A History of ‘Tolerance’

A History of ‘Tolerance’

by Surajit Dasgupta - Dec 30, 2015 06:40 PM +05:30 IST
A History of ‘Tolerance’

It is supremely ironical that the Leftists of this country should rake up the issue of intolerance when it is they who institutionalized dogmatism, ostracizing academics who do not swear by their ideology. And of course, they never express outrage when the perpetrator is a Communist or an Islamic State.

A fter the 1967 general elections, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi felt increasingly threatened by Congress leaders much older than her (She was not yet 50). Gandhi’s chosen weapon to stay in power was “socialism”—pro-poor rhetoric, tightening of controls on businesss, and finally bank nationalization.

Matters finally came to a head during the Presidential elections of 1969 when Gandhi openly supported the independent candidate V.V. Giri against the official Congress nominee Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy. Giri won, and the Congress expelled Gandhi. She responded by floating her own party, which came to be known as Congress (R)—R standing for either “requisitionist” or “reform”, according to different versions. A majority of Congress MPs decided to go with Gandhi, but that still left her 45 seats short of a majority. Gandhi turned to the Communist Party of India (CPI), which was happy to support her, given her recent left turn (though for what seems to be completely selfish reasons).

But the Communists also wanted their pound of flesh. Their first target was Education. The openly leftist “historian” Saiyid Nurul Hasan became Union Education Minister in 1971. As a result, Indian historical academia and research were changed dramatically.

Rewriting History

Of course, the British had written versions of Indian history which suited their colonial purposes. But there had been Indian stalwarts like Sir Jadunath Sarkar, Neelakantha Shastri and Ramesh Chandra Majumdar, who produced counter-narratives. The Majumdar-edited Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s (BVB) 11-volume History and Culture of the Indian People, from prehistoric times to 1947, remains, even today, a marvel of research and erudition.

Hasan’s predecessor V.K.R.V. Rao had embarked on a project to translate the BVB series into all Indian languages to make the real story of India reach every Indian. However, Hasan replaced Rao before the project could take off. He, through the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) that he instituted (and staffed entirely with leftist historians), junked the translation project. His cohorts selectively cited instances of caste strife and labour unrest that had transpired in the previous two centuries to gel with Karl Marx’s one-size-fits-all “class conflict” hypothesis and gave the overall narration of Indian history a leftist spin. In a clever move to nip any outrage by non-leftist academics in the bud, they grandiosely called their initiative the “Towards Freedom” project.

Since then, official Indian history, as taught from elementary school to post-graduate level, has been shoehorned into Marxist theory. And if you rebelled against that, the Indian academic establishment had no time or place for you.

To cite only two cases of leftist discrimination, Dr Krishna Sharma and Dr Manana Devahuti faced the height of Marxist demagogues’ intolerance. “Krishna Sharma’s thesis on bhakti did not suit left historians’ view of the movement as an upsurge of ‘lower classes’ against Brahmanical ‘upper classes’. Therefore, she was denied professorship despite being a very insightful historian with a PhD from an American university,” says firebrand intellectual activist Madhu Kishwar, who has been, for the past few months, trying to put in place an institutionalised response to the leftist monopoly in education, law and governance. Kishwar is credible because she was once a leftist herself, aware of their shenanigans inside out.

As the administrator of 75 colleges, the University of Delhi, then dominated by Gandhi’s academic comrades, humiliated Dr Sharma who was teaching at Miranda House College.

Prof Devahuti was treated like a pariah in the same varsity after her return from Australia when she refused to toe the Marxist line in telling the story of India. Prof Devahuti is remembered for her editing of Kishori Saran Lal’s Bias in Indian Historiography. Lal’s History of the Khaljis and Twilight of the Sultanate are regarded as standard works in historical studies. Prominent leftist historian Irfan Habib slammed Lal’s Growth of Muslim Population in Medieval India(1000-1800) in his Economic History of the Delhi Sultanate—An Essay in Interpretation, but respected Belgian Indologist Koenraad Elst found it a good indicator, though not comprehensive. Elst wrote, “More research is needed before we can settle for a quantitatively accurate evaluation of Muslim rule in India, but at least we know for sure that the term ‘crime against humanity’ is not exaggerated.”

