The Absent Hero in Lord Meghnad Desai’s Narrative
Dr. Vijaya Rajiva
Two recent books one by a historian of modern India and another by an intellectual/economist focus on the history of modern India. Ramachandra Guha’s "India After Gandhi"(2008) is mainly about the the freedom struggle and its aftermath and Lord Meghnad Desai’s "Rediscovering India" (2009) starts with the 15th century and highlights the British rule of India and the subsequent independence struggle and the sixty years after. Guha’s is a straightforward historical chronicle, while Lord Meghnad’s is a quasi theoretical excursion into the subject. He writes well and is quite frank in his disclosures about what his arguments are going to be. Both books share one thing in common. Both ignore the silent ever present hero of the vast movements and episodes they discuss: Sanatana Dharma, Hinduism.
(Editor's Note: Astute politician Mahatma Gandhi even more than implicitly recognized this and used the basics of "Sanatana Dharma" in formulating and marketing his "Ahinsa" and "Satyagraha" strategy. So, this omission by both of these prominent histoicans becomes conspicuous by lack of its mention.)
This absence is especially relevant to Lord Meghnad’s narrative since he rejects the role of Sanatana Dharma as the central unifying factor in Indian history and claims that India was never a nation till the British Occupation, and that it became a nation state only after independence. He presents his evidence, first through his account of what went on in British political life and governmental policies and by a deliberate narrowing down of the situation within India, seen primarily through British eyes. Secondly, and this is more crucial than any other factor, he places India only within the context of international trade since earliest times,as early as the Sarasvati Sindhu civilization (circa 3,000 BCE), and ignores local developments that provided the unifying factor in the country, which in turn made possible the international interaction. He continues this narrative of internationalism all through the Christian era, and begins a chapter called the "Vasco Da Gama moment" in 1498 (the arrival of the Portuguese in India), when India became further drawn into the ambit of international trade, conquest, etc, and which continues to the present day through globalization. This was India’s fate then and according to Lord Meghnad, is India’s fate now. Domestic history, upheld by Sanatana Dharma as the moving force is completely ignored.
Two overarching points made by Lord Meghnad, therefore, merit attention in this volume of more than 400 pages :
1. That India was never a nation
2. That unrestricted opening up to globalization is India’s manifest destiny
That India was never a nation is a canard spread by the British themselves to point out with pride to their role in creating the "Indian nation," and thereby justifying their Occupation. Lord Meghnad repeats this faithfully and unquestioningly. But the real facts are as follows: since the time of the Vedas (dated even at a conservative estimate at 2000 BCE, possibly earlier) the Hindu nation began its inception expressed in the following lines from the Rig Veda uttered by the Goddess Sarasvati:
“aham rashtrii sanghamanii . . . . . ( I am the rashtra moving people together for abhyudayam, RV 10.125). The word ‘abhyudayam’ means ‘welfare’and 'prosperity'. The word ‘rashtram’ in Sanskrit means ‘nation.’
Some Indic scholars such as Dr. S. Kalyanraman (Director of the Sarasvati Centre)would argue that the Vedic tradition can be detected in the artifacts, cultural traditions and linguistic symbols of the Sarasvati Sindhu civilization (formerly called Indus Valley civilization). It should be pointed out that Lord Meghnad is blissfully unaware of the work of Indic scholars on the "Aryan Invasion" theory, which they reject, and he is as well unaware of the discovery of the ancient river Sarasvati, mentioned in the Rig Veda several times, and which disappeared post the Vedic period (see the present writer’s article on this site ‘Sarasvati Regained’). He does not even mention that the Aryan invasion theory is a controversial one or that even the former advocates of the theory such as Romila Thapar now speak of migrations.
Since a larger number of Harappan artifacts are to be found on the now dried up ancient river Sarasvati banks it is perfectly valid to call the "Indus Valley" civilization the "Sarasvati Sindhu" civilisation. Dr. Kalyanraman’s recent book "Indus Cipher" (2010) is a vast encyclopedic study of the artifacts and language symbols of this civilization and its continuity into later Hindu times, including our times.
Dr. Shrinivas Tilak’s study of the all ecompassing foundations of Hindu Dharmic values throughout India’s history is another recent contribution to the theme of a continuous Hindu Nation (Reawakening to a secular Hindu Nation, 2008). Hence, one can have a secular constitution such as the Indian Constitution without any contradictions, since the ethical values of that constitution are already contained in Hindu Dharma. In his short excellent foreword Dr.Shreekumar Vinekar emphasizes the founding role of the Vedas in the formation of Dharma. As understood in India, the word ‘secular’ stands for tolerance and diversity.
