Gandhi’s Prediction That Communal Polarisation Would Erase Mughal Rule from our History Has Come True
A report in The Indian Express on April 7, 2023, by Ritika Chopra, revealed that the NCERT has removed the chapter titled "The Mughal Courts" entirely from its standard XII textbook "Themes in Indian History." The chapter had contents covering Mughal-era manuscripts like Akbar Nama and Badshah Nama and chronicled the history of Mughals depicting the battles, hunting expeditions, building constructions and court scenes. Besides, in the class VII history textbook titled “Our Pasts – II”, several portions dealing with the Delhi Sultanate and the rule of many dynasties including the Mamluks, Tughlaqs, Khaljis, and Lodis have been erased. In the same textbook, from the chapter “The Mughal Empire”, several contents have been taken away and strikingly, a two-page table showing achievements of Mughal emperors such as Humayun, Shah Jahan, Babur, Akbar, Jahangir, and Aurangzeb has been deleted. All such portions in history textbooks were earmarked for removal in 2022 itself and it was reported in Express as well.
Mahatma Gandhi’s Prediction from 1947
Mahatma Gandhi made a prediction in 1947 during the horrific communal conflagration of the partition that the festering sore of communalism, bloodshed, and accentuated bitterness among Hindus and Muslims would make our education venomous and lead to the expunction of the Muslim period from the history syllabus. Very tragically, his apprehensions and dire prediction have been fructified by those running the affairs of NCERT. They have removed several substantive portions concerning Muslim rule from history textbooks for school children. In his article "Of New Universities," authored on October 25th, 1947, and published in Harijan on November 2 of that year, Gandhi presciently wrote that the intensification of Hindu-Muslim discord would spell harmful consequences, and education and history could be terribly vitiated by that harmful process. The entire text of Gandhi's article is available on pages 402-405 of volume 89 of the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi.
It is worthwhile to quote Gandhi's words to fathom his prophetic vision articulated just two months after India attained independence. "Then take the Hindu-Muslim question," he wrote, observing with anguish, "The poison has assumed such dangerous proportions that it is difficult to forecast where it will land us." Visualising a sordid picture, he presupposed by asking, "Assume that the unthinkable has happened and that not a single Muslim can remain in the Union safely and honourably, and that neither Hindu nor Sikh can do likewise in Pakistan." He then asserted by stating, "Our education will then wear a poisonous form." "If, on the other hand, Hindus, Muslims, and all the others who may belong to different faiths can live in either Dominion with perfect safety and honour, then in the nature of things, our education will take a shape altogether pleasing," he claimed with hope and confidence.
Gandhi incisively analysed the deleterious impact of abandoning the amity and fraternity of people of different faiths who, with their shared ways of living for centuries, had, in his words, "produced a beautiful blend of cultures." He urged people, regardless of their faiths, to "strive to perpetuate and increasingly strengthen" that process or else he cautioned by saying, "...we shall cast about for the day when there was only one religion represented in Hindustan and retrace our steps to that exclusive culture." He, therefore, warned, "It is just possible that we might not be able to find any such historical date, and if we do, and we retrace our steps, we shall throw our culture back to that ugly period and deservedly earn the execration of the universe".
Very presciently, Gandhi then issued a grave warning by writing, “...if we make the vain attempt of obliterating the Muslim period, we shall have to forget that there was a mighty Jama Masjid in Delhi, second to none in the world, or that there was a Muslim University in Aligarh, or that there was the Taj in Agra, one of the seven wonders of the world, or that there were the great forts of Delhi and Agra built during the Mughal period.” He then said with a heavy heart, “We shall then have to rewrite our history with that end in view.
Gandhi’s Predictions Have Come True After 76 Years
More than seven and a half decades after Gandhi wrote those admonitory words in the context of the new universities of a two-month-old independent India, an entire chapter on the Mughal period has been removed from the grade XII textbook published by NCERT, and several other components involving Mughal rule, especially those concerning the contributions of the rulers of that period to art, architecture, literature, and music, have been deleted from the syllabus meant for students of several classes below grade XII.
Apart from deleting the aforementioned aspects of the Mughal period, the NCERT has also removed from its political science textbook the fact that a Hindu fanatic killed Gandhi because he espoused Hindu-Muslim unity and took a firm stand against creating a Hindu Rashtra, to which some misguided Hindus were committed, and wanted to establish a state in the name of the religion professed by the majority of people in India, in the pattern of Pakistan. Sardar Patel’s measures for banning Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) following Gandhi's assassination have also been deleted. Even the crucial point in the textbook that Gandhi’s assassination and the overwhelming tragedy caused by it bridged the gulf between Hindus and Muslims and united them together by the commonalities they shared, has been removed.
