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A Critical Enquiry

Dr Romila Thapar (b. November 30, 1931) is an Indian Historian, with her principal area of study being Ancient India, a field in which she is pre-eminent. Well, it has been alleged that she has written the Indian History by distorting facts, because of her close association with the Nehru-Gandhi family. It has been noticed by some that Dr Thapar has highlighted the over-importance of Mahatma Gandhi and Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, while documenting Indian History. In other words, she has given less importance to the roles of other Freedom Fighters, such as Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Rash Behari Bose, in the Indian Freedom Struggle.

In a recent interview, Dr Thapar, a Professor of Ancient History, Emerita, at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, has said that how to bring back old-fashioned Nationalism is a matter of grave concern! Indeed, it is a matter of grave concern, as one would have to go back to the Past in a time machine. Still, this move might not ensure success, mainly because of three reasons, the first of which is the present generation has undergone many fundamental changes in character and form. Again, the concept of Race cannot be confined within the geographical boundaries of a modern State in near future. Finally, the citizen of one State has developed into a Global Citizen.

Dr Romila Thapar

The questions that arise here are: What is True (or Fact) in History, and How should it be judged through the experience of the Present? In fact, the Country, Society and Nation-State have the dire need of a new Judicial System that would be based on History. In Independent India, the wide application of science, technology, and communication confused people, as far as the distinction between religion, caste, race and language were concerned, in the 1990s. People also found it difficult to differentiate between Manual Labour and Intellectual Labour. However, there is also an advantage, as the facts of recent History cannot be easily distorted. Hence, many will believe in seemingly fact-based History from research on this subject. It has become important to know how Capital and Religion continue to help each other in a Modern State.

Dr Thapar has complained that there is not enough resistance against the ideology of Sectarian Pluralism. She is correct in a way, because Sectarian Pluralism is creating a wrong Idealism. For example, Policy is being removed from Economics. An Illusory State is being built by bypassing the main crisis with some short-term financial opportunities. In other words, Sectarian Pluralism is trying to create a momentary illusion for some people.

Dr Thapar wants re-awakening of Discipline in Education System and Civic Sense of the Civil Society, et al. However, it is not so easy because the profit-making Media Sector has already confused the Progressive Thought Process. The Media can no longer be called Mass Media due to their mutual cooperation with the State. Now, the Media have started creating Post-Truth, which generates an amazing illusion. Due to the absence of the ideas of humanity, internationalism, scientific-mind, and environmentalism, the Post-truth has become suicidal. One needs a sense of history to understand this, else, s/he cannot accept a different version of a historical event. If an Idealism is formed on the basis of one’s current situation, there must be protests and resistance. It could trigger a new crisis… Fragmented or Multidimensional Existence or Ethnicity. Unfortunately, the eminent historian did not give her valuable advice on this particular issue!

Dr Thapar recently said: “The desire of many to come together is called Nationalism. Nationalism means an ‘inclusive’ ideology.” She explained: “Indian Nationalism had its roots in the Anti-Colonial Movement when various categories of people from a variety of religions, castes, classes, language groups and regions, came together to demand Independence from the Colonial Power and worked towards achieving it. It was a Movement that was inclusive in the sense that it encouraged all Indians to join in as equals, and it provided a new identity, that of being Indian citizens.” Here, it seems that she has ignored the fact that the meaning of the word Nationalism is not very clear to many. Also, she did not explain the norms of being inclusive.

It is not difficult to understand the Class Division on the basis of Religion. However, the discovery of one’s own ethnicity within geographical boundaries depends on that person’s inherited culture and social circumstances. According to Dr Thapar, the concept of Independent Nation or Nation-State is a recent one! Interestingly, the great Indian Poet and Philosopher Rabindranath Tagore (May 7, 1861 – August 7, 1941) had written: “Nationalism is ‘organised selfishness‘ and the State turns organised selfishness into an Ideal.” (The Idealising of Organised Selfishness) He used to believe that there lies a terrible internal conflict within the State due to (personal and collective) selfishness. In his article Nationalism, Tagore also looked at the Struggle for Independence from a completely different perspective. He wrote: “To build a political miracle upon the quicksand of social slavery.” When the foundation of his faith in Nationalism was shaken, Tagore stated that the Nation, as an ideal of Civilisation, had not yet been tested. He used to consider Nationalism as “a great menace“. Perhaps, Dr Thapar is not much aware of Tagore’s views on Nation and Nationalism, in spite of her proximity to the Gandhi-Nehru Family!

Dr Thapar further mentioned: “We are no longer subjects, we are citizens of a Nation-State”. Really? If this is true, then one would have to read between the lines to analyse the fallacy. In fact, common people can never be completely Free or Independent, as the Ruler controls their Freedom. In India, people are silenced, killed or branded as traitors, if they refuse to follow the ruler’s diktat! However, the State proudly proclaims that Everyone is Free. Noam Chomsky (b. December 7, 1928) once said: “If history has to be written, it should be written about the characters or events, myths or folktales cannot be claimed as history.

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