History and Nation-Making
Book: Indian Nationalism versus Hindu Nationalism: Politics of the RSS Combine
Author: Ram Puniyani
Publisher: Pharos Media, New Delhi (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Price: Rs. 250
V. Krishna Ananth
In a seminal lecture delivered sometimes in 1970 at the Syracuse University, Amilcar Cabral stressed the importance of history in the making of a nation. Cabral’s concern was the need to reclaim the past and the traditions of the African people, ravaged by Western European colonialism as an integral part of decolonization. Cabral’s project was in the same lines as that of Frantz Fanon, Albert Memmi and others who stressed on the need to decolonize the minds of the colonized people as an imperative for national liberation.
Ram Puniyani’s recent work, which is a revised and expanded version of his earlier work titled “Fascism of Sangh Parivar” is indeed one that belongs to the league of studies that seek to reiterate the importance of history as well as the pressing need in our times to save history from the hands of the negationist school (the followers of the likes of Konrad Elst). That this school is now blessed with resources at the disposal of the State and a wide section of the media has turned into their handmaiden is a reality that calls for concerted attempts on the part of those who care for the democratic foundations of our nation. Puniyani certainly should be counted among these and the book under review is indeed a need of the times.
The concept of nationalism had assumed a lot of importance in the political discourse in the past two decades. LK Advani, who had emerged as the prime spokesperson of the Bharathiya Janata Party in the late 1980s (riding the Rath Yatra and thus placing the Ayodhya dispute on the centrestage of the nation’s politics) did not shy away from declaring that the struggle he led was between two approaches to nationalism; and that he represented the idea of cultural nationalism. He also went on to declare Mohammed Ali Jinnah a nationalist as much as he was. Many did not realize that Advani was only seeking to place himself on the pedestal of Indian Nationalism as did Jinnah of Pakistan. In other words, the point was that Advani was conscious that it was imperative for his version of nationalism - cultural nationalism - to seek common ground with Jinnah! It is another matter that the Sangh dumped Advani soon after and elevated his charioteer to the helm.
This is where the idea of history as a weapon, to borrow from the title of Cabral’s lecture, assumes significance. That the Indian Nation was a historical reality achieved through a conscious process involving not only the task of reclaiming the past in its cultural sense but also reworking that internalizing the ideal of democracy and the concept of citizenship and sovereignty is a fact that needs emphasis. The crucible in this was the struggle for freedom from colonialism. In other words, the struggle for independence manifested several tendencies involving the social, economic and political dimensions of modernity and even while these tendencies had continuously entered into relations of conflict and unity at the same time, the process was overdetermined by the conflict between the soio-economic groups that were ethnically Indian but ideologically pro-British.
Puniyani’s work is an account of these conflicts and the distinct role of the RSS, since its inception, vis-à-vis the rising tide of nationalism spearheaded by the Indian National Congress. While most of these have been dealt with in works on the nationalist struggle in yesteryears, the fact that the nation today is once again confronted by concerted attempts to deny the democratic foundations of this struggle and thus a rewriting of history to represent the idea of India as merely a cultural notion rooted in the Hindutva context makes such a work necessary as well as a weapon in the struggle for democracy and the centrality of secularism in this trajectory.
Having said this, the author could have taken a little more care in terms of references to historical documents and taken the rigours of historical research a little more seriously. And some more care in the production process will have ensured less errors of typographic nature. Notwithstanding these, Puniyani’s latest work is an important addition to those who agree with Cabral that History is a Weapon.
The reviewer is associate professor in the department of history, Sikkim University, Gangtok.