Social Scientist. v 18, no. 205-06 (June-July 1990) p. 4.


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ROMILA THAPAR*

Communalism and the Historical Legacy:

Some Facets

The link between communalism and the interpretation of Indian history assumes significance because of the many occasions when communal organisations have sought the legitimacy of history in defence of their views. This is not however a one-sided process, for, interpretations of Indian history, some of which are either no longer tenable or else are limited, are still adhered to by historians who are influenced by communal politics. I would like in this paper to touch on a few examples of the interlinking of communal ideologies and the interpretation of history.

The historian's relevance to the analysis of communalism begins with indicating the way in which history is distorted by commufial propaganda. Thus, when it is argued that because certain events took place in the past (such as the destruction of Hindu temples by Muslim rulers), and it is required that these actions be avenged in the present, the point has to be made that the politics of the past, whatever form they may have taken, should be confined to the past. The present cannot in any way redress the politics of the past and those who would argue that this is possible are exploiting the past for purposes of the present. Wh^n there is a distortion of history, as for example that the Taj Mahal was originally a Rajput palace, such distortions have to be corrected for they percolate down to the popular perceptions of history and feed communal emotions. When a deliberate selection is made from the past of particular personalities who are then projected as heroes, such as Rana Pratap, Shivaji and Guru Govind Singh, all of whom belonged to the Hindu fold and were known to be hostile to the Muslims, the intention is to propagate antagonism against the Muslims in the present day. There are other personalities historically far more important such as Asoka and Akbar whose message to Indian society was different and they are therefore ignored in communal propaganda. These are all very obvious levels of the abuse of history and the abuse has to be countered. But there are also many more subtle levels at which legitimacy from history is sought by communal ideologies.

* Dept. of History, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Social Scientist, Vol. 18, Nos. 6-7, June-July 1990



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