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A Counterpoint of Preconceptions

Communalism and the Writing of Indian History by Romila Thapar; Harbans Mukhia; Bipan
Chandra
Review by: Sudhir Chandra
Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 4, No. 52 (December 27, 1969), pp. 1981-1983
Published by: Economic and Political Weekly
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REVIEWS

A Counterpointof Preconceptions

rational explanations for events that


have been seen,in the contextof religion by many others. She shows, for
example, that idol-breakingwas not
Chandra
Sudhir
done by Muslims alone. She refersto
Communalismand the Writingof Indian HistorybyRomilaThapar, the Rafaamngini which records inHarbans Mukhia and Bipan Chandra; People's PublishingHouse; stancesof iconoclasmby a Hindu ruler
of Kashmir,Harsha, who kepta special
pp 57; Rs 2.
officerfor the purpose. Her explanaTHE dirty connotation acquired by look to different
pasts for inspiration. tion is that the immenseriches stored
the term communalseems to exercise And theirselectionof the period was in the templeswere responsiblefor this
an obsessivehold on the Indian mind. independentof Mills periodisation.
plunder and destruction. But this is
It showshow the reputationof a word,
Thapars contentionthat the descrip- being believed by the average student
the resultof a changingsocial or poli- tion "Hindu" is historically
invaliddoes of Indian historytoday. To say this
ticalreality,can limit,evenvitiate,men's not hold insofar as it fails to take she need not have referredto Harsha.
of the realityitself.Two into account the psychology of the Her point,however,is more than this.
understanding
of the three articlesin this collection people. Historicallywarrantedor not, She wishes to establish that temples
give the impressionthat, to deny the to these people the Hindu past existed. were plunderedby Hindus and Muslim
existenceof communalismis the best It could be a myth;but it is real. To alike. Being an acknowledgedhistorian,
way to ensure secularism.This brings say this, is not to lament the fact. and sensitiveto the tools of her disto mind Ernst Fischer's perspicacious Communalismstands on firmergrounds cipline, Thapar should have at least
observationthat Marxists have erred than an imaginarypast. No amount of paused beforegeneralisingon the basis
in ignoringreligionas a intellectual dissectionto expose its of such scantyevidence.Were she not
fundamentally
motivatingfactor.
charactercan removethe anxious to demolisha certainapproach,
heterogeneous
The firstarticleon communalismand ideological propellantof communalism. she would certainlyhave inquiredwhethe writingof ancientIndian historyby The Hindu past exists in the Hindu ther the Hindu rulers were as ready
Romila Thapar beginson a sound note mind. No historiancan write off this to resortto this source of replenishing
when she pointsout that moderncom- legacy.All thatcan be done is to make theirtreasuryas the Muslimrulerswere.
munalism seeks its intellectualjustifi- sure that it is not exploited to whip
Thapar says that the communalapcationin the historicalpast. The Hindu up communalism.Which is to say that, proach produces poor-quality history.
communalistsees in the ancientperiod the removal of communalismdoes not The fact to a reader of her article
an ideal Hindu society which fell on demandthata Hindu shouldcease to be appears that, what she has really crievil days with the comingof the Mus- a Hindu, and a Muslim to be a Mus- ticised is not so much communalhistraces lim,and so on. Nothingcould be better torical writingbut poor-qualityhistory.
lims;and the Muslimcommunalist
the roots of separatismto the first than if thiswere the resultof a natural The real criticismof those who wrote
Muslim conquest in India.
growth of scepticism or agnosticism; about ancient India in the nineteenth
the
of
To Thapar the root
centuryand also of those who wroteit
problem but not otherwise.
in the firstdecades of the twentieth
of communalismin Indian historylies
seems
to
a
cerThapar's paper
betray
in the perpetuationof James Mill's tain looseness of conception. With- is that they were poor historiansor
periodisationof Indian history into out making a distinctionbetwen mo- nationalists,or that they worked at a
phases dominatedby the Hindu civilisa- tive and effectand cause and effect, time when historyas a disciplinehad
tion, the Muslim civilisation,and the she hits at everythingthat appears to not made the advances it has since
British(not Christian,emphasisesTha- her to have the remotestconnection made. It is not their fault that what
For, amongotherthings, with communalism.Large targetsmake they wrote became grist to the compar) civilisation.
it meant that the glorificationof the shootingeasy, especiallywhen you do munal historian.
more ancientpast - so natural for a not have to hit the bull's eye. Thus
Bipan Chandraalone amongthe three
subject people - would be the glori- Thapar attacks the prevailingmyths contributors
makes a distinction
between
fication of the Hindu period. Once about the Aryan culture,the spiritual the communalapproach to historyand
the psychologicalneed for glorification superiorityof the Indian culture, the the perfectlyunderstandableglorificais accepted,the question remains,why Golden Age, and the unique tradition tion of the past which later served to
it was satisfiedas it was. The Hindus of non-violencein India. Regardless strengthencommunalism.Without imchose a particularperiod of their his- of the circumstancesthat produced plying communal motivation,he is
tory for glorificationnot because it these notions, she is concernedwith able to show thatthe mythsenumerated
was ancient- which Mill had charac- these only as factors responsiblefor above "encourageda backward-looking
terised as the Hindu period - but communalism.
Bipan Chandra also talks mental outlook and discouraged that
because it was non-Muslim.In the ab- of these, but with a sense of propor- faithin progress,
thatfaithin the future,
sence of a sense of belonging- among tion and in the correcthistoricalcon- which lies at the heart of
healthynathe overwhelmingmajorityof Hindus text.
tionalism". He also makes the major
to the Muslim rule (Harbans Mukhia's
Though in the Preface Thapar dis- point that, what now appears as comprotest against the lumping together claims the idea of advancingan alter- munalismamonga sectionof the Indian
of the Turks, the Afghansand the native to the Communalinterpretation
people- especiallyamongthehistorians
and viceversa of history,the anxietyto demolishthe Mughals notwithstanding)
spread mainlybecause it could serve
- Hindus and Muslims could not but latter results in an
attemptto offer as 'vicarious'or 'backdoor' nationalism.
1981

