The National Historical Tradition
The Partition of India which the national leadership conceded in principle in 1947 was a gross violation of the national territorial tradition which had always cherished the whole of Bharatavarsha as a single and indivisible Hindu homeland. But what was still more serious, it was also a flagrant betrayal of the national historical tradition which had never accepted the consolidation of any foreign conquest in any part of Bharatavarsha as a settle fact, final for all time.
Shri H.V. Seshadri has given, at the very start of The Tragic Story of Partition an outline of the well-known national historical tradition - how the Hindus drove out the Macedonian marauders under Alexander after a short and swift struggle; how they first fought and defeated the Saka, Kushana and Huna hordes and finally absorbed these foreigners in the vast fabric of Hindu society and culture; how they resisted the Islamic invaders at every step for several centuries and then rolled back the barbarians by means of a multipronged counter-attack; and how they wrested freedom from British imperialism by a century-long struggle which was cultural or constitutional, revolutionary or non-violent according to the need of the hour.
It is in the context of this national historical tradition that he comments of Pandit Nehru’s famous speech on the midnight of 15 August 1947. He asks in pain and anguish: ‘Did the ‘tryst with destiny’ which our leaders had made long years ago include this crucial twist of history also? Was it a picture of a divided Bharat which had been the cherished vision of our freedom fighters including Pandit Nehru?’
Paralysis at the Time of Partition
The first Prime Minister of an India, which had been partitioned by the residues of Islamic imperialism, was mighty pleased with himself as he picked up some pompous phrases from a foreign tongue and as a captive audience clapped. In his highly romanticized rhetoric, he had time only for a brief and grudging reference to the great tragedy that had engulfed millions of men and women and children in this country, at that very moment.
Mahatma Gandhi was meanwhile busy fighting the flames ignited by his own mistaken policies, and bemoaning the ‘bad behaviour’ of his own people whom he had sold to the butcher without a word of warning. He was soon to stake his life in order to finance the fiend whom he had tried his best to befriend all through his life but who had failed him at every step.
Sardar Patel was the only leader around who could survey the sorry scene with the eyes of a statesman, without wearing glasses borrowed from Soviet Russia, and without invoking the Gita and the Quran in the same breath. He picked up the pieces which had been left loose by an imperial order that was passing away, and welded them into a unity. But he was soon branded as a ‘Hindu communalist’ and an ‘arch reactionary’ by a motley crowd of traitors orchestrated from Moscow.
Another test came slightly later in Jammu and Kashmir which a Hindu prince had managed to save from the Islamic monster in spite of machinations by Mountbatten and British die-hards, and in the face of undisguised hostility from a Soviet stooge masquerading as the Prime Minister of India. But a large part of that precious patrimony was soon surrendered to Islamic imperialism in order to demonstrate India’s ‘democratic’ credentials before an international opinion which wondered for quite some time why India was smitten with such a grave sense of guilt. The rest of the region, which had been saved by a brave soldiery at the cost of so much blood and toil, was handed over to a haughty sheikh who had never hidden his intention of setting up a separate sultanate. The Valley was very soon barred even to the sons of the soil who had to flee from their homes in the Pakistan-occupied parts of Jammu and Kashmir.
No one among the national leadership had the time or the talent to take stock of the situation, see the forces at work in a historical setting, and give a resounding call for a new national resolve - to foil the consolidation of Islamic imperialism in several parts of Bharatavarsha, and to launch another struggle for winning back all our people and every bit of national territory from the stranglehold of a theocratic state that was fast taking shape. The millions of Hindus who had to abandon their ancestral homes in East and West, became refugees at the very dawn of freedom for which they had worked so hard and made so many sacrifices. Their dream of becoming the proud citizens of a country freed from every vestige of foreign imperialism had suddenly turned into a nightmare. Something had gone seriously wrong somewhere.
Degeneration Due to Distorted Vision
Shri Seshadri traces this degeneration of the national vision to a distortion of our history by the British. He says: ‘Under Macaulay’s dispensation our history opened with the chapter ‘The Dark Age’ - which was, in fact, a period of Bharat’s unparalleled achievements in material as well as spiritual fields. Then followed the periods - Hindu, Muslim and British. The intent behind this kind of classification was obvious. The land belonged to those who for that period held the sceptre at Delhi. There were none who could he called the original children of this land, its natural masters. He who wielded the rod to him the country belonged.’1
This version of Indian history had serious ideological implications, Shri Seshadri has spelled them out as follows: ‘It was from now on that under the benign auspices of the British a new nation, a new people had to take shape out of the heterogeneous mass of human beings inhabiting here. That the expression ‘a nation in the making’ freely played on the lips of our English-educated proved with what utter devotion they were lapping up the new homilies.’2 The British masters wanted the ‘natives’ to feel grateful for giving to the latter a sense of history and a notion of nationhood.
