12 November 2013, 10:17 PM IST
An impassioned countrywide debate has erupted over the issue, with participants from both sides of the secular-vs-saffron fence citing historical facts – sometimes facts selectively chosen to buttress their arguments – to prove their point.
This emphasis on historical accuracy, necessary as it is, misses a fundamental point. The figure at the centre of the controversy – Narendra Modi, not Sardar Patel, who played a major role in the unifying of modern India – has scant regard for history himself. As critics have pointed out, in his speeches Modi has confused the Gupta dynasty with the Mauryan, and has placed Taxila in Bihar, to name just two examples of the liberties he has taken with history.
Indeed, Modi could well echo the words of Henry Ford, who famously said that history was bunk. NaMo has little time and less respect for that has-been called history. He’s too busy creating a far more powerful and compelling narrative about himself: the narrative called mythology.
In choosing to replace factual history with fabled mythology, Modi has struck a chord deeply embedded in the psyche of many Indians. It is often said that Indians, by and large, are an ahistorical people. The sorry state of our ancient monuments, which are vandalised or left to crumble in malign neglect, is a symptom of this indifference to the past. Instead of history, many Indians prefer mythology, which is history dressed up in a superhero costume, like Krrish-3.
The Sangh Parivar and its followers have long favoured mythology over history, an example being their recreation of Lord Rama as a real being whose birthplace is Ayodhya. V S Naipaul has noted the preference of many Indians for mythology as opposed to history. He describes how when travelling on a local bus in Kashmir, they came across a dilapidated shrine. One of Naipaul’s fellow passengers said the shrine was 5,000 years old. Another corrected him, saying it was 10,000 years old. Naipaul, who knew the history of the shrine, tried to tell them that it was in fact built in the previous century and was not much more than 150 years old. But he found no one was interested in this. After all, why settle for a mere 150 years when you could opt for 5,000 years, or even 10,000? Why shortchange ourselves with miserly history when we can indulge ourselves with the unlimited largesse of mythology?
And that is exactly what Modi is doing. Urging us to break free from the confining shackles of history and emerge triumphant into the realm of mythology whose legendary vistas are not fenced in by the barbed wire of facts. As Vyasa and Valmiki did millennia ago, NaMo is scripting his own mythology for 21st century India, with himself as the central character.
History? Take it out of the back door with the rest of the garbage.