Governing India.. Not by the prism of communal politics

taj_big“History is not a pack of tricks we play upon the dead”. The observation by 18th century French historian and philosopher Francois Marie Arout, popular by his non de plume Voltaire, was known for his wit and attacks on the established orthodoxy, then symbolized by the Catholic Church. Voltaire stood for liberal values, free society and civil liberties.

I am recalling Voltaire’s thoughts during the age of Enlightenment since they happen to be relevant to present-day India in the wake of putting the Taj Mahal in the cross hairs of controversial statements by some BJP leaders. Uttar Pradesh’s BJP MLA Sangeet Som has questioned the 17th century architectural marvel’s place in India’s heritage and said history would be “rewritten to erase Mughal emperors from it”. This is absurd, to say the least

As it is, new socio-economic tensions are surfacing at all levels of our society following varied crimes, communal and caste violence and cow vigilantism. Statistics of social and economic realities on the ground are disquieting, notwithstanding the big promises for a better tomorrow held out by the powers-that-be from time to time, including today’s ruling establishment of the BJP-led NDA regime of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The grassroots realities are telling. They spell out the dangerous dimensions of growing intolerance in Indian society.

“If the country is most peace-loving, how could people take to the streets and dulge in reckless violence, even in the name of cow protection? But, who cares for cows? We see them loitering on the streets helping themselves with the rubbish, including plastic bags. There must be something terribly wrong with the way we conduct our governance, political culture and social growth”, a dhoti-clad Gandhian told me the other day regretfully.

K. J. Charles, a Canadian Professor of Economics, once expressed the view that had the country taken the Gandhian vision seriously,  intelligently applying and adopting it, it would not only have brought improvement in the standards of living of the masses but would have also introduced a new and just pattern of economic and social development.

Many Indians think likewise. But in the absence of the requisite political will to go in for hard options, Indian leaders have always looked for shortcuts to catch up with the West. This has led to shortfalls in targets and policies.

Just look at Prime Minister Modi’s ill-conceived measure of notebandi which took into account neither harsh rural realities nor the ordeals ordinary citizens would have to go through. Small wonder, the economic growth has been put in reverse gear, rendering lakhs of workers and youngsters jobless.

The panic button of 2019 has now sent shock waves in the Modi establishment. But the damage has already been done. The people have lost confidence in the fairness of the system as we see big gaps between promises and performance by the ruling class.

The polity in India’s Republic over the past 70 years has indeed plummeted the depth of decadence falling from the heights of Mahatma Gandhi and other leading lights of the nation.

I believe in an objective and honest appraisal of events so that the facts are seen as facts, howsoever bitter, both by the leaders and the led. The fate of the nation cannot be changed by distorted facts and false promises. Nor can the diversionary tactics and illusionary proposition by the New Class of power-puffed leaders  change the course of history. Such persons ought to remember that only the right inputs from the grassroots as well as from history can make a difference to the quality of decision-making processes in a complex polity like ours.

And learning from history is a two-way process: To review the present in the light of the past and learning about the past in the light of the present. Thus, the function of history is to generate a deeper understanding of both past and present through the process of inter-relation between them.

I am against making history a slave of officialdom or the ruling clique’s ornamental outfit. Such official games are self-defeating and counter-productive. I am raising these issues in the light of the latest move by UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s BJP government to drop the Taj Mahal from the government booklet on tourism projects.

Of course, the UP establishment has every right to promote Hindu centres of pilgrimage for tourism. But I feel uncomfortable by the official move to downgrade the 17 century monument of love built during the Mughal period. What is particularly disquieting is the mindset that looks at the historical monument through the prism of Hindutva.

Laxmi Narayan Chaudhary, the minister –in-charge of religious affairs and culture, claimed that the UP step was necessary as the present UP government was “rashtrvadi” (nationalist) and run on “dharm niti” (religious policy). He also wants the Taj Mahal to be “replaced with the Guru Gorakhnath Peeth”.

Why induct religious and nationalism issues in the march of Indian history? History is a mirror that shows our strength as well as weaknesses of the period under reference. And historical monuments have to be seen as a constant reminder of lessons we could learn from history. And lessons can be learnt not by rewriting history or by demolishing or downgrading a structure.

Facts are sacred. They cannot and should not be tampered with. A flawed perspective of history would be disastrous. So would be any emotional responses to it. Emotions blur thinking and create illusions.

We can go nowhere or achieve nothing by rewriting history or seeing it selectively through narrow religious or sectarian angularities. The questions that need to be understood and addressed are: how come a handful of invaders could conquer this country of sub-continental dimensions without any popular resistance?

Why is it that the periods of effervescence in literature followed in the wake of conquerors and with their degeneration, periods akin to the Dark Ages set in? Why is it that the disintegration of every powerful dynasty commenced simultaneously with its attempts to perpetuate its memory in grandiose building projects?

Why is it that, while in other countries the growth of civilization from primitive society to the present-day industrial one has occurred in a spiral fashion, in India it has moved in cycles?

History is the source of inspirations as well as warnings. As a vibrant democracy, we cannot learn from the past by destroying the structures of history or renaming them. The historical structures are constant reminders of how and where we went wrong as people.

We cannot generate nationalism or strengthen Hindu identity by turning the Taj Mahal into “Guru Gorakhnath peeth” or rewriting history to “erase” Mughal emperors from it.. Let the 17th century structure of love remain as it is – as tourists’ love for an expensive wonder in white marble!

The past is as much part of our strength and weakness. It is part of the glorious march of the Indian civilization which has survived in a state of suspended animation, as it were, for thousands of years.

Regrettably, in today’s vote-bank politics, leaders of all shades and opinions, tend to believe only in “quickies”. We have, however, to look beyond and avoid politicizing history by bisecting it into different blocks of communities, religions and castes!

In any case, the Taj Mahal is a symbol of eternal love. It represents a King’s love, and craftsmen’s toil and sweat. Love knows no boundaries or religious and social barriers.It may be the king’s special prerogative, but it is also tourists’ delight, both “swadeshi ” and “videshi ”. Let it not be the victim of whims and fancies of some perverted minds of the ruling clique! The spirit of India and its rich multi-dimensional heritage must not be seen through the peep-hole of communal politics.

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