[Posted below are editorial commentary from two of India’s well known national dailies The Times of India and The Indian Express]
The Times of India, February 10, 2017
Post-truth History: Rajasthan ministers want a new ending for the battle of Haldighati
They say the history of ancient India is shrouded in mystery. A few Rajasthan ministers appear to have taken this dictum to heart to give their own spin to history. According to these learned luminaries – health minister Kalicharan Saraf, school education minister Vasudev Devnani, and urban development and housing minister Rajpal Singh Shekhawat – Rajput warrior-king Maharana Pratap actually won the battle of Haldighati against the Mughal army of Akbar.
Now, this is truly a brilliant insight. History is like those fun science fiction movies, where one can constantly travel back to the past to rearrange it. Never mind boring old pedants who point out that not just historical accounts but even folk ballads – including those sympathetic to Maharana Pratap – aver that the battle of Haldighati resulted in a Rajput retreat. Rajasthan ministers see Akbar as a foreign invader and Maharana Pratap as a brave patriot, sidestepping the trivial detail that India did not exist as a country back then. By the ministers’ logic, the streams of history and literature can be merged. If which case, why stop at Haldighati? Let’s go the whole hog. The Mughals never ruled in India; they were guests of Hindu kings who took the principle of atithi devo bhava way too seriously. And Subhas Chandra Bose was the first Prime Minister of India.
No doubt mixing history, fiction, politics and popular sentiments is an addictive game. And the other side too gets to concoct their own potion when they are in power, never mind that schoolchildren end up thoroughly confused. However, the key question that needs to be asked is: why are we so fixated on historical fights that took place half a millennium ago, when there are modern battles to fight against poverty, illiteracy, corruption and so on?
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Relax: Because like Haldighati, all history can be rewritten to make us feel great
The past”, wrote L.P. Hartley, “is a foreign country. They do things differently there”. Which leaves us free to do things differently in the present — and happily, those things include rewriting the past. Hence, three Rajasthan ministers propose to rewrite history to say that Rajput warrior Maharana Pratap won 1576’s battle of Haldighati against Mughal emperor Akbar. History books, James Todd onwards, recorded that while the Maharana was indeed valiant, the fact is, Akbar won Haldighati’s honours. But musty facts are so last-century.
After all, in the alt version, the spirit of Mohenjodaro survives and we all live in perfectly paved neighbourhoods, with covered drains crossing at 90 degrees, danced over by neighbours who look like Hrithik Roshan. This India saw no humiliating colonialism; there was only atithi devo bhava over yoga. And there was no big, bad battle of Panipat either; just some paani-puri between pals. Naturally, we never lost the Kohinoor. It’s still here, glittering away, but since India is so rich, having defeated poverty by investing in education, infrastructure and jobs, we simply can’t see it shining. Given our blinding prosperity, Aadhaar has no aadhaar; it is only to make us go idhar and udhar, so that our superb nutrition doesn’t roll into indolent fat.
That wouldn’t happen in an India where champions awe the Olympics every year. Lagaan swept the Oscars, in a happy ending that Salim-Javed, who still co-write blockbusters (their latest is Trump ki Deewar) couldn’t have written better. Having defeated all inner enemies, India rules the UNSC too, empowered by our brilliant development to tick off China — whom, of course, we defeated in 1962. No nation picks a bone with us for we win all our battles. And the ones we lose, well, we win those too. Later, if not sooner, in fact.
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