From Prithviraj to Aurangzeb, How History Is Being Used as a Political Tool
Only selected events are picked up to distort history, and further the narrative of "Hindus under attack."
Misleading claims about history have become a tool of mainstream Indian politics.
Whether it is Mughals or Prithviraj Chauhan of the Chauhan (or Chahamana) dynasty of Ajmer, Marathas or Vijayanagara Empire – social media is flooded with forwarded messages devoid of historical facts, projecting a dynasty as the enemy of one particular religion.
Several historical references are used deliberately over and over again to push the narrative that 'Hindus are the oppressed ones'. With the ever-increasing number of hashtags promoting the same narrative on Twitter, it is not difficult to gauge how aggressive this effort has been.
A look at Getdaystrends, a website that helps analyse Twitter trends, revealed that there have been about 1.97 lakh tweets in India with #HindusUnderAttackInIndia. This hashtag was the most trending one on 5 June and 12 June.
Similarly, hashtags like #HinduLivesMatters, We_Want_HinduRashtra, #HinduLiveMatters #Uniting_Hindus_Globally were among the top trends over the past month.
Notably, the narrative is not limited to social media. Its effect is visible in political speeches, and now even that of actors. A few days ago, treading the same view, Home Minister Amit Shah said at a book launch, "Whenever historians mention history, they only talk about the Mughal Empire."
Hindi film actor Akshay Kumar, too, made a similar claims while promoting his film Samrat Prithviraj.
Followers of Hindu right-wing groups have always claimed that historians have not given space to Hindu kings in history books. This was also the essence of Shah and Kumar's statements.
Not just them, social media influencers with lakhs of followers, including a handle named 'Abhi and Niyu' are taking forward this narrative.
Referring to this, political analyst Pratap Bhanu Mehta told The Quint, "It is common to have debates on history, but what matters is the intention behind it. If your intention behind the debate on history is to prove a community as the enemy of the country, then it is frightening. In today's politics, Hindus are being polarized by picking up some selected events from history."
In such a situation, the question arises – whether it is really a human error to present inaccurate facts or speak about history of Indian kings not being taught in schools? Or is this a concerted effort to push this narrative?
The Quint spoke to the country's eminent historians and political analysts to understand whether there is a political motive behind distorting history.
In the subsequent sections of the this story, we will explore the following:
Is there a political motive behind distorting history?
Is this an effort to target the minorities?
How true are the claims about Mughal history vs Hindu history
What is wrong in raising any question about Mughal or any other history?
Why it is easy to spread confusion about history in politics?
Political Motive Behind Distorting History
When history comes into politics – from India's independence to the Marathas, Ashokas, Rajputs, and Mughals – everyone is being dragged, according to their convenience.
Interestingly, Mughals are always portrayed as 'permanent villains.'
On the ever-increasing mention of Mughals in the politics of a particular ideology, Pratap Bhanu Mehta said,
"Debates over history in the present times are being done for political mileage. The debate about history should be between academicians, historians, but their voices remain unheard. It is not dangerous that history is disputed. The dangerous thing is that there is an attempt to prove through history that this country will remain only for Hindus and exploitation of Hindus has been going on. This fight is not about history. The fight is such that revenge should always be inculcated among people."Pratap Bhanu Mehta, political analyst.
Polarisation and Targeting of Minorities
How history can be changed to polarise the majority community and create hatred towards minorities can be well understood with the example of Pakistan.
In Pakistan, only the history that suits the current ideology is taught. The intellectuals of Pakistan have been raising the issue of 'wrong history' from time to time.
Pakistani poet and writer Mushtaq Sufi wrote an article published on Pakistan daily Dawn, titled, 'Pakistan and India: Distorting and erasing history'. He wrote:
"After the emergence of Pakistan, our elite comprising civil and military bureaucracy, landlords, and nascent industrialists faced a real dilemma; how to reconcile the present with the past...The ideologues of the new state bereft of a broad historical vision opted for a shortcut; denial of history. What didn’t belong to their faith didn’t simply exist, they pretended."
"They deliberately tended to forget both specificities of their own society and what they shared with India while being part of the subcontinent. They did not even understand properly what set their region partly apart from the rest of India," Sufi further said in the article.
We asked Indian historians and political analysts whether an ideology in India wants to write its own version of history, and use it to target minorities or polarise the majority.
According to political analyst Sudheendra Kulkarni, teaching history by modifying it is an old tool used by politicians. In Pakistan too, the intention behind teaching the wrong history in schools is to tell people that the Hindus are superstitious and tyrannical.