Neither Sharma nor Devahuti are alive today to tell their stories, but their contemporaries and students at the levels of MA, MPhil and PhD still recall their plights. The works of Dr Sharma, who had done her PhD under the great Indologist Arthur Llewellyn Basham, was dumped into oblivion and there was no other professor offering an alternative narrative of Indian history in the department.

“She was not allowed to enter the Department of History of Delhi University,” recalls historian Meenakshi Jain, whose Mediaeval India had replaced leftist historian Romila Thapar’s chapters in the NCERT text books during the NDA1 government.

When a researcher does not get funds for a project, he or she has to go look for a job, which, in turn, is controlled by the ICHR. So, if you do not accept what the left-oriented institution says is the past of India, you go penniless. Thus, for more than 40 years, an alternative history has not been allowed to develop.

D.K. Chakrabarti, former professor of history and archaeology at the University of Cambridge, has been quoted by a national newspaper as saying: “Since the coming of this group to power, the world of Indian historical studies has been largely criminalised.” To know how it has been criminal, take the example of Tasneem Ahmad, Irfan Habib’s protégé: he plagiarised Prof Parmatma Saran’s work to obtain a PhD. The ICHR was forced to set up a Fact-Finding Committee which concluded: “The Committee found overwhelming similarity between Professor P. Saran’s translation and Shri Ahmad’s book. The Committee felt that the similarity could not be accidental and the element of plagiarism cannot be ruled out.” Habib wrote the foreword to the copied book; he termed Ahmad’s work “a notable contribution to the National celebration of the 450th anniversary of Akbar’s birth”.

Says Michel Danino, noted Indologist and current member of the ICHR, in an email interview with Swarajya: “As a member of ICHR, I have experienced the left historians’ contemptuous treatment of this institution which they regard as their exclusive baby and cannot bear to see in other hands. You will find hundreds of articles on the internet in which they (1) quoted some of the ICHR chairman’s personal views and happily conflated them with those were ICHR’s official views, and (2) implied or openly charged that ICHR was about to impose on India a ‘legislated history’, of course of a Hindutva kind.

“They never felt under any obligation to supply the least bit of evidence to support the latter charge and never asked for official information (which they could have) about ICHR’s new research projects. In other words, they indulged in gratuitous slander with the support of most of the media. As I have often said, demonization is the last refuge of the intellectually bankrupt—and god knows the leftist historians have always been addicted to the method in view of the short-term ‘high’ it provides (the long term considerably reduces the shelf life of the addicts’ work, but they are least concerned about that aspect).”

Catch ‘Em Young

The indoctrination begins right from school, where the NCERT plays a crucial role. British colonialism had ensured that Indians would always doubt their Indianness through mainstreaming of the myth of Aryan Invasion Theory—now revised to Aryan Migration Theory (which also has been now been more or less disproved). But Marxists since Hasan’s generation have only pushed the fiction further down our throats. As for contemporary history, among other untruths, the Communists have tried to bolster the “transfer of power” theory of the British Empire. There is, instead, so much of talk of class conflicts that the struggle for independence, at best, looks sporadic and scattered. Marginal players like the Kisan Sabha are made to look important in the Marxist story of British India. Meanwhile, the contributions of the Azad Hind Fauz or the 1946 Naval Mutiny are totally ignored.

A History of ‘Tolerance’

Hinduism has had a glorious history of encouraging and assimilating iconoclasts and challengers to priesthood. But Marxist history teaches our children that Buddhism and Jainism were revolts against Brahmins, whereas Sikhism is shown as a distinct religion much before the era of Guru Gobind Singh, though Guru Nanak went about telling Hindus and Muslims alike that they had strayed from the path shown by their original teachings. In fact, the valour of the Sikhs is altogether absent in Marxist history, with a passing mention of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The martyrdom of Guru Teg Bahadur is not even mentioned.

The review committee to study the NCERT curricula upheld and justified the omission. A historian of the cabal, when contacted, said on the condition of anonymity, “We could not have listed this among the omissions and errors of the book. This part of history was deliberately left out because we did not want to create any tension in society.”

