by: Fracois Gautier
Publisher: Vikas Publishing, 1998
Reviewed by: C. J. S. Wallia
Rewriting Indian History by Francois Gautier
New Delhi: Vikas Publishing 1998 xiv + 176 pages; ISBN 0-7069-9976-2
Reviewed by C.J.S. Wallia [C.J.S. Wallia, Ph.D., teaches in the Publishing and Editing program at the University of California,Berkeley extension. He is the editor of The IndiaStar Review of Books,www.indiastar.com
========================= "From my perspecive as a secular humanist, and my own experience, I regard a typical liberal Indian Muslim to be as good a human being as any other Indian." c.j.s. wallia =========================
Rewriting Indian History is a provocative new book by the French writer Francois Gautier, who currently serves as the political correspondent in India for France´s top newspaper, Le Figaro, and for Switzerland´s leading daily, Le Nouveau Quotidien. Having lived in India for 25 years has helped him "to see through the usual cliches and prejudices in India to which I subscribed for a long time, as most foreign (and sometimes, unfortunately, Indian) journalists, writers, and historians do."
Rewriting Indian History,the author prefaces, "might well be called an antithesis" for it questions many of the assumptions in the "standard" treatises by Euro-centered colonialist historians and their imitations by Indian Marxist writers.
Gautier focuses mainly on the Muslim period of India´s history. "Let it be said right away: the massacres perpetrated by Muslims in India are unparalleled in history, bigger than the holocaust of the Jews by the Nazis; or the massacre of the Armenians by the Turks; more extensive even than the slaughter of the South American native populations by the invading Spanish and Portuguese."
However, the British, in pursuing their policy of divide-and-rule, colluded "to whitewash" the atrocious record of the Muslims so that they could set up the Muslims as a strategic counterbalance to the Hindus. During the freedom struggle, Gandhi and Nehru went around encrusting even thicker coats of whitewash so that they could pretend a facade of Hindu-Muslim unity against British colonial rule. After independence, Marxist Indian writers, blinkered by their distorting ideology, repeated the big lie about the Muslim record.
Gautier cites two eminent historians who wrote free of any colonialist or ideological agendas, basing their accounts on documents by contemporary Muslim chroniclers themselves: Alain Danielou in Histoire de la Inde: "From the time Muslims started arriving, around 632 AD, the history of India becomes a long, monotonous series of murders, massacres, spoilations, destructions. It is, as usual, in the name of ´a holy war´ of their faith, of their sole God, that the barbarians have destroyed civilisations, wiped out entire races." And the well-known American historian Will Durant in The Story of Civilization: "...the Islamic conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history. It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilization is a precious good, whose delicate complex order and freedom can at any moment be overthrown by barbarians invading from without and multiplying from within." (From my perspecive as a secular humanist, and my own experience, I regard a typical liberal Indian Muslim to be as good a human being as any other Indian.)
Gautier should have continued with the Will Durant quote: "The Hindus had allowed their strength to be wasted in internal division and war; they had adopted religions like Buddhism and Jainism, which unnerved them for the tasks of life; they had failed to organize their forces for the protection of their frontiers and their capitals, their wealth and their freedom, from the hordes of Scythians, Huns, Afghans and Turks hovering about India´s boundaries and waiting for national weakness to let them in. For four hundred years (600-1000 A.D.) India invited conquest; and at last it came. This is the secret of the political history of modern India. Weakened by division, it succumbed to invaders; impoverished by invaders, it lost all power of resistance, and took refuge in supernatural consolations; it argued that both mastery and slavery were superficial delusions, and concluded that freedom of the body or the nation was hardly worth defending in so brief a life. The bitter lesson that may be drawn from this tragedy is that eternal vigilance is the price of civilization. A nation must love peace, but keep its powder dry."
About Gandhi´s whitewash of Muslims, Gautier observes: "Ultimately, it must be said that whatever his saintliness, his extreme and somehow rigid asceticism, Gandhi did enormous harm to India... The British must have rubbed their hands in glee: here was a man who was perfecting their policy of divide-and-rule, for ultimately no one contributed more to the partition of India, by his obsession to always give in to the Muslims; by his indulgence of Jinnah, going as far as proposing to make him the prime minister of India."
