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Poison pen: Attempt to rewrite India's history is dangerous

The destruction of historical files by the BJP may have been to erase the RSS’s role in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, writes Sitaram Yechury.

columns Updated: Jul 15, 2014 02:13 IST
Sitaram Yechury

This column is being filed soon after a debate in the Rajya Sabha where a suo moto statement was made by the Union home minister, concerning the destruction of historical files. Based on media reports, the issue was first raised on July 9 and on that occasion, the Union law minister, on behalf of the government, had said the following on record: “This whole allegation against the honourable prime minister is completely wrong; I deny it completely and emphatically. That is all the position of the government”.

Subsequently, the Union home minister made a statement which inter alia said: “In accordance with the instructions mentioned above (from the prime minister), the files lying in the different sections of the ministry of home affairs were reviewed and a total of 11,100 files were destroyed during the period 05.06,2014 to 08.07.2014.” This apparent contradiction is tantamount to misleading Parliament and would, surely, merit the consideration of a privilege motion.


Now, consider the facts: On June 23, the PTI filed a report informing that, “On the direction of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Union home ministry is on a cleanliness drive and, in less than a month, has destroyed nearly 1.5 lakh files …”. It further noted, “While going through the steel almirahs of North Block, officials also found some interesting files which gave an insight into some historic moments”. Among many interesting such moments was, “Another file (which had) details about the Cabinet meeting that was called before the death of Mahatma Gandhi was announced, an official said”.

Those who recollect history will remember that the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi had shocked the nation. A benumbed political leadership and the government were at a loss as to how this news must be announced to the people of the country and to the world. The then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru called a Cabinet meeting to decide on this matter. After deliberations, it was decided that the prime minister himself will announce the tragic news of the assassination in an address to the nation through the All India Radio. That was the famous speech that is remembered by all subsequent generations till date — a speech that began, “A light has gone out from our lives…”.

Barring the BJP, the entire Parliament rose demanding to know the truth from the government. Though the government denied this particular news report, it was clear that there remain very strong apprehensions that this BJP-led NDA government of Narendra Modi has begun its tenure by seriously attempting to rewrite Indian history.

Apart from trying to erase from official record, any evidence pertaining to the role of the RSS or its members, both active and former then, in Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, the current efforts are a clear attempt by the RSS/BJP to advance its ideological political project of converting the secular-democratic character of the Indian Republic into the RSS vision of a rabidly intolerant fascistic ‘Hindu Rashtra’. This RSS project was defeated during the freedom struggle when independent India established itself as a constitutional Republic on the foundations of secularism and democracy.

This, however, has never prevented the RSS from continuing to pursue its efforts to metamorphose the modern Indian Republic into its vision of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’.

Having won a clear majority in the general elections, albeit with a minority 31% support of votes polled, the RSS/BJP see the best possibility they ever had to advance their project to metamorphose the Indian Republic into a Hindu Rashtra. The earlier BJP-led NDA government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee suffered from coalition compulsions that forced it to put its hardcore Hindutva agenda on the backburner.

The pursuit of this objective, among others like sharpening communal polarisation, requires a major re-writing of history. Media reports (History books might change again: BJP, Hindustan Times, June 24) that a former BJP president spoke of changing textbook syllabi, when they come to power at the Centre: “We tried to do this earlier too and will try it again”. Now they see the opportunity to return to the RSS basics.

It is necessary to recollect that, on the basis of the decisions taken at that very Cabinet meeting whose records, we are now informed, have been destroyed, Vallabhbhai Patel, then home and deputy prime minister, banned the RSS following the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. A government communiqué dated February 4, 1948, drafted by Patel, announcing the ban on the RSS says, “The objectionable and harmful activities of the Sangh have, however, continued unabated and the cult of violence sponsored and inspired by the activities of the Sangh has claimed many victims. The latest and the most precious to fall was Gandhiji himself”. It is, indeed, an irony that the Union finance minister in his budget speech has allocated a sum of `200 crore for the construction of a statue of this very same Sardar Patel.

It is this historical record of the RSS and its today’s political arm, the BJP, which is sought to be destroyed by the Modi government. This is part of the overall project of rewriting Indian history in order to negate its rich diversity of intermingling of various cultures, traditions and experiences that have defined the lands of India as the churning crucible of human civilisational advance. It is part of the overall objective to straightjacket Indian history into a monolithic record of the glorification of the ‘Hindu nation’ and ‘Hindus’ alone.

Such an effort will necessarily have as its immediate corollary the danger of changing our entire education system and syllabi to dovetail the advancement of the RSS project. One among its many diabolical bugles, thus, has been sounded. It is time to defend our great country and further enrich the ‘idea of India’.

Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP

The views expressed by the author are personal