"It is a fact that Pakistan became an independent country in 1947. But, in the country, it is taught in school books that Pakistan was formed many years before 1947, when Mohammad Qasim defeated a Hindu king of the Indus Valley. This happened because the rulers of Pakistan had to make it an Islamic country, not a secular country," Kulkarni said.
He further adds, "When you want to establish the dominance of a particular religion on a country, then you are being taught history also in the same manner, and then, whether facts on your textbooks are right or wrong, it doesn't matter."
Mughal History Vs Hindu History
Those seeking a change in history often argue that they are 'concerned about history'.
Is this really a "concern for history"? Have the Mughals really been glorified as they claim. Are the demands to reduce their space justified?
Historian Pushpesh Pant answers this, saying, "I remember when we used to study in school, not only Maharana Pratap was glorified, but there were poems and stories on the bravery of his horse Chetak. Ashoka and Kalinga have also been written about in history books, before the Mughals."
On the claims being made about the history of the Mughals, Pant says, "Whether it is Mughals or the rulers before them such as Turks or Afghans, the historical evidence related to all of them is so clear that spreading false information about them is nothing more than foolishness.
"If anyone is really concerned that Mughal culture is being imposed on the people of India through Mughal history, then the person's concern is baseless. Because, who can be at risk from an empire that has perished? All those who were the last rulers of the Mughal Empire came to power in old age. By the time the last king of the Mughal Empire came, the empire had died to a great extent anyway."Pushpesh Pant, Historian.
"Today, what we call the Mughlai food, as a matter of fact, Mughals never ate anything like that. Their way of dressing was also very different from what we consider as Mughal costumes," he adds.
Is There Anything Wrong With Demanding a Change in History?
Even though it is clearly visible that there is an attempt to target a particular community through the history of the Mughals, yet, some questions arise.
Is everything that is said about Mughal history wrong? Did the Mughal rulers not commit any atrocities on religious grounds? Did they break any temples?
If some of these incidents are true, then how has it become an agenda to call them out? And, if someone is demanding more space for Hindu kings in history, then what is wrong in that?
Political analyst Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay says, "A trend that has always been about history is that one who wins, writes it. If we understand it in today's context, then the one who is in power or whose government is in power, wants to teach only that part of history which suits its ideology. Today, through most of the things being said about history, an attempt is being made to prove that such a community is the enemy of this country."
He further says, "And certainly, all this is not just happening in the present government. It has happened earlier too. In Atal Bihari Vajpayee's government also, the issue of changing the school syllabus had arisen. But, earlier the voice of opposition used to come from within the party, and now there is no opposition within the party."
In this case, reacting to Shah's remark about historians, Dr Audrey Truscke wrote in a Twitter thread, "Let's use this as a teaching moment – Indian history is so much more than a line-up of dynasties. Some other things historians focus on – religious developments, cultural history, literature, social changes, class and caste shifts, Dalit history, linguistic history, etc."
According to Pratap Bhanu Mehta, "There is nothing wrong in having a debate about history. History is such a subject that should be debated, based on which research should be done and new facts should come out. But, what must matter is what is the intention of the question that is being raised on history? If someone is trying to target a particular community under the guise of history, then obviously it is sad."
The essence of this statement is that it is not right to look at history only from the point of view of which dynasty is mentioned, and in how many pages. Because, history is a lot more than dynasties.
Why is it Easier to Spread Confusion About History in Politics?
Hasan Imam, professor of history at Aligarh Muslim University, says, "Today, our society has lost its balance. It doesn't matter what the other side wants. Consider this, if anyone would say that the Taj Mahal is built on the land of any random Queen, people would agree. In today's date, it does not matter much whether something is factually correct or not. It is no wonder that tomorrow a large number of people could start calling the Taj Mahal as Tejo Mahalaya."
Historian Pushpesh Pant says, "This happens only when there is less awareness about history in the society or people are not interested in reading history. By the time the fake news related to history is investigated, the damage is already done.
Clearly, the foundation of the narrative being spread about history is largely based on misinformation ie misleading claims related to it. Society should not be a victim of any such fake narrative or narratives. For this, it is necessary to avoid fake news. The Quint's WebQoof team is tirelessly investigating such fake claims and bringing the truth to you.
(The story was originally published on Quint Hindi and has been republished with permission.)
(Translated by Arpita Ghosh)
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