After Maharashtra, UP Government Proposes to Remove the Mughals from History Textbooks
"In a bid to consolidate a singular Hindu identity, the BJP government demonises an enemy – India’s Muslim rulers and the Mughals – and aims to provide an illusion of victory where there is none."
September 18, 2017
After the Maharashtra State Education Board excluded chapters about Muslim rulers in India and Mughals from its history textbooks for classes VII and IX last month, the Uttar Pradesh State Education Board has decided to follow suit by launching a special panel of historians who will “rewrite” history for the students of the state. Deputy Chief Minister Dinesh Sharma, who is also the Minister of Secondary and Higher Education in the BJP-led government of UP, recently claimed that Mughal leaders such as Babur and Aurungzeb “plundered” the nation, harassed people and lacked “Indian values”. Muslim rulers, such as Bahadur Shah Zafar, who served the interest of the nation and started the fight for Independence will, however, be honoured. He further claimed that, unlike these Muslim “invaders”, Indian icons such as Guru Teg Bahadur, Maharana Pratap, and Shivaji continue to remain under-represented in Indian history. Quite unsurprisingly, in one breath he says that we must learn to respect the legacy of “Lord Rama, Krishna, Guru Nanak… Shivaji.” We must study about them and not “invaders”, he advised the audience at the Safaigiri awards of a Delhi-based media house in Lucknow. Sharma’s words are strikingly reminiscent of former education minister of Rajasthan, Kalicharan Saraf’s claim that Akbar was an “outsider”, and it was Maharana Pratap, not Akbar, who won the Battle of Haldighati. Following on the heels of Saraf’s claim, the Vasundhara Raje-led BJP government in Rajasthan had proposed to “rewrite” university history textbooks and hail Maharana Pratap as the winner of the battle.
The Indian Cultural Forum spoke to Professor Irfan Habib regarding the BJP-led state government’s decision to rewrite history, and Professor Habib was categorical that it is not the business of a syllabus to demonstrate either “the glory” or the drawbacks of any historical period. A syllabus cannot be “revised to prove something. It should indicate the results of serious historical research.” Already in Haryana, he added, the setting of the syllabus reflects “the objective of communalising history”. In Maharashtra, history has been reduced to Maratha history, as if the history of Maharashtra can be understood without studying the history of India. Professor Habib also said that it is not just medieval history which is in danger of crude and ahistorical interpretation in the course of setting up a syllabus. When it comes to modern times, the BJP and its allies want to “supplant the figures of the national movement with their non-entities.”
The BJP-led state governments’ proposal to “rewrite” history in this manner is characteristic of historical negationism or denialism. Historian James M. McPherson defines historical negationism as “a consciously falsified or distorted interpretation of the past to serve partisan or ideological purposes in the present.” As a collective, social resource, history plays a major role in shaping a nation and more importantly, a national identity. What the BJP government aims to do is consolidate a singular Hindu identity. In a bid to consolidate a singular Hindu identity, the BJP government demonises an enemy – India’s Muslim rulers and the Mughals – and aims to provide an illusion of victory where there is none. Disturbed by this recent trend of rewriting history, eminent historian Harbans Mukhia says that these claims are not related to history at all. In fact, they are related to the consolidation of a Hindu identity and a Hindu vote bank. This consolidation of a singular identity is what Hitler did, and what white supremacists continue to do even today. If Babur and Aurungzeb “plundered” the country, where did they carry all the loot to, he wonders. “Nadir Shah plundered India, the British plundered India, when did the Mughals plunder India?” he asks.
What overrides this is the transfer of guilt to the Muslims currently living in India. This may be seen as the “payback” logic – the descendants of a particular community have to pay for the deeds of their ancestors.
Notice how Dinesh Sharma inadvertently mythologises history by saying that ours is a legacy of Lord Rama, Krishna and Shivaji. This seamless merging of mythology and history is an old right wing ploy. The same logic was deployed to demolish the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in the year 1992. Writer and activist S P Udayakumar writes, “Having invoked a communal understanding of “national history,” established its validity by back-projecting it onto a popular story, and mobilised their adherents through insidious political manoeuvres, the Hindu communalists have set the stage for the actual enactment of their drama… The name of the drama is Ram Temple.” By invoking the myth of the Ram Temple, the right wing ideologues try to violently replace “national history” with an inviolable popular and public “memory” of the past.
Tired of BJP’s relentless negationism, historian Sunil Kumar says, “I think serious thinkers should not respond to asinine remarks by uneducated people like Sharma. He does not deserve any response.”
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