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Cardinal principles

Cardinal principles

Author: Vijay Kumar Malhotra
Publication: The Hindustan Times
Date: December 14, 2001

Introduction: It is the Congress and the Left who have patronised a cartel of biased historians

The issue of deletion of some select paragraphs from the history texts published by the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) needs to be understood in the context of the desperate struggle for self-preservation by a group of scholars.

For more than 30 years, historians Romila Thapar, Satish Chandra, R.S. Sharma, Bipan Chandra and others enjoyed such great political backing from the Congress establishment that they convinced themselves that they, and they alone, possessed god's gift of the ability to interpret India's past. They operated as a cartel and prevented others from articulating alternative points of view.

This domination crippled the flowering of debate. With the brute force of the State behind them, they steamrolled perceived opponents and, at the same time, tried to indoctrinate impressionable minds of the absoluteness of their wisdom. They perpetuated the foreign master's version of India's history and systematically demolished native truths. Any educationist knows that recalling the contribution of the Sikh Guru who laid down his life in the war against fanaticism, would have been an invaluable additionality in the ongoing war against terrorism. But Satish Chandra would not permit that. Similarly, Jats, undoubtedly one of the bravest communities who symbolised valour and sacrifice, were humiliated to protect a bigot by historian Arjun Dev.

Vir Sanghvi (Talibanising our education, November 25) seems to be the biggest victim of these intellectual pretenders. He has betrayed some typical symptoms. Their game revealed, agenda lost, these historians are clutching to empty rhetoric just as a drowning man grabs a straw. The sloganeering over deletion of some portions from the NCERT texts has nothing to do with history. It's about control. The name of the game is manipulation of the country's unprincipled opposition - the Congress-Left combine - to suit the objective of regaining their domination over institutions of learning that they had dragged to infamy during three decades.

I am tempted to write off Sanghvi's strong words - Taliban, chaddiwallah and lackey - as adolescent outbursts. But, from the point of view of a reader of the Hindustan Times for the past 45 years, a paper I respect for its contribution to the freedom struggle, I feel short-changed.

First, it was not the chaddiwallah, lackey-director of NCERT who conceived the idea of deleting the objectionable portion. It was the Congress government of Delhi which first brought those scandalous lines about Guru Tegh Bahadur to public attention. It was they who got a resolution passed in the Delhi assembly against the reference.

There was a lot of pressure on NCERT and CBSE from representatives of these communities to make amends. They did what they thought best as academicians who respect the structured learning process, whereby the young mind is gradually prepared to accept controversy, internalise difficult truths not in one booster doze at age 11. Let it be clear that not one line has or will ever be removed from graduation or post-graduation history texts or reference books. But school history lessons need restructuring, not for indoctrination of the RSS' ideals, but to give students a wholesome understanding of their heritage.

There is a vast difference between textbooks and reference books. A textbook published by a responsible educational institution has to balance the historian's licence to present cold facts with the sentiments of millions. The NCERT and CBSE are two such institutions empowered to strike this balance. If a government or one of its institutions takes steps against history books published by independent publishers, it would amount to censorship.

This government does not believe in strangulating free expression. A student of history in the BA or MA stage continues to enjoy the freedom to draw reference from such books. Our big historians should know which regime in the past imposed the Emergency when several draconian acts were committed. A Vir Sanghvi in that era would by now have been cooling his heels in Tihar Jail.

The use of the term Taliban is unbelievably inaccurate, rather ridiculous. Can it be true that the editor of the country's biggest newspaper cannot tell the difference between a democratically elected government and a rogue regime which exports terror? If Talibanism is a metaphor for regimentation and mind control, Sanghvi, who accuses the present government, is clearly barking up the wrong tree. If I were to look for a desi Taliban, I would go east - to Kolkata. Here is why. The 'red' government in Kolkata has turned the state's education system on its head. It resisted the Congress regime's New Education Policy in the Eighties. In 1989, it issued a circular (Syl/89/1) in which it identified a large number of 'aushuddho' (impure) historical references and directed their obliteration to suit the Marxist concept of 'objective and rational' approach to the writing of history. More than 50 changes were effected in school texts published in that state over the years.

