After Selling Himself in the Flesh Market
Arun Shourie is not a historian. He is a mythologist of Hindu communalism. He is a political pornographer," declared one of these eminent historians, K N Panikkar, in Kerala the other day. He had been asked for an answer to the facts I had set out in Eminent Historians. And he was giving reasons why it was beneath his dignity to give one.
He had been a little less lofty just a few weeks ago! And had deigned to write an entire article trying to explain the facts I had set out about the goings on in the Indian Council of Historical Research. "This is an old charge which keeps surfacing now and then," he had written in The Asian Age. I had shown that the story they had planted -- about 'rational' having been made into 'national,' had been a complete forgery.
I had also drawn attention to the way large sums had been consumed in projects of the ICHR - such as the Towards Freedom Project - and how little had come of them. He wrote that The Times of India too had put out a front-page story about the Towards Freedom Project the previous year. And the historians had clarified the facts through a public statement... They had not received a penny. They had worked in a purely honorary capacity...
We have seen more of the facts since. But what he said - "This is an old charge..."- is something to bear in mind -- there is never a right time to ask a question about them. If events are still fresh, their response always is: "But where are the facts?" If you happen to have enumerated and substantiated the twenty facts about which evidence is in, their response is: "But he has not taken into account item 21; this selective focus on just a handful of facts shows that he is working to a purpose." When sufficient time has elapsed, and you have garnered and presented evidence about all the facts, their response is: "but this is an old charge. That he is raking it up now shows how the forces of reaction are panic-stricken at the growing consolidation of forces of secularism and democracy."
And each time they set forth a spate of angry words! "If he believes, as he apparently does, that the fame of historians like S Gopal, R S Sharma, Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib who are held in high academic esteem, both nationally and internationally, are (sic) based on cheap manipulation," wrote Panikkar, "there must be something congenitally wrong with his mind. Otherwise it is possible that he is reflecting his own personal experience as to how a 'fellow' like him who writes communal mythology has come to be regarded a distinguished journalist."
"Finally, about hymen and virginity about which Shourie, as a good Hindu, is rightly concerned," Panikkar continued. "In the public eye his hymen has not remained intact, not because where he writes or to whom he gives interviews and articles, only because what he writes. Needless to say that the RSS publications carry his interview and articles only because they are rabidly communal. He cannot hope to remain a virgin after selling himself in the flesh market. Being a BJP member of Parliament and an ideologue of Hindu communalism, Shourie should get his hymen tested, if he is still under misconception about his virginity."
That is scholarly response. Indeed, in their circles it passes for 'devastating refutation'! But one must go the extra mile: Proclaim your belief in double-standards -- yes, I do what he does, but I do so because I believe in The Cause!
"As for me, unlike him, I do not hunt with the hound and run with the hare," Panikkar continued, though it wasn't clear what the colloquism was in aid of. "I contribute signed articles to the publications of the Communist Party, because I believe in the ideals it stands for -- democracy, secularism and socialism. By doing so, if my hymen is broken, I do not lament it, as Shourie does."
All this as an answer to the facts about the working of the ICHR to which I had drawn attention!
Since, then, an additional mountain of facts has been published. About pilferage, about doctored textbooks, about the intellectual dishonesty in the way these eminents treat facts and sources. Their response now is twofold. First, an entire theory! "There is not such thing as 'objectivity' in history," Panikkar told the audience in Kerala. So, when you find them concocting 'facts', you cannot but applaud them: Having liberated themselves from bourgeois scruples, they are propagating what will serve The Great Cause! And the evidence you adduce which establishes that what they are saying is a concoction, that evidence is of no consequence -- because in any case in history there is no such thing as objectivity! they plotted the assassination of CP Ramaswamy Aiyer, the Diwan -- these provide ready examples. The craven accolades our Communists showered on the Emergency when it was in force, and how, the moment it had ended, they coloured themselves up as heroes who had fought it -- these will do as well.
"The criticism that Communists decide their policy not in the Interests of their own country but in the interests of the Soviet Union is neither new nor original," thundered the Communist Party of India at Gandhiji and the Congress when it was confronted with evidence of having betrayed the National Movement during the Quit India struggle, and teamed up with the British. "It has been an old, very old gibe of the reactionary parties and their scribes the world over. It was the main theme the British Prosecutor played up against us In the Meerut Conspiracy Case. If 17 years later you make the same suggestion against us, we cannot but ask you -- Is this worthy of you?" (Communist Reply to the Congress Working Party Charges, by the General Secretary of the Party, PC Joshi, Communist Party of India, Calcutta, 1946, abridged version, pp 3-4.)
And always there is perhaps, I should now say, "there used to be" the decisive proof: Of having been vindicated by History! "All our brother parties had to live down this slander through their work among their own people," the Communist Party continued. "And If in the world of today there is any single political force which is growing, it is the Communist movement. If any banner has lost ground in every country, it is the bankrupt banner of blind anti-communalism."
Towards the end of 1983, VM Tarkunde Invited me to deliver the MN Roy Memorial Lecture for 1984. The lecture was held in Bombay on the same day in 1984 as It is every year - the birth anniversary of M N Roy. I documented the treacherous role the Communists had played during the 1942 Movement. Pritish Nandy, then Editor of The Illustrated Weekly, carried the text in a series. The text contained secret Masons of the Communist functionaries with British rulers, the request they made and the concessions they were given, the accounts they submitted to Richard Maxwell, the Home Member, and Richard Tottenham, the Additional Secretary who the brutal suppression of that campaign, reports in which the Communist Party set out the good work its members had done to help the government...
