to celebrate them as they were nationalist. We do not believe in “intellectual untouchability.” We celebrate Patel because Patel was a nationalist. Congress cannot do that, and that is why I say Rahul Gandhi has no idea about Gandhi, no idea about Savarkar and no idea about Patel. I am not sure whether he even has any idea about himself.
SB: Now the final question, which is not really a question related to history. Why don’t we see Right-wing intellectuals on TV who are able to put forward the Right’s point of view more convincingly, more attractively? Why is that people, in general, still believe that all that the Right wing stands for is about trying to suppress the minorities and putting women back in 11-yard saris?
Dr Ganguly: These are stereotypes that have been created by the communists and the Leftists. They have dominated the publishing space, and they have dominated TV space all these years. They have created these stereotypes. One has to just gradually work over and get over these stereotypes because most of these stereotypes are false, in any case. For example, they could not digest the fact that Amit Shah could go to the Nehru Memorial Library and deliver a near-academic speech on Syama Prasad Mookerjee. They thought he doesn’t fit into their stereotype. They think he should be an aggressive type, looking for violence, etc.
SB: But, you see, we find on TV debates, most of the time, the same old faces.
Dr Ganguly: Things take time to develop. Actually, they (Right) found no space. TV channels never used to call people with an alternative point of view. If they used to call them, they would make it one against 10. So our people also need that forum and platform to gradually prepare themselves, but it certainly is not a case of lack of intellect at any level. You see all the publishing firms the Left has been controlling; that still remains the case even today. If you want a leading publishing house to publish a book of yours, they will ask you for “X” lakhs to publish their work while they or their affiliates would publish anything that Romila Thapar or AG Noorani would write. They won’t ask them for money.
Publication houses have tried to block our authors from getting published. I know the effort that the Vivekananda International Foundation had to put in to publish its history volumes. These people (Left-leaning Press) constantly tried to block it from other publishers. But since Dilip Chakrabarti was the editor of the Foundation’s volumes and they couldn’t challenge him openly – because he is such a veteran historian – they challenged him from the inside. They have blocked all avenues. And then they say we have no intellectual output.
Give us 10 years and then you will see intellectual output. If these Leftists did not have Nurul Hasan, where would they have been? He gave all the institutions to them, and then they nurtured each other and grew up and became dominant and eminent historians. So give us some time.