Worse yet, Gandhi´s anointed disciple, Nehru, propagated false readings of Indian history in his books and speeches. Gautier quotes Nehru´s "amazing eulogy" of the tyrant Mahmud Ghazni, the destroyer of Mathura´s great Hindu temples, Gujarat´s Somnath, and numerous other Hindu and Buddhist temples. When Nehru, the arrant appeaser of Muslims, became India´s first prime minister, he appointed a fundamentalist Muslim, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, as the first education minister. Under Nehru´s pseudo-secular rule, "Hindu-bashing became a popular pastime." Moreover, Nehru "had a great sympathy for communism.... He encouraged Marxist think-tanks such as the Jawaharlal Nehru University [JNU] in New Delhi, which has bred a lot of ´Hindu-hating scholars´ who are adept at negating Muslim atrocities and running to the ground the greatness of Hinduism and its institutions." These Marxist "historians," well-ensconced at JNU, have long been masterminding the politically correct textbooks of India´s history used in Indian schools. No wonder, JNU is also known as "the Kremlin by the Jumna." For a long time, the Indian Marxists had been so brainwashed that whenever it rained in Moscow -- the capital of their "only true fatherland"-- they opened their umbrellas in Delhi.
To be sure, dissenting voices were raised against Gandhi´s whitewash of Muslims. Before the partition of India, Aurobindo Ghosh, the great Hindu poet-philosopher, posed the question about Islam: "You can live with a religion whose principle is toleration. But how is it possible to live with a religion whose principle is ´I will not tolerate you´? How are you going to have unity with these people?... I am sorry they [Gandhi and Nehru] are making a fetish of Hindu-Muslim unity. It is no use ignoring facts; some day the Hindus will have to fight Muslims and they must prepare for it. Hindu-Muslim unity should not mean the subjection of Hindus. Each time the mildness of the Hindus has given way. The best solution would be to allow the Hindus to organise themselves and Hindu-Muslim unity will take care of itself, it will automatically solve the problem. ...I see no reason why the greatness of India´s past or its spirituality should be thrown into the waste basket, in order to conciliate the Muslims who would not be conciliated by such policy." Another strong dissenter was Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Seeing through Nehru´s pseudo-secularism, Patel commented, "There´s only one nationalist Muslim in India: Jawarharlal Nehru."
Gautier warns: "Even today, there is no doubt that Islam has never been fully able to give up its inner conviction that its own religion is the only true creed and that all others are kafirs, infidels. In India it was true 300 years ago, and it is still true today. Remember the cry of the militants in Kashmir to the Pandits: ´convert to Islam or die!´ ... The Hindu-Muslim question is just plainly a Muslim obsession, their hatred of the Hindu pagans, their contempt for this polytheist religion. This obsession, this hate, is as old as the first invasion of India by the original Arabs in 650 AD. After independence, nothing has changed: the sword of Allah is still as much ready to strike the kafirs, the idolaters of many gods."
The source of Muslim´s fanatical aggression, Gautier points out, is the Koran itself, from which he quotes: "Slay the infidels, wherever ye find them and prepare them for all kind of ambush"; and "Choose not thy friends among the infidels till they forsake their homes and the way of idolatory. If they return to paganism then take them whenever you find them and kill them."
In the section on Ayodhya, Gautier says that demolishing the Babri Masjid has proved that Hindus too can fight. He criticizes Nehruvian "secularism" as interpreted by the Congress party to mean "giving in to the Muslims´ demands, because its leaders never could really make out if the allegiance of Indian Muslims is first to India and then to Islam or vice-versa." For many of India´s Hindu journalists, this pseudo-secularism has meant "spitting on their own religion and brothers." Curiously, Gautier does not mention Arun Shourie´s well-researched, lucidly articulated columns, which, in recent years, have laid bare the pretentions of Nehruvian pseudo-secularism.
From my own perspective as a secular humanist, I believe that any whitewashing of historical record is counterproductive. No matter how lofty the ideals of a current cause, any whitewash of history tempts the fates. To forget history will always be fateful; to forgive its horrendous facts can be redemptive. Forgive -- but never forget -- history. A salient example of making sure that the horrors of history are not forgotten is the contemporary German state´s law prohibiting any World War II history that whitewashes the holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis on the Jews, Gypsies, and Poles. The Jews rightly insist that the world must never forget what happened to them. Where is the Hindu Holocaust Museum?
The historical record of the Muslim rule in India is soaked in blood -- just take a look at the documents left by contemporary Muslim chroniclers. Yet, as a secular humanist, I would like to make a distinction between an ideology and its adherents, especially those born into it. From my own experience, I regard a typical liberal Indian Muslim to be as good a human being as any other Indian.
In the opening chapter, Gautier briefly examines the "tainted glasses" which made Euro-centered historians expound gross "disinformations" about ancient India: the discredited Aryan invasion theory; the deliberate mistranslations of the Vedas; and the erroneous theory of the origin of the caste system.
Throughout the book, Gautier quotes Sri Aurobindo, and in the concluding chapter, "The Final Dream," pays an inspired homage to the great visionary´s writings.
Like Konraad Elst´s Negationism in India: Concealing the Record of Islam, Francois Gautier´s Rewriting Indian History contributes to the growing literature of dissent against the "standard" textbooks of India´s history.