The Hindu elite often practices double standards. We uproot statues and Indianise the
names of cities the British founded and of the streets or parks they laid. We are proud of
the beauty and architecture of theVictoria Memorial at Kolkata. And to show it to the
visitors, we floodlight it on most evenings. The man who conceived the idea of the
Memorial was Lord Curzon whose larger than life statue, therefore, stood opposite the main
entrance. Believe it or not, Lord Curzon was, over a decade ago, summarily uprooted and
replaced with, of all people, a slim young Sri Aurobindo. What is the earthly connection
between our revolutionary turned sage and the Memorial to QueenVictoria?
All this kind of thing has been done in the name of patriotism.Several
pseudo nationalists argue by saying that the colonial exploiters should be shown their
place. The white man was a foreigner. But then was not Zahiruddin Muhammad Babar a
foreigner in 1526 or 1528 A.D.? He died long before he could be deemed to have domiciled
in Agra. Yet, his desecration of the Ramjanmabhoomi temple is not considered the
perpetration of a foreigner. Incidentally, as per his wishes, Babar's embalmed body was
transported home all the way to Farghana in Central Asia. His tomb is still there and Mrs.
Indira Gandhiis reported to have visited it when she was prime minister.
Going further back, how can Sultan Muhammad Ghauri not be considered a
foreigner? I cannot see how I can accept Alauddin Khilji as an Imlian either. Go further
back and think of Sultan Mahmud Ghazni,who was quite clear that he was only a visit in
robber iconoclast. How could he possibly be one of us? Yet, we are prepared to do nothing
to repair the damage done to our pride in the crime of the iconoclast. In any case, surely
a criminal is a criminal, no matter where he is born and in which country he died. To that
extent, Aurangzeb's crimes are no smaller than those of Mahmut Ghazni.
Another argument used is that the desecration of temples took place
long ago. Is there any point in going back in time? The very same leaders protest against
the discrimination of dalits for centuries. Fair enough. The fundamental difference
between man and animal is that the former has not only an individual memory but also
collective one. If old times do not matter, why do the same leaders read history and quote
from the annals?
By contrast, what did the British do? A serious allegation against them
is that they indulged in a policy of divide and rule, as if before the advent of the
British, the Hindus and the Muslims were one united people bound by friendship. We must
face the fact that that was not the case. Except during the reigns of Akbar, Jehangir and
Shah Jahan all non-Muslims had to pay jaziya. This vexatious levy was hardly a
sign of friendship. So long as we keep cherishing such myths, we are not going to
achieve true friendship and become a united people.
Let us have a look at some facts. It was never a serious British policy
to build, consolidate and retain the Indian empire by a strategy of divide and rule. Had
it been so, the map of the subcontinent would have been different from the beginning of
the British era and would have been altered from time to time to suit the strategy.
The three presidencies of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras were established
independently of one another. They were brought under one umbrella by the Act of 1773
whereafter Warren Hastings was promoted from Governor of Bengal to Governor General of
India Decades later, the Agra Presidency was formed, also to be answerable to the Governor
General and not directly to the Board of Directors of East India Company in London.
If the policy was to divide, why was Macaulay supported in his zeal for
introducing English as the medium of instruction? This reform contributed more to bringing
Indians together than any other. Without the English language how could a Bengali converse
freely with a Gujarati? There was no rashtra bhasha then. And without education in
English, would our leaders across the subcontinent have imbibed from the west the spirit
of liberty and the concept of nationalism soon enough? For the purpose of administration,
a few Indian officials could have been especially trained in English. For the rest,
education could have continued to be in the so called vernacular languages.
It may be argued that the directors of East India Company knew how to
manage a business but not how to govern an empire' And hence they combined the
presidencies under the Governor General and introduced English as the medium of
instruction. On the British crown assuming the administration of India in 1858, many
changes were made but none in the direction of abolishing English or making the
presidencies more autonomous. Instead, the office of Viceroy for the princely states and
of the Governor General for British India were combined in the same person.
A blatant instance of'divide and rule' was, however, the partition of
Bengal in 1905. It was undertaken out of fear of the leadership in Bengal which was the
cradle of nationalism in the subcontinent. It was an isolated action and not a sequence of
an ongoing design to divide. Small wonder that it was retracted before long. The capital
was shifted to Delhi. Bihar and Orissa were separated from the Bengal Presidency and Sind
from Bombay. While Burma (present day Mynamar) was altogether excluded from India in 1937.
None of these changes evoked any protest. Like Burma, several other provinces could have
been separated. And the suzerainty over the larger princely states could have been
exercised through political agents reporting directly to London.
Unlike Burma, Ceylon was never amalgamated with India and there was
never a voice heard asking for its merger. In short, the British could have done a great
deal to nip the potential of Indian nationalism in the bud. By not doing so, they helped
to unite rather than divide India.
Could it be that by harbouring myths such as we have jus discussed or
by demolishing British creations, are we soothing of wounded psyche? We must learn to be
honest with ourselves and face the reality squarely.