E M S Namboodiripad rushed to Bombay. Shourie is speaking for the forces of reaction, he thundered at a specially-convened press conference. These forces have panicked at the growing unity of secular and democratic forces.... They are unnerved that they will get a sound drubbing at the elections which are round the corner....
No elections were round any corner. Tarkunde had given his invitation five months earlier. The Communists' role In the Quit India Movement had not been the topic I had thought of in the first instance. I had thought that I would speak on 'Ideology as Blinkers,' and that I would Illustrate my argument with four examples. by the time of the lecture only one example was ready - that relating to the Communists during the 1942 Movement. And that is how I got to speak on the topic when I did. Nonetheless, 'conspiracy, 'unnerved', "elections round the corner" it was!
That was in 1984. Soon, E M S took a giant step towards owning up to what could no longer be hidden! Of course, he did so in the way characteristic of those who have appropriated The Great Cause! Yes, we entered into a liaison with the British. But we did so to master the arts of war: The dumbos in the Congress could not grasp the international situation, we alone could -- for we had The Theory, and we saw that the principal task was to save the country from the Japanese, that for this what was needed was a mastery of the arts of war, and that the only way to gain access to these arts at the time was to establish a working relationship with the British!
The rationalisation is typical of his A History of Indian Freedom Struggle, the 900-page book he published in 1986, just two years after that fusillade about my lecture.
Congress policy was wrong and suicidal, Namboodiripad wrote. Gandhi had not thought the matter through, he wrote, and had left no instructions on how the struggle should be carried on in the event of the principal leaders being arrested. The Congress had not prepared for guerrilla war against the advancing Japanese, he wrote. It had devised no way to Provide medical assistance to victims of bombing, nor had it thought of mobilising the masses against hoarders and profiteers, he wrote. It was the Communist Party which took up these tasks, Namboodiripad wrote. "It did not hesitate to establish contact with the government and accept the assistance and for carrying out this programme."
Thus, it was just a 'contact'! That 'contact' was established to train the cadres for guerrilla war against the invading Japanese. And what the comrades did was not to assist the British, they only "did not hesitate... to accept the assistance" which the British proffered! And the poor Communists had to take on this repugnant task because the Congress and Gandhi had not thought the matter through!
In any case, there were disagreements within the Congress too, Namboodiripad wrote. In fact, having themselves carted off to prison enabled the Congress leaders to escape responsibility for what had to be done. At the back of the Congress leaders' decision to launch the Quit India Movement was the object of furthering their bourgeois class interests by eventually negotiating and compromising with the British rulers, Namboodiripad wrote. It is the Communist Party, and not the Congress which acted in accordance with the resolutions of the Congress, he claimed. Moreover, though the Communist Party opposed the Quit India struggle, it simultaneously organised campaigns against the general policies of the government, he claimed.
The familiar blend of indignation, apologia, explanation, evasion. By the end of Namboodiripad's account, this of half-truths, smears, pasting motives on others, non-sequiters, contradictions becomes laughable.
"This does not, however, mean that the Communist Party did not commit any error in translating its general approach towards the Quit India struggle into Practical activities," the General of the Party allowed. "Failing to properly appreciating (sic) the popular feeling behind the struggle, the Party had often displayed a tendency to denounce those participating in the struggle as fascist agents. It had also made certain errors in organising mass struggles during this period. All such errors were subjected later to severe self-criticism, particularly in the Second Party Congress held in Calcutta in 1948." That last bit has an immediate practical consequence: If before their self- criticism you criticised their doings, you were clearly a fascist agent; if you do so after that, you are even more conclusively a fascist agent -- the Party having already acknowledged its 'error', that you are still raking up the 'old canard' is proof positive that you are doing so at the behest of the forces of reaction!
But, clearly, to admit that the Party made a fundamental error would cut at the claim to infallibility. Hence, there is the SOP -- the Standard Operating Procedure. If sticking by the Line is too costly, the Party and its intellectuals acknowledge the 'error', but immediately add that the 'error' was just a tactical one! True to the SOP, Namboodiripad concluded, "Despite the omissions and commissions, the Party adopted a policy which was by and large correct during the Quit India struggle."
That is because the Hitler-Stalin Pact was correct, it was a clever counter-move: The capitalist-imperialists conspired to set Hitler to destroy the Soviet Union, Namboodiripad maintained; by entering into a Pact with Hitler, Stalin foiled their conspiracy. The consequence was as decisive as it was immediate: "Hitler could now turn westwards," the General Secretary noted with satisfaction... That is why the Indian Communist Party characterised the War as an Imperialist War in this phase, and insisted that the Congress take advantage of the difficulties of Britain to push it in India -- for Britain was arrayed against Hitler who was the ally of the Soviet Union. Of course, Hitler turned perfidious: In spite of the Pact, he invaded The Only Fatherland. The War immediately turned into a Peoples War, the General Secretary explains. And that is why the Communist Party insisted that Gandhi and the Congress desist from doing anything which will inconvenience the British -- for they were now allied with the Soviet Union. "The characterisation of the war by Communists as 'imperialist' in the first phase and as 'peoples war' in the second phase was based on one and the same principle," Namboodiripad wrote. "It is certainly a crucial issue what attitude the ruling classes take towards the Soviet Union which is destined to decide the future of human society." This in 1986! "The Communist Party had never hidden its stand on this issue," he declared. Not just the Communists, "Everyone who is interested in man's onward march to socialism would take the same stand," Namboodiripad declared.
All this in a book published in 1986! In any event, there had been an advance. In 1984, Namboodiripad had denounced mention of their doings. In 1986 he acknowledged the 'error'. Three years did not pass and he was talking more about the 'mistake', and less about the explanations for it! So, when they come down on us, we just have to wait a while.
But Namboodiripad's press conference, it turned out, was just the opening salvo, as we shall see.