(Editor's Note: The ethic of "Dharma-sahinshnuta," "Sarva-dharma sama bhaava," forming the foundation of "Secular Hindu Nation" which guided the Hindu political philosophy of all Hindu rulers thoughout Indian antiquity including that of Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaaj and of the subsequent so-called "Maratha" empire founded by Shivaji that ruled over most of India for nearly one hundred years before the British acquired control over India by defeating the Peshvas or so-called Maratha Hindu empire." This fact is rarely emphsized by most historians.)
Geographically and territorially a Hindu Nation bound by Dharma existed since time immemorial and consisted of the entire subcontinent from east to west and south to north and even extending into Afghanistan and slightly beyond. The diverse peoples of this subcontinent were predominantly Hindu (with even the tribals practising the Vedic worship of the terrestrial, atmospheric, and celestial forces), and they had centres of worship called temples and places of pilgrimage. This is why an anti- Hindu personality such as Swami Agnivesh wants to strike at Hinduism by asking the seemingly bland (but actually loaded) question as to why Indians should undertake the age-old traditional Amarnath pilgrimage in Kashmir, a tradition practiced for centuries or millennia before the fact of partition and the creation of the Kashmir problems by modern Indian politicians, (this neatly coincides with the terrorist elements threatening Hindus with dire consequences for coming to Amarnath). Neverthless, Hindus will continue to go to Amarnath despite all obstacles and will continue to defend their holy sites and continue to celebrate their festivals and holy days. This applies to the Ramajanmasthan in Ayodhya also.
And the Vedas, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and all the sacred books of the Hindus will contiue to be read by Hindus as they have been since time immemorial. Hindu festivals will continue to be celebrated. Hindu worship will continue. Hence, the Hindu Nation has been and will continue to be a Nation much to the chagrin of the anti-Hindu elements of the country. These are the ground realities. E. Ahmed, former minister of railways, can call for the stopping of the custom of lighting Hindu lamps at public festivals, but it is not going to happen. Arundhati Roy can jump up and down and call for non-Hindu names for Indian defence units but that is not going to happen (a strong suggestion to Ms. Roy: perhaps she can change her Hindu name to a ‘secular’ one !).
Now, State formations existed in India long before the two Occupations (the Islamic and the British) and these formations were both monarchies and republics at different periods of Indian history. Had Lord Meghnad even done a cursory reading of Indian history this would have been useful. These state formations were defeated by invaders and occupiers but the Hindu Nation continued throughout it all. Today, the state formation is a government and people bound by a secular Indian Constitution. Neverthless, the Hindu Nation continues on. Hence, Lord Meghnad’s invocation of the experiences of European nation states is beside the point, not relevant to India.
His second focus on internationalism in the economic sphere is equally questionable. While the liberalization which started in the 90's brought some welcome changes, its unrestrained excesses today are being challenged both by nationalist parties and the Left and by ordinary NGOs. In his overall study Lord Meghnad completely ignores the historic role of agriculture in India’s famed cosmopolitan prosperity of yore and how this was destroyed by colonial British agricultural policy. He ignores, as does ultra liberalization, the importance of agriculture for the Indian economy, both on humanistic grounds and economic viability. One has only to read Romesh Dutt’s 2 volume Economic History of India (1902) to get a detailed account of the famines caused by Britain’s agricultural policy in India. It is unfortunate that Lord Meghnad chose not to consult this source.
Shri S. Gurumurthy, Convener of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, has written one of the best critiques of liberalization in his lengthy article ‘A Debate on GATT’ (Vigilonline,1994-01-15). Since then he has continued to write and lecture on the anti-national aspects of breakneck liberalization. Senior journalist Sandhya Jain also has written articles on the subject, which Lord Meghnad might have consulted. Her most recent article is a short but telling critique of land acquisition policy of the UPA government:
“ . . . . . the farming community nationwide is facing the growing menace of State driven expropriation of land for crony capitalists. This trend, which we may designate as the corporatisation of private property, parallels the other disturbing tendency towards the privatization of public resources; both may be said to comprise the Indian face of Globalisation.” (‘Expropriating the Indian Farmer’ 24 May 2011, Vijayvani.com).
Since Lord Meghnad has his own passionate conservative/liberal view of India, the present writer sincerely hopes that he will update himself on current realities and as well inform himself of the trajectory of the Hindu nation. He cannot be accused of not being loyal to the country of his origin. What is being suggested/requested, is that he seriously take time off to study the above. He left India as a very young person and is now a knighted British citizen. He might also want to put on his reading list the recent book Breaking India (2011) by authors Rajiv Malhotra and co-author Aravindan Neelakandan, which describes with authentic and extensive documentation the medley of forces which have tried to break India in the past and continue to do so in their nefarious designs today.
(The author is a Political Philosopher who taught at a Canadian university. Her academic training is in Philosophy, Politcal Science, Political Economy and History).