Sunday, October 9, 2016

Understanding a historian’s sophistry

Pankaj Sharma
4 October 2016, New Delhi

Noted historian Ramachandra Guha’s prediction that the Congress will fade away as a political force is ill-informed.

On October 17, 2015, one article in the Calcutta-based newspaper The Telegraph left me dejected. The article, titled “Whichever party wins, Bihar loses”, by noted historian Ramachandra Guha, argued that Nitish Kumar’s decision to align with Lalu Prasad Yadav would spell doom for the state. 

A few days later, the people of Bihar offered a verdict that the right-thinking citizens of the country saw as a ray of hope against the marauding forces of hate that was threatening the crush the very idea of India. This verdict was possible because Lalu Yadav confronted Narendra Modi and the sinister RSS campaign with his dedicated support base and shrewd political stratagem.

Alas! Guha would have been happier had Nitish chosen to ride the rampaging hate juggernaut to secure his hegemonic control over Bihar instead of running the risk of extracting his own politics and the state from the abyss of sectarianism. “As someone who has grown to love the territory and people of Bihar, I have followed the events of the past few months with increasing dismay. 

A state that promised much under the Nitish Kumar-Sushil Modi partnership is set to suffer heavily from their parting of ways. The opinion polls suggest that this election is too close to call. Whoever wins, the people of Bihar have already lost,” wrote Guha.

 Had the ordinary people of Bihar seen even an iota of merit in Guha’s argument, they would have punished Nitish Kumar for breaking the ideal political marriage with Sushil Modi. Though the people of Bihar demonstrated extraordinary wisdom, lesser mortals like me wondered whether intellectuals and historians judge politics on the basis of individuals, not ideology.

Guha took pains to distinguish the Bihari Modi from Gujarati Modi, completely ignoring the fact that the capture of Bihar was critical to the RSS scheme of imposing uniformity on this pluralist country. A victory in Bihar would definitely have secured the BJP’s position in Uttar Pradesh, turning the entire Hindi heartland into a cradle of the Sangh Parivar.

I am rather impressed by the sharpness of his sophistry. If he betrayed a casual pursuit of secularism by explaining the reassuring distinction between Bihari Modi and Gujarati Modi in 2015, he has demonstrated a sincere contentment with rising fascism in 2016. He will pretend to be anti-Modi, anti-RSS all his life but he has laid out the intellectual red carpet for their rule by predicting doom for the Congress. 

His antipathy for Rahul Gandhi is based on ill-informed presumptions but his readiness for the Congress breakdown for the next 20 years rests on his assessment of BJP’s growing acceptability in this primarily secular country.

That Guha has a poor understanding of caste and communal realities of India was reflected in his analysis of Bihar politics and his preference of Sushil Modi to Lalu Yadav as an alliance partner. 

He also has a very superficial understanding of crime and criminality as he clearly thought some ugly incidents of Bihar highlighted by the media are the real threats to our national life. It is now clear his understanding of politics and India is also very shallow as he clearly fails to see the dramatic disenchantment with Modi and the rising acceptability of Rahul Gandhi. 

The response Rahul received during his Kisan Yatra should be an eye-opener. This was not a new member of the Nehru-Gandhi family drawing out curious people to the streets. This was a much-battered leader of Congress at its nadir, vanquished by the BJP and written off by Guha’s ilk, reaching out to the people in distress. 

If Guha did not read the writing on the wall, I can’t question his intelligence. I can only suspect his intention. And it is tragic when free thinkers come laden with incurable prejudices and still sell their wares like objective ideas. Like Bihar, Guha will be found on the wrong side of the fence. We can ask him then, whether the unsolicited advice to Rahul to get married and quit politics was the product of a mind that was churning with hatred for the Nehru-Gandhi family, not of a mind trained in politics.

Guha, as a free thinker, has every right to abuse the Congress, but his propensity to undermine the inherent wisdom of our people, first in Bihar and now the entire country, is truly disconcerting. I am not a historian like him, I don’t have the pretensions of knowing India as well as he does, but as an active journalist for three decades and now as a humble political worker too, I run the risk of making one prediction: Guha will soon eat his words. I will still keep on respecting him for his primary expertise in forestry and cricket.

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