History and controversy seem to go hand in hand in India, especially if some event from the past is sought to be celebrated. Whether it is Netaji’s role, the legacy of other stalwarts of the independence movement or the accession of princely states, very few people agree on the sequence or, indeed, interpretation of events. So it comes as no surprise that the government’s efforts to observe 150 years of the Sepoy Mutiny have run into choppy waters. The government has set up a 60-plus committee headed by the Prime Minister, which has Rs 10 crore at its disposal for the celebrations. Clearly, there are bound to be dissensions among such a large number of people.
The first is regarding the book that was meant to be adopted as the official version of the mutiny. It has been challenged as not being a complete record of all those who took part and died in what is regarded by many as the first war of independence. The committee has taken the easy way out and decided to adopt a number of works on the mutiny instead. That this might cause confusion is another matter. Then, of course, there is the issue of bringing back the body of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last of the Mughal kings from his resting place in Rangoon, now Yangon, in Myanmar. Ever since he went into exile, the poet-ruler’s lasting wish was to be buried in his homeland. Though it seems unlikely that the government in Myanmar will accede to such a request, demands for this surface every now and again, more so now that the mutiny’s 150th anniversary is being observed.
Then there is the film Jang-a-Azadi, which was aired during the 140th anniversary of the mutiny. It has now resurfaced as part of the celebrations, only to run into trouble with two organisations fighting over the copyright. Doubtless, there are more glitches in the offing. This will raise the question of whether officialdom can get nothing right, even when it involves something so significant in Indian history as the mutiny. If things go on like this, will people, especially the youth, be any the wiser to the events that led to the uprising and its impact on an occupied nation? Not likely. A pity since this is an ideal opportunity to reconnect with a glorious past.