In June-July, 1998, progressives kicked up quite a racket. The Government has packed the Indian Council of Historical Research with pro-Ram Mandir historians, they shouted. It has surreptitiously altered the aims and objectives of the Council, they shouted.
As is their wont, they had sparked the commotion by giving wind to a concoction.
As is their wont too, they were charging others with planning to do in some undefined future what they had themselves been actually doing for decades - that is, write history to a purpose.
The commotion led me to look into their record - to look at what they had made of an institution like the Indian Council of Historical Research, and to read the textbooks they had authored.
Small scandals turned up too. So accustomed have we become to crores being raked off that the amounts mentioned in this narrative will seem less than the pilfering of pick-pockets. That is so in part because our standards have become so lax. And in part because the real crime of these eminences does not lie in the loss they have inflicted in terms of money. It lies in the condition to which they have reduced institutions. It lies in their dereliction - because of which Projects that were important for our country have languished. It lies even more in the use to which they have put those institutions.
They have used them to have a comfortable time, of course. They have used them to puff up each other's reputations, of course. But the worst of it is that they have used their control of these institutions to pervert public discourse, and thereby derail public policy.
They have made India out to have been an empty land -filled by successive invaders. They have made present-day India, and Hinduism even more so, out to be a zoo - an agglomeration of assorted, disparate specimens. No such thing as "India", just a geographical expression, just a construct of the British; no such than as Hinduism, just a word used by Arabs to describe the assortment they encountered, just an invention of the communalists to impose a uniformity - that has been their stance. For this they have blackened the Hindu period of our history, and, as we shall see, strained to whitewash the Islamic period. They have denounced ancient India's social system as the epitomy of oppression, and made totalitarian ideologies out to be egalitarian and just.
They have belittled our ancient culture and exaggerated syncretistic elements which survived and made them out to have been an entire "culture", the "composite culture" as they call it. Which culture isn't? And all the while they have taken care to hide the central facts about these common elements in the life of our people : that they had survived in spite of the most strenuous efforts spread over a thousand years of Islamic rulers and the ulema to erase them, that they had survived in spite of the sustained efforts during the last hundred and fifty years of the Missionaries and British rulers to make us forget and shed these elements, that the elements had survived their efforts to instead inflame each section to see its "identity" and essence in factors which, if internalised, would set it apart. Most of all, these intellectuals and the like have completely diverted public view from the activities in our own day of organisations like the Tabhligi jamaat and the Church which are exerting every nerve, and deploying uncounted resources to get their adherents to discard every practice and belief which they share with their Hindu neighbours.
These intellectuals and their patrons have worked a diabolic inversion: the inclusive religion, the pluralist spiritual search of our people and land, they have projected as intolerant, narrow-minded, obscurantist; and the exclusivist, totalitarian, revelatory religions and ideologies -Islam, Christianity, Marxism-Leninism - they have made out to be the epitomes of tolerance, open-mindedness, democracy, secularism!
This has been their real crime. It has also been a bit of a feat. For they have been just a few : during the Ayodhya controversy, for instance, every other week a press statement would appear in favour of the stand of the Babri Masjid Action Committee - one week over the names of "eminent historians," the next over the signatures of "distinguished social scientists," and the week after that in the name of "leading intellectuals" ! But they would always be the same lot. Always the same small lot : six in one statement, eight in the next; their high was 42. Once. But what commotion they have been able to create, and what mischief.
They have been able to do so because what they were advancing - for instance, the Marxist "thesis" they were parroting in their textbooks - was in accord with the temper of the times. Because their kind were in critical positions in professions like journalism and universities. And because the rulers reckoned that to garner votes it would be politic to dress up in progressive plumes : patronising persons who had taken out a copyright, so to say, on the progressive hue was accordingly useful.
Most of all, they were able to work their mischief because of the control they came to acquire over institutions.
Times have changed : the committed progressive of yesterday is the unthinking conservative today.
The needs of the rulers have changed : who can fool the masses today by nationalising banks and parading certificates from progressives?
The Theory in which progressives preened about had been shown decades ago to be without basis. At that time no one listened. But today no one invokes it! For it has floundered on the one test the progressives had said alone mattered: the test of practice. Whatever the theoretical imperfections, whatever the empirical evidence, the one thing that counts is that it has worked in practice - in the Soviet Union, in Eastern Europe, in China: that was their argument. And as only those facts about these countries were facts which they certified, the argument could scarcely be countered. Today that very argument works to the opposite effect: whatever the logical coherence you claim for it, whatever scraps of empirical evidence you adduce in its favour, the one thing that counts is that it has failed in practice!
So, the fashions are changing, the patronage of rulers is evaporating, their Holy Books have been repudiated in their Meccas.
All that remains is their hold over governmental institutions. The remedy is two-fold. Enable a multitude of other institutions to come up : for this, a few changes in laws, some marginal incentives for setting up and running foundations, and faith in others - that persons outside the State also are eager to do good by the country - are all we need. Second, loosen the hold over existing institutions of eminences of the kind surveyed here: for this all that is needed is to document what they have made of these institutions.