The distortion cannot be dismissed as an injury inflicted in the past when the British presided over our education. The distortion is still being dished out by all our educational institutions and is being made progressively more pernicious. The government of an independent India is now concocting a still more mischievous version of Indian history and selling it on a large scale in the name of national integration.3 No one seems to know that the old British version has been radically revised in recent years by the British scholars themselves.
It is true that Hindu society had never written its own history in the modern sense of the subject. It had never searched for archaeological and archival materials to knit together an account of monarchs and ministers or of military generals and civil administrators. We should be grateful to the British and other Western scholars for digging up our past and giving us a lead in writing our history in a modern and more ordered manner.
What we are pointing out is that the Western version of our history was not always objective. Quite often, this version was vitiated by cultural presuppositions and prejudices of which Western scholars had failed to purge themselves. In certain cases, this version was politically motivated as well.
The National Version of Indian History
Hindu society had the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, the Puranas, the Prabandhas, the Mahakavyas, the Gathas, the Kathas, the Khyats and so on, which did succeed in giving it a vision of its own past. The Vedic literature, the Sangama compilations, the Jainagama, the Tripitaka and the sacred literature of other Hindu sects gave some glorious accounts of heroes who had fought and foiled a variety of villains. The mighty men and women who stalked the scene in this sacred literature had drawn spontaneous response from the deepest in human nature.
Nor was Hindu society lacking in a sense of time-series, though it could not boast of an exact chronology couched in terms of reignal years for every ruling prince. The sheet-anchor of this time-series was cycles of kalpas, manvantaras, and chaturyugas succeeding each other in an untold spread of creation and destruction. The Puranas provided some salient signposts in the vastness of this world-process-the various avataras who descended in order to destroy the demons that were desecrating the earth with their dismal deeds. The Jainagama and the Tripitaka told a similar story as a succession of tirthañkaras and buddhas who sought and found the light that could dispel the darkness of ignorance and suffering in every epoch.
This sense of time-series became a little more concise and concrete as the scene shifted to more recent times. The Puranas told the story of Parashurama, Rama Dasharthi, and Krishna Vasudeva in a more detailed manner as these avataras appeared at the end of Satayuga, Treta and Dvapara. With the coming of Kaliyuga in 3102 BC, a count of diverse dynasties was also given, together with the names of kings who succeeded at Ayodhya. Hastinapur, Kashi, Kampilya, Kausambi, Mathura, Mithila and Rajagriha. Finally, with the rise of Magadha to supreme imperial power under the Sisunagas, the Nandas, the Mauryas, the Sungas, the Kanvas, the Andhras and the Guptas, this traditional history acquired a chronology as well.
But what remained significant in all this history was a singular forgetfulness about foreign invasions. The passing episode of a short-lived Iranian inroad was not remembered at all. Nor was the Macedonian adventure except in the word ‘yavana’ which became a common denominator for all perpetrators of adharma. Vikramaditya was more widely known as the founder of an era and as a just ruler than as Sakari who hurled back the Sakas. The Huna was remembered only as a degenerate kshatriya who had fallen from the heroic code of conduct.
