New Delhi: He is all for reclaiming “forgotten voices” in the history writing of India, but using it for today’s “political misuse” is where the rub lies, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said on Saturday.
Speaking at the India Today Conclave 2021, Tharoor said today, we are “scratching the wounds and reopening fresh drops of blood emerging from scars that should have been allowed to be healed”.
“Let us concede that we need to allow other voices to come forward, but what are these voices saying? If the voices are saying Muslims were bad 500 years ago and therefore, today’s Muslims have to suffer for it, and we will do this and we will do that and we will change this and we will change that, then I have a problem,” the former Union minister said in a session, titled “Bulls in our Memory Shop: Debating heritage, history, hubris”.
“I would say what are you doing to today’s India? Why can’t we focus on making a better India for all…instead of fighting these old battles? History for today’s political misuse is what I have a problem with,” he added.
To buttress his point, Tharoor gave the example of the present government declaring August 14 as “Partition Horrors Remembrance Day”, which he stated was a “very clear demonisation of one community”.
“This seemed to me targeting specifically healed wounds and scratching them,” he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi this year declared August 14 as Partition Horrors Remembrance Day in the memory of the struggles and sacrifices of millions of people who were displaced and who lost their lives due to the mindless hate and violence caused by the country’s partition.
Again, though in favour of memorialising what happened during the partition, Tharoor claimed that there are people who want to revive the memories of what people have forgotten, and instead of forgiving, want to “punish the supposed descendant of those who perpetrated those wrongs”.
“I have talked about memorialising the atrocities of colonialism, not because today, I want us to go and revolt against the British. That is over. That is history…. But we should understand, as I have said talking about my book here, we must definitely forgive but we must not forget,” said the best-selling author of several books, including “An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India” and “Pax Indica”.
“Now the problem is, here we have people who are not only prepared not to forget, who even want to revive memories real or imagined of what people have forgotten and then, instead of forgiving, want to punish the supposed descendants of those who perpetrated those wrongs. You cannot correct the wrongs of yesterday by creating new wrongs for tomorrow,” he added.
According to the 65-year-old Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram, this is happening in the country today as a “different ethos” is in power, which states that India is fundamentally a “Hindu country” and everyone else is “a guest or an interloper”.
“And that the institutions of the state, the laws of the state and the practices of the state must reflect an allegiance to a certain cultural, civilisational understanding of India, which has nothing to do with the idea of India enshrined in the Constitution, and that I think is a fundamental faultline,” he said.
Tharoor was interjected by his fellow panellist in the discussion, historian Vikram Sampath, who said the wounds have not been healed so far, adding that there is a “false assumption today that talking about the truth would upset contemporary social issues”.
“History worldwide offers the spaces to heal, to relive the past, get over it, make peace with it and move on. I think we have not done that. That is one reason these battles keep on happening, what we saw in Ayodhya, what we keep seeing all the time. These are manifestations of that,” Sampath, who wrote two volumes on the life and works of Hindutva ideologue Veer Savarkar, said.
He also accused the Congress of unwittingly giving away the space of historiography to “Marxist historians” post independence.
“A discipline like this thrives on the multiplicity of views, discussion and debate. It has distorted history and created several faultlines. The story of India is a history of invaders, from their (Leftist historians’) perspective. We have not reclaimed that,” Sampath said.