There are also cases of conflict of interest. For example, can a Marxist historian be expected to offer a fair commentary of the Quit India Movement where the Communist Party of India had collaborated with the British Raj and worked against the interest of nationalists? It is, of course, another instance of irony that Indira Gandhi’s Congress, in its hunger for power, collaborated with the Communists who had opposed the August 1942 resolution of the AICC, and whose Shripad Amrit Dange, cofouder of the CPI, had rubbished non-violence in his book Gandhi Versus Lenin.

Back to the issue of intolerance. Arun Shourie produced documents of the Communist-British collaboration during 1942 in a series of articles that he later compiled into a book, The Only Fatherland: Communists, Quit India and the Soviet Union. Leftist academics, however, remain in denial about all this evidence. And of course, of the fact that the Communists supported the Chinese during the 1962 war.

The problem now is that of a void of 40-odd years. One, the Modi government does not seem to want to get embroiled in the sort of debate on history that the Vajpayee government had got into by putting Murli Manohar Joshi in the saddle. Two, if you now throw out Marxist history, what do you replace it with? If science education demands constant research and development, history calls for ever-new methods of exploring the past. A rival school of thought has not been allowed to develop for four decades and now even the works of the venerable R.C. Majumdar and Jadunath Sarkar may be outdated. You could perhaps hire unaffiliated Indologists from all over the world, but that does not appear to be among the priorities of the present government.

Selective Outrage

The Anwar El Sadat government of Egypt arrested writer, activist, physician and psychiatrist Nawal El Saadawi in 1981 for publishing a feminist magazine Confrontation. On being released from prison, she wrote, “Danger has been a part of my life ever since I picked up a pen and wrote. Nothing is more perilous than truth in a world that lies.” Indian mainstream historians who do not tire of the Palestinian “cause” never bothered to talk of her plight. Could it be because she had criticized certain prevalent practices in Islamic society?

Chinese writer Liao Yiwu wrote a poem, Massacre, reacting to the 1989 Tiananmen Square military action on protesting students, and his friends recorded his recitations of the poem, which became a film called Requiem. He was arrested in 1990 along with six of his friends and his pregnant wife. Serving a four-year sentence, he suffered so much torture that he had several nervous breakdowns. He attempted suicide twice. When he was finally released, his family as well as friends deserted him for fear of being persecuted by the Chinese State again. Wary of critiquing a Communist government, Communist historians in India did more than stay silent on the case; they justified this act of State terrorism in forums like the JNU campus.

Spôjmaï Ra’Ouf Zariâb, an Afghan writer who worked as a translator at the French Embassy in Kabul under Najibullah’s Afghanistan, fled Afghanistan for France in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed and disintegrated. No Leftist ever demanded that she be provided a safe home in her home country.

Liu Xiaobo (awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010) and hundreds of activists in China were arrested in 2008 for their participation in the issuance of the Charter 08 manifesto drafted along the lines of anti-Soviet Charter 77 drawn up by rebels in Czechoslovakia. Liu was slapped with the charge of “inciting subversion of State power”. During his trial, not only were diplomats from the US, Canada, the UK, Sweden, Australia and New Zealand denied access to him, even his wife was not permitted to meet him. At the trial, he was denied the right to speak. Eventually sentenced to 11 years imprisonment and a two-year-long bar on participation in political activities, Liu never attracted the attention of Leftist historians or activists in India.

There was no Leftist outrage over the persecution of Raif Badawi, activist and creator of the website Free Saudi Liberals. He was charged with apostasy by the state of Saudi Arabia; his and his family’s bank accounts were frozen. In July 2013, he was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for founding an Internet forum that “violates Islamic values and propagates liberal thought”. In May last year, the sentence was increased to 1,000 lashes, 10 years in prison, and a fine of 1 million riyal (equal to about Rs 1,76,70,000).

The passport of Taslima Nasreen was revoked by Bangladesh in 1994 for her writings that the Islamic State viewed as blasphemous (Though she had written for a decade about women’s rights in an Islamic State, what sealed her fate was when she exposed the persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh in her novel Lajja [Shame]). For 10 years thereafter, she lived in exile in different countries in the West. In 2004, she thought that Kolkata, capital of the state that speaks her language Bengali, would embrace her. But her stay in this country was cut short in 2008 when the then CPI(M)-led Left Front government virtually declared her persona non grata. The state government succumbed to the appeal issued two years before this by Syed Noorur Rehaman Barkati, the imam of Kolkata’s Tipu Sultan Mosque, who had offered money to any Muslim who would blacken her face. In March 2007, All India Muslim Personal Board (Jadeed)’s Maulana Tauqeer Raza Khan had offered Rs 5,00,000 for her beheading.