Hindus Remembered Only Their Own Heroes
Coming to the period following Islamic invasions, Hindu society did not bother to remember the Arabs, the Ghaznavids, the Ghurids, the Mamluks, the Khaljis, the Tughlaqs, the Sayyads, the Lodis, and the Mughals. But it took pride in Bapa Raval who had humbled the Arabs; in Maharani Nayakidevi of Gujarat and Prithivi Raj Chauhan who had defeated Muhammad Ghuri again and again; in Gora and Badal who had rescued Rana Ratan Singh from the camp of Alauddin Khalji and then laid down their lives in defence of Padmini and her Chittor; in Harihara and Bukka who had founded the Vijayanagar Empire which stood like a rock against Islamic imperialism for more than two centuries; in Rana Sangram Singh who had crossed swords with Babur; in Maharana Pratap who had defied the mightiest Mughal in the midst of great adversity; in Durgadas Rathor who had despised the wrath of Aurangzeb in defence of his right to give refuge to a rebellious Mughal prince; in Chhatrapati Shivaji who devised a new diplomacy and innovated a new art of warfare which finally worsted the most powerful Muslim empire and rolled back the Islamic invasion; in Chhatrasal Bundela and Maharaja Surajmal who revived Hindu rule in the north; in Banda Bairagi who avenged the wrongs done by Muslim despots to Guru Arjun Deva, Guru Tegh Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singh; and in Maharaja Ranjit Singh who liberated the Punjab and the North-West Frontier Province from Islamic stranglehold.
There are many other local legends of heroes and heroines preserved and perpetuated by provincial poets and story-tellers. The one point that predominated in all this poetry and prose was not a sense of grudge and grievance against the enemies who had wronged Hindu society at different occasions, but a sense of pride that Hindu society had faced every enemy with courage and fortitude, and laid him low at last. This tradition of honouring its own heroes and heroines with no heed paid to invaders and wrong-doers had saved Hindu society from bitterness which works like a poison in the soul, and which ultimately makes a society pugnacious and chauvinist. Hindu society had hardly any time to spare from singing the praises of its own great men and women, and from aspiring to mould its children in their inimitable images.
The Western Version of Indian History
The British and other Western historians started by dismissing most of this traditional history as ‘tall tales told by court poets whose first preference was not truth so much as payments made by princes and patrons’. These tales, we were told, had no basis in facts as recorded by the ‘more meticulous’ foreign travellers, and as could be corroborated by archaeological, epigraphical and numismatic evidence in India itself. The Itihasa-Purana which Hindu society had so far cherished as its historical literature was summarily dismissed as mere mythology which no ‘historian worth his salt’ could take seriously. Similarly, the historical literature of later ages was lumped together as bardic braggartism or, at best, as a species of self-consolation on the part of a society which had suffered staggering defeats.
But the most significant part of this ‘painstaking research’ was not so much the frowning at what was regarded as ‘mere fables’ as the promotion of what was affirmed as ‘sober facts’. The results of this ‘research’ were very revealing indeed. Hindu society was informed that its so-called hoary history was nothing more than an unrelieved record of foreign invasions before which this society had always made an abject surrender. The factors which had rendered Hindu society so ‘supine’, were also unravelled, one after another. The ‘puerile priestcraft’ of the Brahmins which was never repudiated, the caste system which was never questioned, the pessimism of the Jains and the Buddhists which always led to lethargy and lack of spirit - all these were put under the microscope and dissected in detail. The only relieving features of this ‘history’ were some pieces of epic poetry, some specimens of sculpture, some mysticism, some philosophy, and some rudimentary science.
The ‘research’ started with the Vedas which Hindu society had never suspected as books of history. The findings in this field were truly formidable. Firstly, it was ‘found’ that the Vedas did not relate to a remote antiquity as Hindu society had fondly believed so far. On the contrary, all ‘available evidence’ led to the ‘incontrovertible’ conclusion that the Vedas were composed around 1200 BC if ‘not much later. Secondly, it was ‘discovered’ that the Vedas did not contain any lofty spiritual lore as Hindu society had been led to believe by the ‘wily Brahmins’. On the contrary, they were compendiums of ‘warlike ballads, sordid sorcery, and abject appeals for wealth and victory made to primitive gods by superstitious poets’. Thirdly, it was ‘deduced’ that the ‘Aryans’ were not autochthonous to India. On the contrary, they were ‘invaders’ from the steppes of Central Asia or the forests of Germany and Scandinavia. Fourthly, it was ‘proved’ that the ‘Aryans’ were not at all the noble characters portrayed in Jain, Buddhist and classical Sanskrit literature. On the contrary, they were ‘blood-thirsty barbarians’ who had ‘massacred’ most of the ‘original inhabitants’ of India - the Dravidians - and ‘driven away’ the rest towards the South. No wonder that Hindu society was swept off its feet by these ‘scientific findings’ and is still searching for a terra firma on which it could stand again.
