History belongs to the victors, they say. To put it even better, History belongs to the rulers. Those who rule, interpret history and then present it in a way that shows them in positive light. In a country like India, where there seems to be a very limited tradition of history writing, history merges with mythology and mythology with history, so what you have at hand is actually a very good story/poem but seldom a strong historical account. The history of ancient and medieval India is, in many accounts, bereft of a sense of chronology, Kings come in, get out and paens get sung to their glory. In the present age, “saffronization” of History is a subject of discussion amongst our political classes. It is assumed that “saffronization” of History is an attempt to view history with saffron coloured glasses-which certainly is not the case. Against a “saffronized history“, you have a Leftist red history, Islamic Green History, Nazi Black history and what not. The point basically is that like beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, History lies in the pen of the author. One man’s history can be another man’s fiction.
Which brings us to the point of what India’s history is. Ancient Indian history is defined mostly in terms of the monuments left behind by Kings, by literary accounts of battles fought and folk lore. As mentioned earlier, ancient Indian writers were master story tellers, but poor recorders of history. That situation changed with the advent of Islam in Sindh in 8th century. The conquest of Sindh by Muhammad bin Qasim is described as a battle of establishment of the true faith amongst Heathens by the Chachnama. It records how Qasim was righteous and how the heathens sued for peace and surrendered before Qasim’s ferocity. Chachnama mentions the fate that befell those who resisted. There is no mention of the travails of the natives who had to endure the invasion and see their temples destroyed, their idols shattered and their kinsmen murdered. It does not record the second class status that the natives had to endure, replaced as they were with a foreign race. The invasion is described as a punishment meted out to the Sindhi King, who connived with his pirates and harassed Arab ships. Facts today state indicate that this was a regular imperialist expansion, coming after several failed attempts.
The Ghaznavid and Ghurid invasions leading to the establishment of Delhi Sultanate are similarly described as a victory of Turks and Afghans by medieval historians such as Barani. The plight of the natives is again of no concern. Temples are freely destroyed, taxes are harshly levied, indigents are made out of natives, territories are plundered, women and children are sold as slaves and yet the Sultan is wise, just and heroic. Had any Indian historian of that age written his account of the events of the day, we would read of the great tragedy that befell the land, how Gods deserted their people at their time of need, how the wealth and riches of India were drained and how rivers turned red with all the bloodletting. Yet, all we read is how Delhi Sultanate was the first pan Indian empire, almost stretching from end to end.
Taking a huge leap to the modern times, ask a Congress-affiliated historian to write an account of Emergency. You will read accounts of how discipline was enforced, how trains ran on time, how productivity increased and so on- Anushasan Parva, so to speak. Ask a Leftist/’Saffronite‘ historian for his account and you will hear of suspension of civil rights, an atmosphere of terror, torture and disappearance and what not. And believe it, both are accurate accounts of what emergency really was. Or for that matter, ask a Kashmiri Pandit of his account of the flight from valley- He definitely won’t mention it as a sacrifice from his side for the cause of Azadi.
That is how history is. Always subject to the views of the writer. However, the only way to make history as objective and neutral as possible is to present it keeping the audience as the frame of reference. Without this, history becomes a joke. Imagine how you would feel if the Indian Independence movement was presented as an assault on British sovereignty? Or how, India wronged Pakistan by creating Bangladesh in 1971? If the frame of reference is India and its inhabitants, then the policies of murderous, temple smashing, Jizya levying, plundering Sultans are as detestable as the policies of the British that impoverished the country. In that frame of reference, India’s most ecstatic moment would be winning independence after centuries of servitude and the 1971 defeat inflicted on Pakistan.
“Saffronization” of history is not an attempt to make a myth out of history. It is an attempt to set the frame of reference right, without prejudice to any caste, any community. In fact it is more of Indianization of Indian history. It is unfortunate that in Independent India, the only battle that the Indianizers won against the Secularists was the re-building of Somnath Temple. Other than that, Indianization, even today mocked as “Saffronization” remains a lost cause.