Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Guha vs. Elst

The past decades have seen a high tide of history distortion by the dominant Leftist school of historians in India. Future scholarship will study their self-assured posturing with amusement. Here's one instance.

In his column “Foreign Certificates”, published on 4 January 2009 in The Hindu Magazine, the well-known subalternist sociologist Ramachandra Guha makes the following assertion:

“At the height of the Ayodhya movement, the Sangh Parivar circulated, at vast expense, the writings of an obscure Belgian ex-priest which claimed that Hindus had been victimised for thousands of years by Muslims and Christians, and that destroying a mosque, building a temple in its place, and sacrificing thousands of (mostly innocent) lives along the way was the only way that this cumulative historical injustice could be avenged. This ex-priest had little training as a historian, and even less credibility. But unlike the other similarly untrained ideologues of the Hindu Right, his citizenship was not Indian, but Belgian. The hope was that the colour of his skin would trump the shallowness of his arguments.”

To be sure, I am not an ex-priest. As a child I considered becoming a priest, but like most fellow-countrymen of my generation, I outgrew the Roman Catholic religion. I am fully trained in historical method, one of my diplomas is in “Oriental Philology and History”, and I have quite a bit of hands-on experience with innovative historical research. As for my lack of credibility, it is a fact that people of Guha’s class were in no mind to lend me any credence, but none of them has ever demonstrated in writing any “shallowness” in my arguments. Neither does Guha in this column. While I have analysed the arguments of his school in considerable detail in my books on the Ayodhya question and on Hindu-Muslim relations in general, no refutation of my position has ever been produced.

As for the colour of my skin, it is his own school that has been using its white connections for decades as an implicit argument of authority. It seems that white people on average are quite silly, for most of them have lapped up the version of Indian history propagated by India’s “eminent historians” whose eminence results from their toeing the hegemonic party-line rather than from a respect for the data in the primary sources. Anyone with normal intelligence regardless of skin colour can sort out their distortions by using proper historical method.

In the meantime, my position has been endorsed by the Allahabad High Court, the one reasonably impartisan institution that has held both argumentations against the light. After availing itself of the best archaeological expertise, it has ruled in favour of the old consensus, upheld until 1989 by all sources but denied since then by Guha’s circles, viz. that Ayodhya is indeed a case of Hindu victimization by Muslims through the imposition of a mosque on a Hindu sacred site in forcible replacement of a temple. In its verdict, the Court has also given a most unfavourable judgment of the historical “method” of the anti-temple academics.

The right thing to do now for Ramachandra Guha is to offer his apologies to me for his exercise in defamation. Likewise, his entire circle of “eminent historians” ought to come forward with heartfelt apologies to Prof. B.B. Lal and the ASI archaeologists whom they have lambasted as “running-dogs of the Hindutva agenda” for their conscientious research that happened to confirm the old consensus. If the eminent historians want to save their honour for posterity, they should hurry to concede their mistake and do the honourable thing towards those whom they have slandered for being true to the method and facts of history.

After I heard of Guha’s column, I sent the following letter to The Hindu Magazine. I have not heard of its ever being published, but perhaps someone out there has better information. Here goes:

‘In his column “Foreign Certificates” (The Hindu Magazine, 4-1-2008), Ramachandra Guha makes allegations against a Belgian participant in the Ayodhya debate. Though he mentions no name, apparently to avoid libel charges, the description can only mean myself. One approximately true assertion of his is that I have confirmed the received wisdom that “Hindus had been victimised for thousands of years by Muslims and Christians”. Indeed, I don’t pretend to know it all better than top-ranking historians like Will Durant, who wrote that “the Islamic conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history”; or Fernand Braudel, who wrote that “the Muslims could not rule the country except by sys¬tematic terror. Hindu temples were destroyed to make way for mosques.” Not a favoured view in Guha’s circles, but well-documented.

‘Then, Guha imputes to me the claim that “destroying a mosque, building a temple in its place, and sacrificing thousands of (mostly innocent) lives along the way was the only way that this cumulative historical injustice could be avenged”. That is a lie. My research findings on Ayodhya are extant in cold print, chiefly in my book “Ayodhya, the Case against the Temple”, 2002, available on-line, so anyone can verify that they do not contain anything like the injunction to mass murder that Guha imputes to me. Since I have better things to do than suing Mr. Guha for libel, I’ll be satisfied with an unqualified apology from him.

‘For the record, I have frequently emphasised the distinction between the historical record and contemporary policy, e.g. I have repeatedly written in support of the Serbs’ case against the injustices suffered at the hands of the Bosnian and Kosovar Muslims in the Ottoman and Nazi periods, yet condemning their mindless violence against contemporary Muslims. Guha’s own school could have made that same distinction, e.g. by saying that “it is a pity that Muslims destroyed Hindu temples, but that is no reason for us now to destroy mosques”, or so. Instead, at a time when their power in academe and the media was absolute and unchallenged by any capable Hindu opposition (as demonstrated in M.M. Joshi’s textbook reforms, a horror show of incompetence), it went to their heads and they thought they could get away with denying history. They did indeed get away with their bluff, and may well continue to do so for some more time. However, the prevalent power equation will not last forever, and one day the “secularist” exercise in history denial will be seen for what it was.’

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