Saturday, January 10, 2009

Modern India's modern myths

Modern India's modern myths

Tavleen Singh

January 04, 2009

It is my belief that the first column of a New Year should try to be cheerful no matter how bad the times. So, despite the attempt to bump off our new Home Minister in Guwahati on New Year's Day I am not going to say more than one sentence about terrorism this week. Here is that sentence. May the attempt to assassinate him make Shri P. Chidambaram realise that no amount of national investigative and policing agencies will make any difference if ordinary policemen remain untrained and under-equipped and if intelligence gathering at the level of the local police station remains as abysmal as it is across India.

Now for something cheerful. As someone who loathes the self-loathing writers, historians, hacks and politicians who became such a noisy chorus in the international media after the attack on Mumbai, I want to have fun this week demolishing their myths about India. The first of these myths is that India itself is a myth. The Mahabharata and the Ramayana are myths that were written by men who lived in a place without geography or history. Sanskrit came from this same nebulous arena as did the Vedas and the mathematicians who invented the zero.

The idea of India did not exist until the British created it is the contention of India's self-loathing 'liberals'. In the words of a historian of recent celebrity, India is an 'unnatural nation as well as an unlikely democracy'. He does not bother to explain what he means by 'unnatural nation' since the nation state itself did not exist till not very long ago. Long, long before that there was a country called Bharat whose borders were clearly defined and whose certainty continues to be perfectly understood by ordinary Indians across India.

When a pilgrim from Tamil Nadu or Karnataka sets off to attend the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, he does not think that he is travelling to a foreign country. When a family from Bengal travels to Banaras or Mathura to drop off some inconvenient widow in one of the ashrams, there they do not think they are travelling abroad either. The only people who have a problem defining India are liberal, English-speaking 'secular intellectuals' who usually don't speak even a single Indian language. They understand no more about the idea of India than those intellectual refugees from the West who make India their home and become 'experts' on all things Indian. They belong to the same club because they all make a living out of writing books, histories and articles about this India that is so unnatural a nation, so accidental a country.

The second myth perpetrated by the self-loathers is that there is no such thing as Hindu India. There is a 'composite' culture that is Hindu and Muslim and that is that. Anyone who dares suggest that for many centuries before Islam came to our shores India was a Hindu country is instantly reviled as a rank 'communalist' of the Hindutva kind. It is important to note here that the self-loathing liberals have no problem describing a period of Indian history as Mughul and another period as British. The problem is 'Hindu' India because the premise that there was a country called Bharat that was entirely Hindu in ancient times is somehow offensive.

Modern India has given birth to modern myths. The most popular myth among 'secular liberals' in these times of Islamist terrorism is that the Indian state is so evil that the jihad is a valid response. It is our fault, they like saying, all our fault. If the Babri Masjid had not been demolished, if Narendra Modi had not allowed Muslims to be massacred in Gujarat, if Kashmir had not been so badly handled, if Muslims in India had not been kept destitute and poor, if there were more Muslims in the police and government, then none of this would be happening.

If you respond, as I like to, that none of the above mentioned causes had anything to do with 9/11, the bombings in London and Madrid or the attacks on nightclubs in Bali, other causes are instantly identified. Palestine, the war in Iraq and currently Israel's bombing of Gaza.

You would not think that there could be an alliance between religious fanatics and those who believe they are intellectuals of liberal, left persuasion but in India there is. This bizarre alliance is so strong that Indian leftists have become the most ardent spokesmen (and women) of the Islamists. They find themselves in this extraordinary role because nothing motivates them more than their passionate loathing of India. May I suggest a cure. It is time for them to spend an extended holiday in Pakistan or Bangladesh to discover what countries in which history is myth are really like.

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