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Not just Macaulay's offspring

Excerpts from The Secular Agenda by Arun Shourie
  "We must at present do our best to form a class," Macaulay wrote in his
famous Minute of 1835, "who may be interpreters between us and the millions
whom we govern; a class of persons, Indians in blood and colour, but English
in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect."
   Now, many of the strictures in his Minute were entirely to the point: the
texts which were in use at that time in Arabic and Sanskrit schools were out-
dated, they were teaching notions about geography, astronomy and the rest
which had been superseded by recent researches. And in this sense, modernising
the syllabus and imparting education through English, opening our eyes to the
world was indeed to raise Indians.
   But there was another aspect to the Minute: utter scorn for all that had
been written or developed here. And more than the knowledge they imbibed of the
world, it is this disdain for everything Indian that the products of the new
education system internalised.
   "...the dialects commonly spoken among the natives of this part of India
contain neither literary nor scientific information, and are moreover so poor
and rude that until they are enriched from some other quarter it will not be
easy to translate any valuable work into them," Macaulay wrote. "I have never
found one among them (the proponents of continuing to stress oriental learn-
ing)", he wrote, "who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library
was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia." "It is, I believe,
no exaggeration to say," he wrote, "that all the historical information which
has been collected from all the books which have been written in the Sanskrit
language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgement
used at preparatory schools in England...."
   ....With the British gaining supremacy several things happened. The scorn,
falsifications and caricatures of our culture by the missionaries had a free
field. They were buttressed by the sway the British acquired in the political
sphere - even apart from the assistance this gave to missionary propaganda,
political tutelage bred inferiority among us, a feeling that our culture was
inferior as it had led us to enslavement. Such acquaintance that educated
Indians came to have with our tradition was what they learnt from western
books and missionaries. How pervasive the effects of the system were and how
they have endured to our very day will be evident from a single consideration:
although each is among the simplest of the hundreds upon hundreds that can be
set out, every single example cited above - descriptions of our land in the
Vedas, Puranas and epics, Shankara's journeys, the Granth Sahib, the linkages
between temples and pilgrimages - will be a surprise to most of us, educated
Indians today.
    The scorn was deepened in part because of the truimph of western science
and technology, but even more because of the fact that educated Indians acquir-
ed just a smattering of anacquaintance with even this new learning - they conc-
luded that the 'scientific temper' and 'reason' were all; they knew next to
nothing about our culture... The scorn was made repudation by the spread of
Marxist ideas: for these ideas every feature of our culture was an expression
of, indeed an instrument of a system of exploitation. Crude and vehement
examples of this attitude can be had by the ton from the writings of communists
and fellow-travellers right upto the 1980s as also from those of editorialists
and pontificators right upto today's newspapers. But the effects did not spare
the outlook - and therefore the writings and, when they attained office, the
policies - of the very best.
  Pandit Nehru is the most vivid example of the type. He was the truest of
nationalists. His sacrifices for our independence compare with those of anyone
else. But he had little acquaintance with our tradition - his description of
it, even when they seek to laud it, do not go deeper than the superficial
cliche: one has only to read his account of even a relatively straightforward
text such as the Gita alongside that of Sri Aurobindo or Gandhiji or Vinoba to
see the chasm. There was in fact more than a mere absence of acquaintance. Deep
down Panditji felt that whatever worthwhile there might have been in tradition
had long since expired, that it had now to be replaced by the "scientific
temper" and "reason". It was not just that the Bhakra-Nangals should be "our
new temples," but that the old temples were nothing but spreaders of supersti-
tion and devices of inequity and exploitation...
    Lack of acquaintance with our tradition was one factor. But this new class
was - and remains to our day - equally ignorant of, and distant from the life
of our common people. In addition therefore to not seeing that which was common
in our past, it did not, it does not today, as we noted earlier, see the
commonalities in the life, in the beliefs and practices or ordinary people
across the country.
   Giants such as Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo and Gandhiji did all they
could to awaken us to the essential elements of our tradition. They saw the
essence behind the forms, their eye took in the whole, it did not get stuck
at the parts. Others - from Ramakrishna Paramhamsa to Ramana Maharishi to the
Paramacharya at Kachi - lived that essence. But after independence offices of
State and even more so public discourse came to be filled by the other sort -
the best among them only Macaulay's children.
   The result is before us: for seven hundred years to talk of the essence of
our tradition was blasphemy; for a hundred years it was stupid; for the last
forty years to do so has been "revanchist", "chauvinist", and, the latest,
   The argument thus far has been as follows: the core of our tradition was
the spiritual quest; the core of this spiritual quest was Hindu; the way in
which this core manifested itself in the life of our people was the religious.
