Mr.Daniyal History is an academic discipline: flippancy won’t do

On 28 October, Shoaib Daniyal wrote a report on titled Meet the icons of India’s refurbished history: Mukherjee, Upadhyaya, Malaviya. After reading the piece, one would be left with the feeling that a massive revisionist project is about to be undertaken to alter the course of Indian history. This sort of alarmist, dire predictions are nothing new. Such predictions were made during NDA-1 and they are merely being revived this time, too. Anyhow let’s take a look at this extract from Shoaib’s piece:

When well-meaning people protest that history has been politicised, it’s a bit like complaining about water being wet. Nineteenth-century ideals of positivism – that history is an objective science – seem to still be extremely popular. Yet there is nothing objective about the writing of history: subjectivity in interpreting facts is a necessary part of the discipline.

I agree with that assertion but in parts, because as far as I’ve learned, a sincere historian will present the past after in-depth, well-rounded research of reliable primary sources and will subject his/her own work to critical scrutiny. Most importantly, a historian should stay faithful to these sources till they are found to be erroneous in the light of more decisive evidence.

Secular historians never complain about what Mr. Daniyal identifies as ‘parting gifts’

However, if a historian only stops at presentation and that presentation itself is based on the writer’s selective interpretation even of reliable sources, it becomes anything but history. And this is an accurate description of Indian History writing for the most part since Independence. The very fact that there exists a term called “Marxist Historians,” and that they have had a free run for nearly 50 years is a cruel joke both on India and history.  Mr. Daniyal evidently displays how he and thousands of Indians read their own past:

The internet is packed with rants about roads named after Mughals and other Muslim rulers, but the fact is that the chosen nomenclature in independent India has scrupulously avoided medieval Muslim monarchs: Aurangzeb Road, Akbar Road and so on are parting gifts bequeathed by the British builders of Lutyens’ Delhi…. British historians first communalised medieval Indian history, categorising eras as “Hindu” and “Muslim”…..

It is curious that while most of Indian Left-liberals accuse the British of communalizing Indian history, they never complain about what Mr. Daniyal identifies as ‘parting gifts’that is, the naming of roads after medieval Muslim monarchs. In most cases the eminent historians of India try to negate the horrors of the prolonged period of medieval Muslim rule over India and try to whitewash it as a time of multiethnic bonhomie with some minor hostilities here and there. Now let us see what one “communal” historian has to say regarding the same medieval period in India:

These Muslim invasions were not undertaken merely out of lust for loot or conquest….there is no doubt that striking a blow at the idolatry and polytheism of Hindus and establishing Islam in India was also one of the aims of this expedition……These invasions of India by Muslims were as much invasions of India as they were wars among the Muslims themselves. This fact has remained hidden because the invaders are all lumped together as Muslims without distinction. But as a matter of fact, they were Tartars, Afghans and Mongols. Muhammad of Ghazni was a Tartar, Mahommed of Ghori was an Afghan, Taimur was a Mongol, Babar was a Tartar, while Nadirshah and Ahmadshah Abdalli were Afghans. In invading India, the Afghan was out to destroy the Tartar and the Mongol was out to destroy the Tartar as well as the Afghan. They were not a loving family cemented by the feeling of Islamic brotherhood. They were deadly rivals of one another and their wars were often wars of mutual extermination.

What is, however, important to bear in mind is that with all their internecine conflicts they were all united by one common objective and that was to destroy the Hindu faith….. Not infrequently, the slaughter of the Hindus gave a great setback to the indigenous culture of the Hindus, as in the conquest of Bihar by Muhammad Bakhtyar Khilji. When he took Nuddea (Bihar) the Tabaquat-i-Nasiri informs us that: ” great plunder fell into the hands of the victors. Most of the inhabitants were Brahmins with shaven heads. They were put to death. Large number of books were found……….

Mr. Daniyal, this communal historian is the reputed Babasaheb Ambedkar, who as far as I remember was not linked to the Hindu Mahasabha or the Sangh Parivar in any manner. Secularists like Mr. Daniyal who are fond of using Ambedkar as some kind of crusader against Hindu nationalism conveniently conceal these writings penned by him. While the eminent secularists sing paeans to the Mughal rule this is what Babasaheb wrote:

Even in the reign of Shah Jahan, we read of the destruction of the temples that the Hindus had started to rebuild, and the account of this direct attack on the piety of the Hindus is thus solemnly recorded in the Badshah-namah :

” It had been brought to the notice of His Majesty, says the historian, that during the late reign (of Akbar) many idol-temples had been begun but remained unfinished at Benares, the great stronghold of infidelity. The infidels were now desirous of completing them. His Majesty, the defender of the faith, gave orders that at Benares and throughout all his dominions in every place all temples that had been begun should be cast down. It was reported from the Province of Allahabad that 76 temples had been destroyed in the district of Benares. “

It was left to Aurangzeb to make a final attempt to overthrow idolatry. The author of ‘ Ma ‘ athir-i-Alamgiri dilates upon his efforts to put down Hindu teaching, and his destruction of temples in the following terms :

