History, Communal Narratives and Sectarian Politics - Ram Puniyani

History, Communal Narratives and Sectarian Politics - Ram Puniyani

Last few decades have seen the rise of communal politics in India. Similar politics has been dominating Pakistan from a much longer time. This politics draws heavily from history; rather it uses History as the major tool for spreading hate against the ‘other’ community. The target community in Pakistan is Hindus and in India it is Muslims. In these narratives the religion of medieval kings is highlighted in a way to suit the present needs of the sectarian political streams. The signal is that the Muslim kings’ atrocities are reflected on today’s Muslims. The other side of this coin is that Hindus were servile to the Muslim kings, who were majestic. In this presentation the Muslims and Hindus are shown as uniform communities, and selective events are projected to either demonize or glorify the Kings and its reflection on today’s Hindus or Muslims.

In India the narrative which is dominant part of the social thinking is that Muslims Kings did brutal attacks, imposed Muslim rule, destroyed Hindu temples, spread Islam by force and inflicted atrocities on Hindu subjects. The Muslim communal narrative glorifies the Muslim King’s rule as the peak achievement of Islam. In this the Hindus are also presented in the negative light, weak, in this narrative.

While the country is suffering the majoritarian communal onslaught, its propaganda is the most prevalent one; the minuscule Muslim communal forces have also their own articulation. This came to surface when AIMIM’s Shaukat Ali, in a video going viral stated that “Muslims ruled over the country for 832 years, the Hindus were bowing in front of the kings with folded hands and the Muslims also made likes of Jodhabai as the Queen of India!” This statement is typical of the Muslim communal understanding that Muslims ruled over Hindu and also ‘took over’ Hindu women (Jodhabai).

Both these understandings and propagations are part of the communal historiography, which was introduced in India by British to pursue their policy of ‘divide and rule’. They realized that to pursue this policy the major divide which can be created was between Hindus and Muslims, those belonging to the two major religions of India.  Roots of ‘Kings’ Religion’ centric understanding of History began with James Mill’s “History of India’. (1818). This book periodized the Indian History in to Ancient Hindu Period, Medieval Muslim Period and Modern-contemporary period as British Period. Interestingly Mill characterized earlier rulers with religious identity, he did not use the word Christian period for British rule.

This historiography was taken further by eight Volumes ‘History of India as told by its Historians” by Elliot and Dawson. This book picked up from the books of the Courtiers who generally glorified their rulers as being great as they are doing things for their religion. The rule of Kings had power and expansion as the central motive but this version made religion as centre of Kings rule.

This was supplemented by selective presentations, like destruction of temples by Muslim Kings which were highlighted and the destruction of temples by Hindu kings was put under carpet. This underlined the destruction of temples by Muslim kings while keeping silent on donation of Muslim kings to Hindu temples.

The major part which it hid was that most of the administrations of Muslim and Hindu kings were a mixed one. Akbar had Raja Mansingh as his commander in Chief and Birbal and Todarmal were part of his Navratnas. In Shivaji and Aurangzeb conflict Shivaji had many Muslim generals with him while Aurangzeb was represented by Raja Jaisingh.

While the spread of Islam is attributed to the sword of Kings, the core point of people embracing Islam was to escape the tyranny of caste system (as pointed out by Swami Vivekananda) is nowhere to be found in these propagations. Shaukat Ali feels proud that Hindu woman Jodhabai had to be married to a Muslim king. He forgets that this was part of the culture of the time where kings used to marry the daughter/sister of the king with whom they were making political alliances.

The third and the major narrative which prevailed and promoted fraternity can roughly be called as ‘National Historiography’. Many outstanding scholars like Romila Thapar, Harbans Mukhia and Irfan Habib have done brilliant work on that but currently they are being looked down upon for undermining the civilization ethos of India. The popular presentation of this way of History is clearly outlined in the writing of Mahatma Gandhi (Hind Swaraj) and Jawaharlal Nehru (Discovery of India). These narrations focus on the integrative aspects of communities, their social and political interactions.

Gandhi in Hind Swaraj points out “The Hindus flourished under Moslem sovereigns and Moslems under the Hindu. Each party recognized that mutual fighting was suicidal, and that neither party would abandon its religion by force of arms. Both parties, therefore, decided to live in peace. With the English advent; quarrels recommenced… Should we not remember that many Hindus and Mohammedans own the same ancestors and the same blood runs through their veins? Do people become enemies because they change their religion? Is the God of the Mohammedan different from the God of the Hindu? Religions are different roads converging to the same point. What does it matter that we take different roads so long as we reach the same goal? Wherein is the cause of quarreling?”

On Similar lines Nehru in Discovery of India points out “She (India) was like some ancient palimpsest on which layer upon layer of thought and reverie had been inscribed, and yet no succeeding layer had completely hidden or erased what had been written previously… Though outwardly there was diversity and infinite variety among our people, everywhere there was that tremendous impress of oneness, which had held all of us together for ages past, whatever political fate or misfortune befell us.”

While during freedom movement and till much later this ‘Nationalist history’ was the major discourse, it is unfortunate that last three-four decades have seen the rise of communal narratives in a more assertive way. This narrative is the one which crates social divides leading to polarization of communities on the grounds of ‘religious identity’. Where will impact of such sectarian narrations will lead us from the fate which Pakistan suffered, is a foregone conclusion!