To the western educated Indian the spiritual was just mumbo-jumbo, religion
was just opium to entrap the masses, and Hinduism just a particularly pernici-
ous form of that opium. That which was the very essence of our nationhood was
thereby denounced. The character our politics took compounded the evil.
    When examined closely enough every aggregate disaggregates - even the atom
disaggregates, as do the components into which it disaggregates. A society, a
country is an aggregate too: it consists of groups tht have both - features
that are common to them and features which differentiate them one from the
    A Gandhi focusses on that which is common to them, where he sees distances
between groups he builds bridges to span them. On the other hand a Jinnah
insists that because there are differences, the groups just cannot live toge-
ther, and he bases his politics on this premise or calculation. A Nehru tries
to turn all the groups to values and pursuits - "our temples, the Bhakra Nang-
als" - which vault over those differences. On the other hand, a Ramaswami
Naicker, a Lohia, a VP Singh, a Mulayam Singh, a Shahabuddin sees an opportuni-
ty in those differences: he focusses on them, he exaggerates them, he enflames
in the group he sets out to bamboozle into following him the feeling of having
been wronged, of being in peril unless it "preserves its identity" vis a vis
the engulfing ocean.
   In one type of politics the whole is the focus, in the other the parts are -
to the point that the "reality", the very existence of the whole is denied,
the very notion that it exists is denounced as a device which has been fabrica-
ted to crush the parts one by one. Our politics since Jinnah's time, and even
more so since the passing of Panditji has been of the latter kind.
   In a word, that which was the essence of our nationhood had come to be
denied and denounced already. since then the refrain has been that the parts -
of castes, of religious and liguistic groups, of this class and that - alone
are "real"....
....For eighty years, for instance, the Marxists talked in terms of a lofty
"internationalism": classes are the only valid category, they said, and these
cut across national or state-boundaries. But the moment the War broke out,
workers everywhere reacted entirely along reactionary "nationalist" lines -
the German proletariate most of all. "the Only Fatherland" - the Soviet Union -
too relied wholly on stoking natinalist passions to save itself. Mao's fight
against the Japanese, that of the Vietnamase against the Americans, and later
against brother-communists, the Chinese - all these were nationalist strugglers
The name they chose for them were told the tale: they were Wars of National
Liberation. The theory was "internationalist", the practice was nationalist. At
home here the chasm was even greater: while the resolutions were loftly "inter-
nationalist", in practice the politics of the Marxists was dependent on fann-
ing the sectional demands of "sub-national" groups and caste-groups. Their
espousal of the Muslim League's demand for Pakistan was typical: their calcula-
tion was that this would endear them to Muslim youth, but they dressed it up
in "theses" of Stalin! The Muslims are a separate nation they concluded - on
the basis of an article written by Stalin in 1912! - and so they must have
their separate country. But on Stalin's authority, "A nation is a historically
evolved stable community of language, territory, economic life and psychologi-
cal make-up manifested in a community of culture." The Bengali Muslims and
Punjabi Muslims, to take just two groups which were to be yoked to form Pakis-
tan, had not even one of the four factors in common - neither language, nor
territory, nor economic life, nor "psychological make-up". What they had in
common - and that too, as was to be soon evident, only in a notional sense -
was religion. But that the Guru, Stalin, had not included among his criteria.
Yet the demand for Pakistan was espoused and evryone opposing it was denounced
as reactionary communalist wanting to establish Hindu-hegemony. The same hypoc-
risy continues to this day - their "internationalism", for instance, keeps
these progressives from taking up the cause of the one people who qualify as
a nation by their oracle's definition, the people of Tibet; while their calcu-
lations goad them to fan the demands of "sub-national" and caste groups in
India. As this hypocrisy continues, so does the vehemence.
    The case of the liberals is no different. They denounce Hinduism in public
but consult astrologers in private and get paaths and havans done in closets.
They glorify the "masses" but denounce the sentiment of the masses for Rama.
They denounce our tradition, donning modernism, but hail every politician with
a casteist plank. They proclaim, "India is not one nation," and give as proof
the Muslim's different perceptions of our past. And simultaneously proclaim,
"Muslims are an integral part of India, they are as loyal to India as anyone
else," and give as proof the performance of Muslim soldiers in wars against
Pakistan. Every effort to remind us of our commonalities, they denounce as a
design to swallow up the minorities. And then the absence of a fervour for
those common elements they proclaim as the proof of our not being one nation!
    Thus, out-doing what they said the last time round, and in many cases,
factors of a much more personal kind account for their proclaiming the perverse
And hypocrisy and the apprehension that if they allow the discussion to proceed
they will be caught out are what account for their vehemence.

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