Shourie’s two legs
Arun Shourie’s book, Eminent Historians, covers an important subject – Indian history. Shourie makes out a case that Indian media and academia have done a bad job of cleaning up Indian history. Colonial inversions, ommissions and distortions continue to plague Indian history – more than sixty years after British were sent packing. If Indian history is in bad shape, Marxist historians are to blame – says Shourie.
Using extensive primary sources, ranging from the Koran to Guru Granth Sahib (Chapter 13), from Marx and Engels to Lenin and Mao, Shourie’s builds excellent scaffolding. He uses his famed journalistic skills to uncover accounting scams in the academia.
The tactics used by these ‘non-productive’ academics to smear and attack critics, evade accountability are well exposed by Arun Shourie (Chapter 5 & 6). Whether dealing with the decline of Buddhism, or the outright falsification of Indian history, deliberate avoidance of evidence, while obvious in some cases (AIT, AMT) to see it exposed again is a shock (Chapter 11 & 15).
Since, Arun Shourie’s thesis is, by this time, well-accepted, more on this may not be useful. Instead, an examination of the non-Marxist structures are worth examining
Arun Shourie’s book, Eminent Historians, walks on two legs – the legs of religion and right-wing political ideology. Two rather weak concepts. It is worth remembering that the concepts of political Right and Left were defined, when European economies struggled with the end of slavery (1830-1860) and serfdom (1830-1910).
Right … Left … Same difference
Faced with a restive labour force, Europe adopted two distinct paths. Left and Right. In both cases the end results were the same – concentration of wealth, power and land in the hands of the elite. To European citizenry, it finally was a choice between two elites – a Leftist coterie and Rightist cliques.
These European concepts never worked well in India, where polity changes followed a different trajectory.
History in a box
Unfortunately, Shourie also limits Indian history to India’s boundaries. He cannot see the global canvas on which Indian history has played out over the last thousands of years.
Or the agenda of ‘external’ forces that continue to define Indian history. For instance, of the 911 World Heritage Sites, just three Hindu temples figure on the list. It has recently been decided that 2 temples each in Indonesia, Thailand and Nepal would be added.
Money isn’t everything?
Regrettable as it is, Arun Shourie also expects Indian historians to work on starvation diets and shoe-string budgets of Rs.12,000 (Chapter 2, 3 & 4). In the best of times, Rs.12,000 is not enough to pull out one sheet of sensible history.
To be fair to Indian academia, they have been usually under-funded and over-looked. Is it surprising that Indian historians seem to be writing and catering to the West?
Hagiography isn’t quite history
A large part of Arun Shourie’s narrative rests on accounts written by Islamic court-historians (Chapter 10, 12). These court-historians were appointed and rewarded to write glowing and exaggerated acconts of their patron’s campaigns. These hagiographic accounts of Islamic conquerors, written by court-historians, do talk of slaughter, loot, enslavement, mass conversions.
The most interesting exception is Shourie’s reference to Guru Nanak Dev’s description of Islamic atrocities in Guru Granth Sahib (Chapter 13) .
Gold, gems, jewelry
Temple destruction can be better understood by two things. One – temple wealth. A recent report revealed that the Tirupati temple alone has more than 8000 kg of gold. (Business Standard Page 1; December 18 2010) How much gold do the temples of Sabarimalai, Jagannath Puri, Madurai Meenakshi have? This temple wealth is not a modern phenomenon.
Would these temples not be tempting targets for loot and enslavement expeditions? Add to this temple wealth, the opportunity to capture slaves and extract ransom. Or capture of valuable military targets like horses, elephants, camels, gunpowder from India.
Islamic armies comprised of landless peoples, without wealth, many of them slaves, drafted into a loot and enslavement expedition by Islamic brigades. Fed on a thin gruel of riches from loot and plunder, the religious sanction and justification was the topping, the cherry on the cake. Religion, after all, was invented in the Desert Bloc to give a cover to the loot and enslavement expeditions.
The Desert Bloc has consistently resorted to ‘relegiofication’, a tactic defined by Eric Hoffer – and something that Arun Shourie also refers to (Chapter 18).