The further unfoldment of this ‘research’ was still more significant. Hindu society was told that its ‘Aryan ancestors’ had not only destroyed a rich ‘Dravidian civilisation’, glimpses of which can be seen at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro and in the Sangama literature, but had also ‘opened the floodgates’ in the North-West for wave after wave of foreign invaders. The ‘Indian sub-continent’ was soon invaded by the Iranians under Darius, though he could not complete his ‘conquest’ because he had to rush back towards the Western ramparts of his empire which were being battered by the ‘brave Greeks’. Alexander of Macedonia invaded the ‘Indian sub-continent’ soon after. The Cambridge History of India devotes more pages to this ‘Greek invasion’ than it does to any other chapter in Indian history. The ‘triumphal march’ of Alexander’s army is traced almost inch by inch as if an event like that had never taken place in the annals of India, before and after.
The Mauryas under Chandragupta ‘checkmated’ the Greeks for a ‘brief interval’. But the ‘intrepid’ Greeks burst forth again on the Indian scene after the death of Ashoka and could not be stopped by the Sungas in spite of all the ‘boasts’ which Pusyamitra and his progeny have bequeathed to posterity. The Greeks penetrated as far as Pataliputra in the East and Madhyamika in Central India. They were followed by the Sakas and the Kushanas and the Hunas who wrecked every ‘ramshackle empire’ which Hindu society had ‘managed’ to ‘patch up’ in the meanwhile. On the other hand, these invaders founded some ‘famous empires’ of their own and ruled over large parts of India for a long time. The ‘only thing’ that can be said to the ‘credit’ of Hindu society during this ‘dark period’ is that it finally succeeded in ‘enervating’ these ‘robust races’, as also in absorbing them in its own Brahmanical or Buddhist ‘culture’. The ‘descendants’ of these ‘dauntless warriors’ came to be known as Rajputs, Jats, Ahirs and Gujars who still constitute whatever ‘healthy’ elements the ‘decadent’ Hindu society has managed to retain till our own times.
Finally, Hindu society suffered a ‘knock-out blow’ at the hands of the Turks, the Pathans and the Persians, and was reduced to ‘shambles’ from which it has never really recovered. Although these Muslim conquerors ‘domiciled’ themselves in India and built several ‘far-flung empires’, they refused to be taken in by the ‘old tricks’ which Hindu society had played on every earlier conqueror. They despised Hindu religion and culture, destroyed Hindu shrines and scriptures, humiliated Hindu holy men, killed and ate cows, and molested Hindu women on a large scale, without inviting any ‘strong or significant reprisals’ from Hindu society. They struck such ‘terror’ in Hindu hearts as to make every Hindu ‘tremble’ at the very mention of the word ‘Muslim’. Had not the British saviours arrived in the ‘nick of time’, and ‘rescued’ Hindu society from the morass of Muslim tyranny, this society would have ‘gone down the drain of human history’ without leaving a trace.
This was the ‘main current’ of Indian history as told by the British and other Western historians. There were slight variations on the theme, here and there. But, by and large, the burden was that Hindu society had never succeeded in its fight for freedom. In the process, Hindu heroism that fought the Iranians, the Greeks, the Sakas, the Kushanas and the Hunas was reduced to a rearguard action by a people on the retreat. In this perspective, Hindu resistance to Islamic imperialism was reduced to sporadic revolts led by provincial chieftains motivated by petty personal gains. In this context, the counter-attack delivered by Hindu society to defeat and disperse Islamic imperialism was interpreted as an invitation to anarchy. The British could now claim very rightfully that they had inherited India from a decrepit Mughal empire which could not defend itself against ‘Maratha brigandage’ on the one hand, and against modern methods of diplomacy and warfare on the other.
The national fight for freedom against British imperialism had repudiated this Western version of Indian history, and revived the national historical tradition of not tolerating foreign rule in any part of Bharatavarsha. But by the time the battle against British imperialism drew to a close, the Western version had recaptured the imagination of our leaders most of whom had been educated either in England or in ‘native’ schools and colleges whose curriculum had been laid down by the British. They failed to see that the Muslim League represented the revival of Islamic imperialism, and came to regard mounting Muslim demands as merely communal complaints. And they trembled every time the Muslim spokesmen threatened them with ‘terrible consequences’. They did not allow Hindu society to organize itself, and meet Islamic terrorism at every level, ideological as well physical. And they surrendered abjectly before a force which was no more formidable than frenzied Muslim mobs staging street riots.