Till recently, a generation of Bengali students read the Sahaj Path. For more than a century, this simple, structured exposition to Bengali literature and culture was taught in every school of Bengal until 1997. Suddenly, the reds identified it as the root cause of their lack of standing with the Bengali intellectual elite - the Bhadralok. Calling it reactionary, outdated, archaic, they unceremoniously booted out Sahaj Path from the learning process. If I were Sanghvi, I would call up the HT Kolkata correspondent for more details on this.

And if Talibanisation should also be a byword for imposition of dress code, Sanghvi should not fail to ask his Kolkata colleague about Subhankar Chakraborty, present vice-chancellor of Rabindra Bharti University. This was the original Mullah Omar. He banned girl students of his college from wearing salwar kameez in 1993, because the dress, according to him, "revealed the female form and caused excitement". This man was also given a CPI(M) ticket to contest the 1999 Lok Sabha elections.

Excising politically unacceptable matter from textbooks was developed into a fine art in Rajasthan. On June 4, 1999, the state government issued a circular which effected 17 changes. Nobody called it 'interference' then. What was so demeaning about referring to Prithviraj Chauhan as 'Hindupati'? All references to Arthashastra of the great Chanakya were deleted. The sweep was not limited to history books, even texts on economics were expunged. The name of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya was excised from texts in government schools.

The historian who authored that revolting piece on Guru Tegh Bahadur was not half as intellectually honest he claimed to be. Satish Chandra borrowed that infamous line about Guru Tegh Bahadur resorting to "plunder and rapine laying waste the whole province of Punjab" from "official information as given in later Persian sources". This is preposterous, akin to somebody describing Mahatma Gandhi as a 'half naked fakir' just because Winston Churchill called him so. Why did Chandra ignore sources like Jadunath Sarkar, undoubtedly the greatest historian India has ever produced? Sarkar had quoted primary sources - not secondary ones like Chandra - that Guru Tegh Bahadur had encouraged opposition to Aurangzeb's policy of forcible conversion of Hindus to Islam. For this he was arrested, brought to Delhi and tortured for five days. Finding his will impossible to break, the Mughal emperor had the Sikh Guru beheaded.

This fact finds corroboration in the works of J.B. Cunnigham, Archer, McAuliffe, Mohammad Latif, Gopal Singh and Khushwant Singh. It is surprising that Chandra did not find contemporary sources like Parchian Sewadas (1708), the contemporary Udasi, Sir Gur Sobha (1711) of Sainapat, Koer Singh's Gurvilas Patshahi 10 (1751), Bansawalinamah of Kesar Singh Chhibbar (1767) and many others including Guru Gobind Singh's Vachitra Natak unacceptable.

There is no finality about history. It is all about interpretation. This government is committed to transparency and that is why the deletions were done under the full glare of those who felt hurt about it. Some motivated historians may forget the cardinal principles of their profession, but not this government, which is committed to democracy.

Not a single line has been added to the text books. Only a few lines have been deleted, which were repulsive to the sentiments of some significant sections of our society, especially the Sikhs, Jats, Buddhists and Jains. It is unfortunate that such objectionable views of these modern historians were tolerated this long.

It is unfortunate that an enlightened editor like Vir Sanghvi should have attributed motives to NCERT and CBSE for having tried to exterminate the damage done by these self-opinionated individuals. To use terms like Talibanisation so loosely is not doing justice to truth, honesty and integrity.

Let there be balance and fair play. Let there be appreciation of the motives and intents of all concerned. The wrongs must be corrected and the perspectives made clear. Or else, posterity will not forgive us.

(The writer is a senior BJP leader)

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