The Prime Minister’s holy dip in the Ganga is no longer a private affair,but a state event reported on the media with plenty of fanfare.Twelve Chief Ministers from states have been called in to follow his lead.Like an emperor commanding his satraps to demonstrate their loyalty to him by taking subsidiary parts in the sacred ablutions.
This is in stark contrast with the example of the first Prime Minister who scrupulously avoided all public religious observances.Thus it decisively marks the end of an epoch which maintained the constitutional commitment to secularism.When such sacred purifying dips into the Ganga have support from the opposition camp the religious transformation of the functions of the state receive unwitting sanction.
A camp-follower has hailed the event with the claim that the building of the Ram temple is a much more historic event than even the winning of independence after two centuries of systematic colonial oppression and exploitation.
Implications of such events and pronouncements are not hard to perceive.The core meaning of independence is altered drastically to suit a quite different narrative about the nation’s identity and history.The various Muslim dynasties had not destroyed the economy of the country,but rather added to the productive forces of the country in areas under their control.They built canals for irrigation,imported craftsmen and crafts,founded cities where various crafts and craftsmen flourished.India dominated trade with the West with exports far outstripping imports in terms of quantity and value.This trend helped generate greater economic and ideological freedom,in fact promoting radical ideas like those of Sant Kabir and Dadoo in their rapid expansion to remote regions.There was a marked increase in exchange and assimilation of each other’s ideas and values between two major religions at the level of the common people leading to rise of various popular sects committed to a liberal and humane approach to religion above orthodox dogmas.Caste boundaries melted and the tyranny of custom set aside.
These trends are richly documented in the works of dedicated scholars like Kshiti Mohan Sen and Hazari Prasad Dwivedi.
Colonialism set itself to undoing all this work.First it looted the produce of the country at a paltry price, systematically set about ruining the productive and prosperous cottage industries to force India to depend on British manufactures,thus also drove India’s working population to penury and increased the pressure on land exponentially. Besides it set about systematically forcing on Indians predominantly Hindu and Muslim identities to its own political gain and their political disadvantage.The communal conflagration culminating in Partition of the country were the results of calculated policy over time.The reinforcing of orthodoxy also indirectly led to congealing of caste structure and extinction of liberatory forces arising out of the ground.
This current alteration of the course of Indian history in a predominantly religious direction completely erases the diabolical traces of the colonial power’s ‘work in India’ and turns the focus on alleged atrocities of Muslim rulers,with cartloads of manufactured facts.This is not to paint them all as benevolent humanitarians,but even as feudal rulers battening on seizing part of the produce of farmers and craftsmen they were canny enough to realise that they will impoverish their subjects to their own peril.
The colonial power on the other hand felt no such compulsion but relentlessly increased exploitation resulting in general pauperization and occasional outbreaks of famines.
Colonial historians naturally did not want this truth to come to light and hence strove without respite to paint the entire period of Muslim rulers as marked by blind bigotry,persistent atrocities on non-Muslim masses and rampant misrule.
The Hindutva ideologues borrowed their core ideas from such colonial sources and turned away their focus on colonial powers as the root of India’s troubles and concentrated on the colonial version of India’s misfortunes.
Thus the attempt to re-cast the state in a Hindu mould not only deliberately misreads the history of the country,but also erases the memory of the fatal role of colonialism in the steep decline of the country.Whether this contrives to divert attention from neo-colonial strangulation of the country’s people is matter for further investigations.But it certainly aims at demonising and driving berserk religious minorities of the country.
The creation of the image of the ruler as embodiment of piety and magical power is far from an innocent exercise.
Hiren Gohain is a political commentator