It is known that acts of omission and commission do not serve the desired purpose. Rather, they only refresh our memory, igniting a fire that becomes difficult to control. History is a reflection of our past and any attempt to change its course or the way it is written can be disastrous. Only recently have the British and the Americans learnt this hard truth. We are soon to follow. The recent controversy is a result of the alleged alteration in class textbooks where it is claimed that Jawaharlal Nehru’s famous speech “Tryst with Destiny” and other references to his role in the freedom movement have been omitted or wiped out completely in the state of Rajasthan. While the ruling government in the state has vehemently denied the charge, it’s time for some introspection on our part. The protest by the Congress party appears to be a farce since they have neither upheld all that Nehru believed in and stood for, nor can they claim that Nehru’s legacy is their exclusive property. As independent India’s first Prime Minister, his legacy belongs to the nation.
Our country, like many other nations across the world, has tried to alter and change the historical narrative. After all, how else do you expect research scholars like us to survive? It’s our bread and butter after all. These acts of omission are not the exclusive preserve or speciality of the current government at the Centre, it has been repeatedly done in the past and that is where the precedence is coming from. But the question is here why this is necessary. One explanation could be to reclaim lost glory. After all, history is replete with such examples. During the Second World War and after it, for a long time, it was claimed that it was the entry of the United States into the War in 1941 that changed the course of the war and led to the defeat of the Axis powers. It was left to the controversial but celebrated Oxford educated British historian A.J.P Taylor to bring to the fore the significant contribution of the Soviet Union in the victory over Hitler’s Germany. Similarly, closer home, it was the celebrated historian Ayesha Jalal who offered a revisionist account of Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s Pakistan scheme, which, she argued, was actually a bargaining counter and that Jinnah never wanted partition. This ignited another debate on who was responsible for the partition of the subcontinent. Similarly, it needs to be understood that Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajendra Prasad, Abul Kalam Azad and many like them fought together during the freedom struggle despite being on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum.
Nehru’s government was said to be secular but the secularism of the Centre did not seep into the provinces or to the town and qasbah level. It was very much a controversial issue for Congressmen at the time.
Acts of omission are not the exclusive preserve or speciality of the current government at the Centre, it has been repeatedly done in the past and that is where the precedence is coming from. The protest by the Congress party appears to be a farce since they have neither upheld all that Nehru believed in, nor can they claim Nehru’s legacy as their exclusive property.
Despite their modern outlook, none could escape the political pressures of the time. Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India vehemently opposed and rejected the Hindu Code Bill as he believed that it would destroy family networks across the country. Abul Kalam Azad could do little to check the Hindi-only policy of the Uttar Pradesh state government even though he was an avowed lover of Urdu. Nehru could do little to check the communal nature of the speeches of Congressmen like P.D. Tandon and G.B. Pant even though they were senior Congress leaders and part of the party that held power at the state and at the Centre. Despite this, to claim that Nehru presided over the most secular government in the history of the subcontinent would be a travesty of justice. For the Congress to claim that Nehru belonged to them is okay, but they must be ready to accept all the baggage he came with. Similarly, if the ruling BJP is making a claim to B.R. Ambedkar and Sardar Patel, they must absorb and practise all that these great men stood for. There is no time for tokenism; this country is too impatient for that. If the Congress claims that the Central government tried to murder democracy through its attempt to dislodge a popularly elected government in Uttarakhand, it needs to accept that it has a precedent and Indira Gandhi’s unilateral dismissal of the government of Kerala should not be forgotten.
This brings us to the question what part of history we can accept or reject. It is an important question especially since that debate on freedom of speech, academic and intellectual freedom is raging across the country in universities, campuses and news channels.
Are we ready to tolerate and accept our historical blunders? It’s for the Congress, the BJP and political outfits to introspect.