” In April, A. D. 1669, Aurangzib learned that in the provinces of Thatta, Multan and Benares, but especially in the latter, foolish Brahmins were in the habit of expounding frivolous books in their schools, and that learners, Muslims as well as Hindus, went there from long distances…. The ‘ Director of the Faith ‘ consequently issued orders to all the governors of provinces to destroy with a willing hand the schools and temples of the infidels; and they were enjoined to put an entire stop to the teaching and practising of idolatrous worship.. …Later it was reported to his religious Majesty that the Government officers had destroyed the temple of Bishnath at Benares. “

One of the most remarkable policies of all Muslim rulers in India was the collection of the poll-tax known as Jizya, from non-Muslim subjects, which in almost all cases were Hindus. The unpleasant effect this tax had on the subjects can be understood by this statement of Fernand Braudel, the French historian:

The levies it had to pay were so crushing that one catastrophic harvest was enough to unleash famines and epidemics capable of killing a million people at a time. Appalling poverty was the constant counterpart of the conquerors’ opulence.

Unlike the eminent historians, Braudel and Ambedkar based their observations after scrutinizing relevant primary texts of the era like Tabaquat-i-Nasiri, Tarikh-i Firishta and Ma ‘ athir-i-Alamgiri. Instead of blaming the British, Mr. Daniyal should take a look at those aforementioned texts.


Now, retelling the correct history of the medieval Muslim rule in India does not mean giving the fringe elements the right of vilifying contemporary Indian Muslims for no reason. However, truth be told. It’ll be instructive to consider how Germany dealt with its Nazi Past. In the words of Avi Primor, the former Israeli ambassador to Germany:

Where in the world has one ever seen a nation that erects memorials to immortalize its own shame? Only the Germans had the bravery and the humility.

Several generations of Germans have been taught the mistakes they committed in the past so that they do not recur. And Germany is a living, contemporary example. If this is the case, is it too much to expect Muslim leaders and scholars to also similarly acknowledge the atrocities of medieval Muslim rule and take a similar vow?

Back to Mr. Shoaib:

The destruction of old icons demands the elevation of new ones. This government’s first Budget had social schemes named after right wing stalwarts such as Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, Deendayal Upadhyaya and Madan Mohan Malaviya. All three are relatively unknown in the popular discourse but hold special significance to the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Hindutva movement.…

Fair or not, Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi and then Indira and Rajiv Gandhi have dominated India’s post-Independence story, and the Congress has tried to cement its rule with help of these icons. With the verdict of May 16, a realignment of the historical stars is on the horizon. Already, the BJP’s chief Twitter intellectual Subramaniam Swamy, never one to miss a chance at medievalism, has called for the books of Nehruvian historians to be “burnt in a bonfire”……“It is important to resize the stature that Nehru enjoys in Indian history,” said Swamy in an op-ed in The Hindu. Slowly the BJP will push its own icons to replace the old Nehruvian ones. This will include fellow ideological travellers such as Vallabhbhai Patel, Madan Malaviya, Dayanand Saraswati and Swami Vivekananda, but will also incorporate leaders as SP Mukherjee and Deendayal Upadhyaya.

Here is an extract from this piece to avoid repeating what I want to say:

While more than 50 per cent of all government schemes are named after the Nehru-Gandhi family, Mukherjee, Upadhyaya and Savarkar are “honoured” by naming one square, one hospital and one portrait respectively. …..While demands to conduct investigations into the suspicious deaths of both Mukherjee and Upadhyaya were flatly refused by Nehru and Indira Gandhi respectively, an attempt was made by Congress leaders to erase Savarkar’s sacrifices from national memory.

Following independence, the crucial exercise of writing the history of the Indian Freedom Struggle was done in a selective manner where only some crusaders, heroes and leaders got the lion’s share of the honor while others were disregarded sometimes wholly, sometimes reduced to a mere footnote. The credit for this should go to a certain sort of scholars for whom the history of the Freedom Struggle starts and ends with the role of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.  And this state of affairs has remained pretty much unchanged even today. This exercise would have been fair if the country’s freedom struggle had been solely initiated and taken forward by Nehru or Gandhi.

It’ll be instructive to consider how Germany dealt with its Nazi Past.

But as we know, the history of the country’s freedom struggle began much before their arrival on the national stage. It is high time we gave an accurate and complete version of the history of the Indian Freedom Struggle as well as the role played by a host of freedom fighters, Indeed, if correct history was taught, the maligned statement that ‘Hindu Nationalists’ had no role in the ‘Freedom Struggle’ would be proven baseless.

aurobindo  malviya

For long, the leftist elites had a monopoly on the forts of intellectual power, and the ‘idea of India’ was regulated by the broad acceptance of the “Nehruvian consensus (sic)” and anything which didn’t fit into this scheme was deemed to be in conflict with the national ethos. Now that the Nehruvian caravan has been sent back to the junkyard of history, it is time we revaluated the true role played by all our national icons during the freedom struggle and gave them their rightful due.