December27, 1969
"Communalismenabled them to feel
nationalisticwithoutopposing imperialism, the foreignpower that was then
rulingand oppressingthe Indian people. It enabled them to combine personal safety with nationalist sentiments." Chandra follows this with a
very sensible plea in favour of the
historianswho adopted an approach
that seems to us communal.They are
not to be anathematised,he says.
"Many of themwere not fullyaware of
the weaknessesof their approach.It is
only when history has fully worked
itself out that the full implicationsof
events and approaches become clear.
But, we, who have lived throughthe
partitionof 1947 and who are daily
feeling the necessityof national integration,have to realise that the communal approach has hardly anything
to offerand has not only caused immensedamage but can cause even more
of it in the future."
Harbans Mukhia goes fartherthan
Romila Thapar when he claims that
religion,consideredby many to have
been the determiningfactor in the
mediaevalperiod,was reallyauite unimportant. The fact perhaps would be
facthat it was neitherthe determining
but sometor nor quite unimportant,
thing in between.
Mukhia also says that our approach
towardshistorycan be genuinelyand
logicallysecular when we change our
whole view of historyitself,studying
the historyof society rather than of
an individualruler or the rulingclass.
Whichfurthersuggeststhat what Thapar and Mukhia criticiseis not the
communalapproach,but what modern
historiansfeel was a defectiveway of
writinghistory.If the idea of secular
stateis new, and Mukhia does not like
thisbeing made the basis for attacking
or extollingsomebodyin the mediaeval
period, he should desist from criticising historiansof an earlier period for
not having anticipatedthe rigorous
tests of their descendants.
If Thapar uses strayevidenceto explain away the part played by religion
in history,Mukhia employs logic for
the same purpose. But logic is a dangerous tool and requirescarefulhanding, particularlywhen it is used in
writinghistory.A modest example of
this is his contentionthat conversion
to Islam, which was voluntaryat the
lower levels, was coercive in certain
cases only at the top level. He argues
of mediaeval
that in the circumstances
India there could be no greaterproof
of the loyaltyof a man thanthe accept1982

ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY


ance of the religionof the ruler. But proselytisation,
we should be able to
this would also suggest that a man appreciatethe Muslim attemptat conwho could, for fear of life, forsake versionwhereit reallyexisted.Psycholowhat was at the time regardedas the gically, however,it should be nearly'
highestvalue of human life would not impossiblefor the majorityof Hindus
scruple to betray the man who had to equate Islam or Christianityand
forced this ignominyon him.
Buddhism which is to them an outMukhia furtherargues thatjazia was growthof their own religion. Gautam
not intendedto compel conversionto Buddha, not Christ or Mohammed,is
Islam, and proceeds to equate it with an incarnationof God to most of them.
zakat. While there could hardly be
It is poor-quality criticismof the
of opinionabout communal approach that Thapar and
scope for a difference
the effectof jazia on the number of Mukhia offer.Bipan Chandra raises the
converts,the equation of the two taxes level of discussion by focusing the
overlooks the simple fact that jazia problem in its correctperspective.He
createdwhatwas oftena gallingdistinc- condemnsthe uncriticalacceptance of
tion between the faithful and the the past, especially of the nineteenth
heathen.Nor would it be correctto say century reformmovementsand the
that the two meant the same thingin twentiethcenturypolitical movements
termsof pressureon the two commu- "We live in cliches", he says, "so far
nities. But Mukhia begs the whole as Raja Ram Mohan Ry, Swami
question by importingan extraneous Dayanand, Vivekanand, Aurobindo
logical argumentthat religion,ai ter all, Ghose, Lokamanya Tilak, Lajpat Rai,
was not such a cheap commodityas Gandhiji and others are concerned.It
could be exchangedfor the advantage has become a traditionwith our mass
of escaping the payment of a paltry media, school text-books, All India
sum. Agreed that jazia was a financial Radio, etc, to uncriticallypraise them.
and not a religiousmeasure; but the Consequently, the communalists,and
moneywas levied on a basis that was ethers can exploit their negative feaMukhia nowhere cares tures". He emphasises that it should
discriminatory.
to discuss how contemporary Hindus not be difficult
to realisethattheymade
reactedto the impost.Perhapsthe ques- a great contributionto the growthof
tion does not occur to him because, in Indian nationalism,and erredin certain
his view, the measure being financial fundamentalsense in their understandno rancour should have arisen on this ing, "of the relation between religion
account. But historians ought to be and politics,of the role of caste syschary of using theirintelligenceto im- tem, or of the problems of history,
agine withoutempathythe psychology or of the makingof Indian society,or
of an earliergeneration,or of demand- of the religiousminorities".
ing that it should have thoughtas they
Bipan Chandra attacks the propagaare doing today.
tion of hero-myths.
Linking this with
Trustinghis logical faculty further, his theoryof vicariousnationalism,he
Mukhiafindsit "obviousthatthe demo- says that at one stroke,"and in a sort
lition of templescould not have been of immanentfashion,these hero-myths
meant for winningover the Hindus to proved the case for the two-nation
Islam". "For", he innocently asks, theory or the basic communal ap"how can one imagine that the way proach".
of winningover the heart of a people
It seems difficult,
however,to accept
is to go and demolish its temples"? Chandra's contentionthat nationalism
One wishes that instead of crediting derived its validityfrom the fact that
the entireMuslimrulershipof mediaeval is was a correctrepresentation
of an
India with exactlythe amountof intel- objectivereality: the developingidentiligenceand rationalismthat he himself ty of common interestsof the Indian
an ana- people, in particularagainst the compossesses,Mukhiahad attempted
tomy of fanaticism,besides analysing mon enemy, foreignimperialism.He
the effectsof such demolitionon those furthersays that communalismdevewhoseGods and Goddesseswere housed loped as a resultof the lack of deeper
in these temples.It should not surprise penetrationof nationalistoutlook and
Mukhia if an atheistichistoriancon- ideology. One could seriouslysuggest
tends that the demolitionof temples that communalismalso was the corwould have made no impression on rect representation
of objective reality;
the popular mind.
that the objectiverealityof which naLogically there should be no diffi- tionalismappears as the correctrepreculty in understandingMukhia's point sentationto Bipan Chandra was not
that just as Ashoka is praised for his sufficiently
pervasive;that the common

