Did Dina Nath Batra barge into the head office of Penguin India with a bomb in his hand and threaten to blow it up unless the publisher acquiesced to his demand to pulp Wendy Doniger’s book, The Hindus: An Alternative History? No.
He did what an aggrieved citizen in a democracy has a right to do. He approached the court with his objections and won much to the chagrin of his ideological detractors; a coterie with a false sense of entitlement, not used to defeat or having its ideas trashed.
Still smarting from the Doniger debacle these people have embarked on another shrill campaign against Batra in response to the Gujarat School Textbook Board’s endorsing nine of Batra’s books for high school education.
Instead of this hysterical exhibition of animosity, what is needed is a comprehensive level-headed objective analysis of this issue complete with its history.
First, the ‘Dina Nath Batra phenomenon’ is not an isolated quirk or the confabulations of disoriented extremist fringe elements. It is a backlash against the over-hyped demonisation of the nationalist ideology.
It is a travesty of the truth to claim that our educational syllabus till now has been a pristine model of perfection, untainted by any form of ideological subversion.
There are a myriad examples of the ‘secular forces’ indulging in manipulation of syllabi.
In 1969-70 SL Bhyrappa, a noted Kannada writer and academic, was a Reader at NCERT and a member of a committee formed at the behest of the then PM Indira Gandhi whose task was to integrate the nation through education.
When Bhyrappa opposed the deliberate distortions that were to be interjected into education he was sacked.
In 1989 the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education (under the Left rule) issued instructions that “Muslim rule should never attract any criticism. Destruction of temples by Muslim rulers and invaders should not be mentioned.”
If this is not indoctrination, then what is?
However, one set of infractions cannot translate into a justification for the current dispensation to do the same. Nevertheless it highlights the double standards prevalent in the national dialogue and makes the opposition to Batra suspect.
Calling Batra’s works as ‘hokum’ does not make it so and to imbue his books with the superlative power to unilaterally catapult us back to the Stone Age can only be termed as an alarmist tactic specifically enunciated to provoke an exaggerated reaction for maximum advantage rather than a sincere attempt to initiate a sane discussion.
Every idea, however, outlandish has the right to expression with the caveat that it be subject to logical scrutiny leading to its acceptance or rejection. Rather than calling Batra a crazy maverick, one needs to counter him with effective arguments.
Opposing viewpoints need to be countered with logic; not beaten into submission by a sledgehammer of high decibel childish ridicule.
(Vivek Gumaste is a US-based academic and political commentator. The views expressed by the author are personal.)