Learning from history
From their Islamic rulers, the Spanish also learned how to use religion to cover loot and enslavement expeditions. Spanish loot and enslavement expeditions to South America were also couched in religious garb. Portuguese, in the Mughal court were viewed suspiciously, as they too tried to give their trading activities a religious cover.
Till 1857, the British followed the Spanish model, and used religious logic, to justify their plunder and massacre in India. The British used religious differences to foist artificial Muslim ‘leaders’ on India – to finally partition India. While Shourie is critical of these Muslim ‘leaders’ (rightly), of Nehru (partly to blame), he is gentle in his criticism of the British role (Chapter 14).
The Desert Bloc has liberally and continuously used religious logic, to justify their plunder and massacre. In modern times, the new religion is ‘democracy’, ‘fredom’, ‘threat of communism’, etc. for wars by the West in Cambodia, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. In the name of ‘progress’, regime changes were attempted and /or made in Chile, Congo, Cuba, Haiti, Hawaii, Iran, Pakistan, Panama et al
Western propaganda has made us aware of atrocities, genocides, massacres in Islamic and Marxist regimes. Strangely, Arun Shourie has no objections to non-communist and non-Islamic atrocities, genocides, massacres – in India and the world. While Shourie talks of 1400 years of Islamic atrocities, genocides, massacres, (page 222) there is not a word of Western (more during Christian rule) atrocities, genocides, massacres. Is it ignorance – or just plain infatuation with the West, Arunbhai?
Arun Shourie effectively brings out how Indian-Leftist political parties looked towards Soviet Russia and China now, for direction, inspiration – and even instructions (Chapter 9).
How different is that from Shourie’s own loyalty to ‘capitalist-Western’ ideology. His rose-tinted view of capitalist ideologues makes his thesis brittle (Chapter 18). Is this because Arun Shourie has still not discarded his World Bank lenses? To the extent of minimizing the role of slavery in Greek and Roman territories (Chapter 16; page 188). Shourie’s inability to see Soviet collapse, in economic terms (collapse in oil prices), but only in ideological terms is shocking (pages 220-221).
More than priests
It may also be worthwhile to examine the role of Brahmins in military strategy. Recall how Alexander massacred thousands of Brahmins, after they organized a successful opposition to Alexander’s campaign.
Bakhtiyar Khilji’s (errata – earlier wrongly mentioned as Allauddin Khilji) destruction of Nalanda (1193 AD)may have been due to the collaboration between gunpowder producers and the Indian academia. How could the area around Nalanda become the world’s largest producer of saltpetre – a high-technology, essential and scarce element for gunpowder, unrivalled in the world.
Purbias, soldiers from the Eastern India (Bihar and Bengal) were in great demand, due to their expertise in explosives. Recruited by Ranjit Singhji’s armies, preferred by the British, the Purbias were also at the vanguard of the 1857 Anglo-Indian War.
The British villification of Indian Brahman also started soon after the kaala paani campaign by Indian Brahmans slowed British recruitment of indentured labour.
The imagery of rampant Islamic invaders, to which Arun Shourie subscribes, massacring helpless Indians, does not quite hold up – except in Islamic and Colonial narratives. The court historians’ caricature of Indians as perennial victims of invading hordes does not sit well – with facts, logic or commonsense.
I am not impressed
If these ‘official’ Islamic court-historian accounts are true, the final tally of conversions was not very impressive (Chapter 10). Just 25% of the Indian population was Islamic, at the time of independence. Divided into about 12 major sects, like Sunni, Shia, Bohri, Khoja, Ahmadiyya, etc., most Muslims were economically and educationally backward. Not quite the picture of successful invaders. (Many faces of Islam by Mohammed Wajihuddin – ToI: December 23 2010: Page 21).
Colonial history … and historians
The Islamic-conquest of India, is a narrative popularized by colonial historians. First, while Shourie talks of Islam through the prism of Arabic Muslims, we must remember it was not the Arabic dynasties of Sufyanids, Marwanids, Ummayads, Abbasids, Fatimids, Aghlabids, Hafsids who conquered and ruled over India. The answer to the riddle of Islam in India, is not in Arabia but 2000 miles east. In the vast steppes of Mongolia.