ECONOMIC. AND POLITICAL WEEKLY

December27, 1969

intereststhat he talks of were not so ponse to realitywould Chandra regard mutual respectand confidenceso vital
common as to produce an
identity as correct? The question is relevant in achievingset objectivesis last. Dewhich all Indians could recognise as because Syed has often been deni- velopmentactivitiesthus also fail to
theirown. The term "correct"implies gratedas an arch communalistwho be- tap reservoirsof local initiative,
support,
a value judgment.Chandra may pon- came the intellectual progenitor of judgmentand skill.
This study has re-emphasisedthe
tificate
as to whatwas correctand what Pakistan, which again was the conwas not; he should at least explain his summation of Muslim communalism, need for linkage between credit and
criteriafor passing the judgment. To not the culminationof a different
na- marketingand the need for improvtake a concreteexample,therewas an tionalism. It should be
revealing to ing marketing facilities, particularly
objective reality that the nineteenth manyif it could be shown conclusively for tobacco in the surveyedarea. Lack
centuryIndia presented. It was the that what is called Muslim communal- of such facilitiesmay be drivingtobacco growers to hybrid bajra. Over
one in which both Syed Ahmad
ism - though it could more fairly
a period of time this may not be a
Khan and BadruddinTyabji lived. But
be describedas separatism was not
the two responded to it in different
good thing because such. lack of faciin responseto the needs of the com- lities
mightdull enthusiasmfor hybrid
ways. The one eschewed politics, or
at least said thathe did so, and opposed munity. Chandra seems to interpret bajra too.
Risks involved in experimentation
the Indian National Congress,which, narrowlythe concept of interestsas a
practicesare proporaccordingto Chandra's analysis,should factor in the growth of nationalism withrecommended
be viewed as the correctrepresentation in India when he says that communal- tionatelyhigheron smallerthan on larof the objectivereality.The otherpre- ism was, and is, the false consciousness ger holdings. Farmers with larger
sided over the third session of the of the historicalprocess of the last holdings command more credit and
other facilities.But farmerswho work
Indian National Congress.Whose res- hundredyears.
on very small marginhave to exercise
great caution in adoptingnew methods.
Compared to local varietiesthe hybrid
bajra entails a twofold increase in
cash expenditure alone, Rs 199.00
S K Ray
againstRs 95.00 per acre forlocal varieties. It is even morewhentotalexpendiThe New Strategyof AgriculturalDevelopmentin Operation: A ture includingthat on fertilisersand
Case Study of the Kaira Districtin Gujarat by B M Desai and M D otherinputsare taken into account.If,
in spite of this, a sizeable portion of
Desai; Thackerand Co, Bombay,1969;pp 148; Rs 25.00.
small farmers have switchedover to
THIS micro-levelstudyof 1967 kLarif time, and thus, their experience has
hybridbajra it only shows the potenseason examinesthe high-yielding
varie- limitations.Even so it is significant tial available if
adequate means are
ties programme
its organisation, these 45 .did ventureinto hybridbajra
provided,
achievements
and prospects.The authors against the traditionalcompetitor,toThe authors have taken pains to
have attemptedto assess (i) the role bacco.
establishmarginallyhigherprofitability
of the State and non-officialagencies
The studyrevealsan institutional
pat- of hybridbajra vis-a-vistobacco by inin providingnecessarysupport includ- tern similar to that found elsewhere.
cluding the marketingcosts also for
ing services; (ii) co-ordinationamong The workingpattern also proved the both. For any substantialswitchover
these agencies; (iii) procedurefor tar- same. The target coverage under hy- from the
traditionaltobacco crop in
get fixation;(iv) farmers'response in- brid bajra was 'fixed' by the "powers this area to
hybridbajra it is necessary
cluding factors contributingto such that be" and handed down to the dis- that the difference
be more substantial
response,and (v) relative profitability trict and block officials for imple- than is now the case.
Moreover, the
visia-vis local varieties and substitut- mentation. The criteriafollowed for
marketingcost of tobacco can be signiable crops, particularlytobacco.
State and districttargetingwas 'availficantlyreduced,as the authors admit,
Bajra is one of the major crops abilityof seed'. Availabilityof seed is through co-operativemarketingfaciliand the authors no doubt an importantfactor. The ties. This will furthereliminatewhatgrownin Kaira district,
have rightlychosen this ^rop for their study however illustratesthe risk in ever
thereisin promarginaldifference
study. Kaira district farmers have takingeverythingelse for granted.
fitabilitybetweenthe two crops.
earned quite a reputationfor some
The importanceof adequate dissemiIn summary,availabilityof services
years now for their commendableper- nation of information
about new prac- and productionsupplies are the key
formancein agriculture. The authors tices is clearly indicatedin the survey. factors to success of
high-yielding
purposefullyselected this district to What is dished out is either not in- varietiesprogramme.Under the
present
examinethe operationof.the high-yield- telligibleor not orientedto the needs set
up these are not adequate to meet
varieties
'under
most
ing
of the farmers.The study repeats the the needs of the farmers.The
programme
survey
favourableconditions'.
common malady, that is, the official points out that any introductionof
a
Through stratifiedrandom samp- frameworkcovering the villages does new technologymust always be backling method 100 fannerswere selected not encouragethe two-wayflow of in- ed up with timely supplies of
inputs
fromfourvillagesof which60 werepar- formationbetween officials
/technicians necessary and continuous evaluation
varieties and villagers. As a result, farmers' made. The present study sets a
ticipantsin the high-yielding
patprogramme.Of the participatingfar- problems often fail to reach agricul- tern for otherregionalstudiesin order
mers 60 per cent had land-holdingsof tural specialists, and the specialists to have a better
knowledge of the
five acres and less. Again 45 of them themselves know much less about
working of the new agriculturalstrawere growinghybridbajra for the first field problems.Thus an atmosphereof tegy.

Hybrid Bajra in the Laud of 'mul'

1983