Even references to the Gujarat riots of 2002 and the then Prime Minister A B Vajpayee’s advice to the then chief minister of the state, Narendra Modi, to follow Raj Dharma and not discriminate against people based on their caste and creed have been deleted from the textbooks. Strangely, portions of the book dealing with the caste system, protests, and social movements have also been erased. These changes are the result of a ‘rationalisation’ exercise undertaken by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) last year, aimed at reducing the curriculum load to help students recover from learning setbacks suffered during Covid.
Ostensibly, these deletions have been justified on the specious grounds of rationalisation of the syllabus for school children and the need to reduce the burden on them following the loss of their studies after the schools were closed during the COVID pandemic for almost three years.
A close scrutiny of the deletion of the Moghul period and other aspects concerning Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination makes us painfully conscious of the growing polarisation of polity and society along Hindu-Muslim binaries employed ruthlessly by the leaders of the ruling regime at the Centre. The change of names of cities, towns, roads and streets bearing Islamic names by those BJP leaders who control the State apparatus at the Centre and several States of our country unmistakably indicates their desire to wipe out the traces of Islam in our diverse and pluralistic society, which celebrates cultural liberties of people professing diverse faiths. The renaming of Rashtrapati Bhavan’s Mughal Gardens to Amrit Udyan formed the pattern of obliterating names associated with Islam from the public and shared collective spheres. All such changes of names have taken place with vengeance during the last nine years after Prime Minister Modi assumed office.
Growing Polarisation Triggered by Leaders Controlling State Apparatus
Apart from the change of Islamic names, there has been a worrisome increase in communal disharmony following the bloodcurdling call for the genocide of Muslims by Hindutva leaders and even some BJP legislators. The Prime Minister himself has repeatedly talked about "Barah Sau Saal ki Gulami (1200-year-long slavery)" plaguing Indians.
He made this statement during his reply to the 'Motion of Thanks' to the President's address to the MPs of both Houses of Parliament assembled together in June 2014. The sentence alludes to the notion that the Mughal rulers perpetuated slavery and, therefore, there is a need to rewrite history by purging that particular phase to convey to the younger generation that Mughals were enemies, and by a strange twist of that logic, present-day Muslims continue to represent that 'inimical ethos'.
The Modi government’s recent decision to observe August 14 as Partition Horror Remembrance Day annually is part of the same project to remind the nation that the blood-chilling instances of the Partition bear the marks of those ‘forces’ that were part of the “1,200 years of slavery”. The alarming calls for picking up arms against minorities, especially against Muslims, and cruel appeals for their genocide by several Hindutva leaders in the so-called Dharma Sansads (Religious Parliaments) are manifestations of the unprecedented levels of hatred and poison being spewed in a calculated manner to sustain the scourge of communal tension for achieving a favourable electoral outcome for Hindutva forces. It has been further aggravated by calls given by some BJP leaders to comprehensively boycott Muslims socially and economically.
The inevitable outcome of such ever-accentuated communal discord and the resultant increase of acrimony among Hindus and Muslims has been reflected in the deletion of the Mughal era from school textbooks. BJP leaders, as part of a long-sustained campaign against the so-called disproportionate space given to the Mughals in the pages of history textbooks, have been demanding attention to be given to Hindu rulers. On June 10, 2022, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said at a book launch that the country's history is misrepresented with prominence given to Mughals at the cost of empires such as the Pandyas, Cholas, Mauryas, Guptas, and Ahoms, and that now "no one can stop us from rewriting it". His statement, when juxtaposed with the deepening levels of polarisation and the resultant hostility being deliberately promoted among people in the name of faith, clearly brings out the intent behind the aforementioned deletions in our school texts read by millions and millions of students across the country.
NCERT’s Shocking Justification
NCERT Director Saklani, while participating in a discussion on a YouTube channel regarding the deletions in those texts, shockingly said that the parts considered "Faltu," or useless, have been deleted based on recommendations from experts whose names he refused to reveal.
Defeat of Communal Forces Will Save History
Gandhi’s dreadful prediction that if antagonism among Muslims and Hindus were spread by vested interests, then our history itself would suffer erasure of the Muslim period has come true. To rescue history from such deletions and distortions, we need to defeat those forces that poison communal amity and harmony. He, therefore, very aptly observed, “If, on the other hand, Hindus, Muslims, and all others who may belong to different faiths can live with perfect safety and honour, then in the nature of things, our education will take a shape altogether pleasing.”
That spirit is required to defeat the communal forces controlling the State apparatus.
The author served as Officer on Special Duty to President of India KR Narayanan. The views are personal.
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