The biggest surge in Islamic population came after Mongol rulers, descendants of a non-Islamic Genghis Khan, converted to Islam. The success of Islamic invasions of India too increased after the Mongol Empire became Islamic.
It was not the Arabs, but the Turko-Afghans, from Ferghana to Kabul, who were able to establish rule over India. This region of Ferghana to Kabul, peppered with temples, stupas, Buddhist monastries was considered as a part of India. Military campaigns from this area were no foreign invasions.
Without Indian alliances
This aspect of non-foreign campaigns is more important than just chauvinism. India’s military lead over the rest the world was as formidable as its wealth.
War elephants, an Indian monopoly and specialty, were a feared armour corps, unmatched by any army in the world for 3000-4000 years. Persians, who were clients for Indian war elephants, paid a heavy price after ignoring Indian war elephant corps. The Persians could not stand up to the Arabs; were overrun and Islamized.
Indian cavalry units were legenday – as the inventors of the stirrups. As the largest producer of saltpetre, India’s gunpowder production was twice as large as the rest of the world combined. Behind the might of the British Empire was Indian saltpetre – an essential and scarce element for gunpowder. Behind the British Naval power, was Indian shipbuilding. With such overwhelming military advantages, invading India was not everyone’s cup of tea.
Thus, intra-India alliances were essential for access to elephants, cavalry, explosives and other war material – paving the way for military success.
Slaves for monument building
Monument building surged soon after the Mongol Empire became Islamic. This monument building needed slave labour. Slave-traders catered to the demand for slaves from the vast Mongol Empire, capturing Indians, protected by the Turko-Afghan regimes, like the Mughals in India.
The corridor of slavery
Usually overlooked, never factored, slavery accounted for a large amount of ‘traffic’ from India to Central Asia. The Khyber Pass was the largest corridor for slave trade and traffic, till it was overtaken by trans-Atlantic African slave trade by Europeans, 15th century onwards.
The name Hindu Kush was not due to the killings by invading armies, but the deaths of Hindu captives, as they were transported to Central Asian markets, across barren, cold mountain passes.
More than aphorisms
The important question that Shourie needs to ask – and he does not is, “Why did people give up pagan or other systems for Desert Bloc religions?” Or for that matter why did people accept Buddhism? Mostly, religion conversions were not forced, I believe. It was also not pretty statues, sonorous chants, elaborate temples or majestic mosques.
The reasons maybe somewhere else.
Dharma and moksha
Indic polity, society, culture, ethics did not allow slave trade. For the marginally ethical, religious conversion was the license to participate in slave trade. Conversion to Islam was a way to wealth and power. Much like Westernization is today.
The other distinction which Shourie blurs many a time in his book, is between Islamic rulers and generals (the perpetrators of these massacres and atrocities) and the ordinary Muslim of today (Chapter 14). If the Vatican has committed massacres and atrocities, will we hold every Christian guilty? For crimes committed by a ‘Hindu’ Government, will Arun Shourie hold ordinary ‘Hindus’ responsible?
But Shourie’s logic sometimes escapes me. For instance when Shourie goes onto ‘expose’ double-standards. He criicizes the system for not opposing Mayawati’s ‘murti-abhiyaan’ – but will not accept State installation of statues of Lord Rama (page 200).
Follow me … Worship me
Remember, how Hiranyaksha asked his own son, Prahlad and his subjects to treat and pray to him as god. Are Desert Bloc religions different from Hiranyaksha’s religion?
Arunbhai, the real battle is the battle between a sur Bharattantra and the asuric Desert Bloc ideologies. And these battles play out over centuries.
Arun Shourie’s book is an invaluable contribution to the ‘failure-by-Indian-historians’ thesis. Shourie allows his anti-left bias (for good reasons) to over-ride his better judgment, I believe. That is why Arun Shourie is so depressing, when the Indian position seems to inspire optimism the world over.