That very year in August, at a function held for the release of the Telugu translation of her novel in Hyderabad, she was attacked by a gang led by All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen’s Mohammed Muqtada Khan, Mohammed Moazzam Khan and Syed Ahmed Pasha Quadri. The militant All India Minority Forum led by a local goon called Idris Ali (now a member of the Trinamool Congress) held the city of Kolkata to ransom in November that year, demanding her ouster. She fled to Jaipur, fearing for her life. An entity no less than the Government of India (UPA) kept her under house arrest in an undisclosed location in Delhi for seven months. While her Indian visa has been extended by the NDA government, she continues to live under threat to her life. Leftist intellectuals might have missed the international instances of Communist and Islamist intolerance. How could they not issue a squeak of a protest against these attacks on freedom of expression at home?

A History of ‘Tolerance’

Has any Leftist intellectual ever protested the way Hindus are treated in Pakistan—they have almost no political or human rights. When, in 2007, Rana Bhagwandas, a Hindu, was sworn in as acting Chief Justice of Pakistan, he had to take his oath of office with a Quranic prayer. As liberal Muslim commentator Tarek Fatah writes in his book The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State: “Imagine what would happen if a Muslim judge in India, the United States, or Canada were forced to take the oath on the Bible or the Bhagavad Gita. You would have ‘outraged’ demonstrators all over the world. Where were these demonstrators when Justice Bhagwandas was humiliated publicly?”

According to one estimate, more than 800 RSS and BJP members were killed in Kerala between 1994 and 2002. Even if this figure is exaggerated, how exaggerated could it be? Twice? Four times? Six times? Even that would be a substantial number of unforgiveable atrocities about which our Leftist public intellectuals have maintained a Sphinx-like silence (For more on systematic second-class-citizen treatment of Hindus in Kerala, turn to page 47).

During the 34-year Left Front rule of West Bengal, countless members of rival political parties were killed by CPI(M) hit squads. The left-liberal-dominated national media rarely bothered to even report these incidents. In the run-up to the 2004 elections, state CPI(M) party boss Biman Basu publicly exhorted party workers to attack Central observers and “teach them a lesson”. No action was taken against him.

Baba Ramdev was invited to deliver the keynote address at the 22nd International Congress of Vedanta at Jawaharlal Nehru University, the last bastion of the Leftists, on December 30. The convention was organized by JNU’s Special Centre for Sankrit Studies, in collaboration with the Centre for Indic Studies, University of Massachusetts, and the Institute of Advanced Sciences, both in Dartmouth. A group of students opposed the invite, calling it a “silent right-wing assault”. The vice-president of the JNU Students Union, who hails from the very Leftist All India Students Association said, “It does not befit the stature of an academic institution like JNU to have persons with such a questionable background to address an academic gathering.” So much for fredom of expression.

P. Rafeeq, who owns a video production studio in Kannur district of Kerala, criticized the use of burqa in a WhatsApp conversation. He is also the administrator of a WhatsApp group called “What is Islam”. Soon after, there were calls to Muslims to boycott his studio and he even got death threats. On December 26, his studio was burnt down and his equipment destroyed. Of course, the tolerance brigade has been mum on both incidents.

The list of Leftist hypocrisy, selective memory, intolerance and sheer brutality is an endless one. But none of these rouses the conscience of our intellectuals’ outrage industry in India—or abroad, for many of these Leftists are happily ensconced in comfortable positions in universities in the US, the country they claim to hate passionately. So when they raise the alarmist red flag of “secularism under threat” over a few stray incidents—when all statistics show that violence related to intolerance has not risen in the last one-and-a-half years, it is laughable. Or rather, it would be laughable if the dangers they pose to India—and the dissemination of plain truth—were not so great.

Surajit Dasgupta is National Affairs Editor, Swarajya.
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