Saturday, May 2, 2009

Importance of History and Heritage in Indian Politics

There has been a furore against BJP’s manifesto that has spoken much about the history and heritage of India. Though I don’t accept everything that Murali Manohar Joshi, supposedly the main person behind the preamble of the manifesto, says or does. But I was taken aback by the sort of response and reaction, especially from the media, that it evoked. As if it’s a crime to feel proud of my own past and culture. 

Before I say anything in defence of taking pride in cultural and heritage let me quote something interesting.

Jawaharlal Nehru’s three classics – Glimpses of World History, An Autobiography and The Discovery of India – remain essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand the ideas and personalities that have shaped India through ages, and moulded the character and special genius of her people.... through them runs the common thread of Pandit Nehru’s own vision and ideals – his passionate commitment to democracy and social justice,... and his exuberant celebration of India’s pluralistic culture....”.

I don’t think there’s anything special about these comments about the importance of history and the past of any country to understand her and her people better. What we’re now is always the manifestation of an evolution of ages of traditions, believes, education and culture.  The “exuberant celebration of India’s pluralistic culture” is something that hasn’t only shaped the vision and ideals of Nehru, but has been the source of inspiration of almost each Indian, greater or smaller in any field. History has provided the basic foundation of many successful ideas and ideologies in all countries. Gandhi’s nonviolence is not a theory out of blue. It’s what Ashoka or Akbar had also tried and applied very successfully and became the two greatest emperors of India. Gandhi became the third one to make the best use of a theory which existed even before Ashoka or Buddha understood the importance of nonviolence.  Had Gandhi not been an adept reader of Indian history he won’t have become the Mahatma.

Cutting short the importance of history and past, let me go back to the quotation I’ve used just now. That’s actually Sonia Gandhi’s - in the foreward for the 2004 edition of Discovery of India published by Penguin.  The Discovery of India is perhaps one of the best books about Indian history. Sonia Gandhi accepts very correctly that it’s essential to read these books if anyone wants to know about India, her people and her culture. Isn’t that exactly what the preamble of BJP’s manifesto also says? So why so much fuss about it?

The sad thing is that a part of the intelligentsia and media have made anything related to India’s past a taboo. As if it’s foolish to look back and take pride in things of past. That’s perhaps the case only in India. That’s also the reason why Indian’s are the least proud of their own country.

I always feel elated when I see how much pride an average American takes in his or her own country or heritage despite the fact that they don’t have any past beyond 300 years. Romans and Greeks and even the Persians take so much pride in their past. It’s this pride that instils confidence and self esteem among people and history bears testimony to the fact that only nations with undeterred confidence and high self esteem prosper.

It’s the tremendous self esteem, confidence and pride in his own country and heritage that inspired Swami Vivekananda to go to the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893 and represent India before the world. He had pointed out to the world, Three religions now stand in the world which have come down to us from time prehistoric Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and Judaism. They have all received tremendous shocks and all of them prove by their survival their internal strength. But while Judaism failed to absorb Christianity and was driven out of its place of birth by its all-conquering daughter, and a handful of Parsees is all that remains to tell the tale of their grand religion, sect after sect arose in India and seemed to shake the religion of the Vedas to its very foundations, but like the waters of the seashore in a tremendous earthquake it receded only for a while, only to return in an all-absorbing flood, a thousand times more vigorous, and when the tumult of the rush was over, these sects were all sucked in, absorbed, and assimilated into the immense body of the mother faith.”

It’s indeed a matter of pride to possess the body of an Indian that has “sucked in, absorbed and assimilated” “sect after sect” that arose in India. Here again it’s the all inclusiveness of Indian culture that stands aside. The people who are into the present day politics of appeasement, castes and regions and want to create a number of exclusive and fragmented Indias – one for the Muslims, one for the Dalits, one for the Tamils, one for the OBCs, one for the SCs, one for the STs and so on -  are the ones who perhaps haven’t read much about India’s past and don’t take pride in her cultural heritage. The point when we start taking pride in our past, we’ll also become confident like the Americans, the English, the Frenchs, the Italians and many others – who have made better progress than us.

Did you notice that it’s only in the past ten or fifteen years that India has again started making a mark in the world? And it’s no coincidence that it’s also in the recent years that Indians have again started taking pride in their culture and past. In eighties any young Indian would have always cursed of being an Indian. But same the youth of today rarely curse India. Many people who had left India for better pastures then have already come back in the recent years back to India. It’s not only greater opportunities that have brought all of them back. But it’s also because of the fact that they have also started taking pride in India.

It’ a matter of fact that till 1700 India and China used to be the greatest two economies of the world, contributing to more than 40% of world GDP. Till that time India used to be a prosperous and proud nation. The only thing that the Britishers broke was not the economy, but the self respect and the pride that had driven India to prosperity for thousands of years in the past. All that Gandhi, Tagore or Vivekananda or Tilak and many others wanted to achieve was to revive the lost pride among Indians. Otherwise why would all of them write and speak so much about India’s glorious past. We’re again in the fast track of progress because we’re again proud of our country.

Few notes of Murali Manohar Joshi might be a bit off tune at some places, but that doesn’t mean that the entire symphony is bad. It’s ridiculous to turn a deaf ear to it. It would be really sad if we do that. It would be the greatest irony for India and we would again go back to the dark ages of the British Rule.

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