Hindu nationalists must win over Macaulay’s children – Anil Athale

Col. Anil A. Athale“It would be foolish of the new government of Modi to think that the battle has been won. It may be easy to deal with opportunists who jumped on the bandwagon of the ruling dynasty and Macaulayism for personal gain. But there are others who sincerely and genuinely believe that a pluralistic, modern and democratic India can only survive on Macaulayan foundations. Their number is large and they do occupy important slots in administration and the media.” – Colonel Anil Athale

Narendra ModiPart I

The 2014 election results marked a tectonic shift in Indian history. Elections are akin to war, there are no runners-up and the result affects all aspects of life, from economy to culture. The 2014 verdict was a decisive verdict in favour of Narendra Modi who represents a worldview different from that of the ruling establishment of the last 65 years. It is time to see this event in a long-term historical perspective.

According to many political analysts it was a one-sided battle with Modi outsmarting a lacklustre Rahul Gandhi of the Congress. But that would be a simplistic view. Behind the old establishment and a dynast fighting to preserve his throne, loomed the shadow of Thomas Babington Macaulay.

When Modi, on reaching of the steps of Parliament, bowed down, he in essence asserted for the first time a very Bharatiya tradition. A tradition that is followed by the humble railway ‘gangman’ (rail track checker; observe a new group of track patrol men joining duty, they will touch the rail tracks with reverence) to even highly paid white-collar bank employees, who also touch the steps of their work premise with reverence before entering their office.

This was no ordinary gesture; it was an assertion of Indian ethnicity and pride in showing his Indianness in public.

The two worldviews that were in contest, as a subtext of the just-concluded elections, were India as a State to give economic succour to its citizens versus India as a civilisational State with its own worldview, philosophy, aesthetics, music, art and culture.

The Bharatiya Janata Party inarticulately defines it as ‘cultural nationalism’ when what they mean is Indian civilisational nationalism. Partly this confusion can be attributed to the fact that in Hindi the words civilisation and culture have a common and interchangeable term — sanskriti and sabhyata. Culture is an expression of civilisation but it is civilisation that is supreme and defines the philosophy of the people.

Prof Arnold ToynbeeHistorian Arnold J. Toynbee had offered an explanation for the rise and fall of civilisations. He visualised civilisation as a living organism going through the cycle of birth, growth, stagnation, decline, demise and rebirth. He saw long-term history as a contest between challenge and response. Thus, when Indian civilisation faced Islamic onslaught and military defeat from the 13th century, the Indians led by Marathas under the leadership of Shivaji checked the expansion of the Mughals.

As the tide turned and the Marathas began expanding to the north and were on the verge of ending the Mughal domination there, two things happened. Wrong tactics and inept military leadership weakened them as well as the Afghan-Mughal coalition in the battle of Panipat in January 1761. Into this power vacuum stepped the British. The industrial revolution in Europe had tilted the military balance against Asia, and most of the old world agricultural civilisations succumbed to European colonialism and for the next 150 years or so India came under British rule.

Another important observation of Toynbee is that the defeated civilisation, as an interim measure, adopts and adapts to the ways of the conquerors. Shivaji exemplified this. He adopted many of the military practices, language (Farsi) and even dress before he turned the tide and defeated the Mughals. Later, Indians under the British similarly copied their practices, institutions, technologies, entered the military in large numbers, mastered the language to bring themselves up to such an extent that the departure of the British rule became a matter of time. Mahatma Gandhi brilliantly used non-violent tactics against a British Empire enfeebled by two world wars to win freedom for India in 1947, possibly prematurely.

Toynbee in his monumental A Study of History (12 volumes) concluded in the final chapters that ‘the industrialisation and modernisation going on in India and China, when it comes to fruition, the huge populations of these two countries will begin to weigh in the politico-military balance of the world. Such invigorated giants then will demand their just share in world resources, currently skewed in favour of the European countries’.

He accurately forecast the rise of Asia nearly 60 years ago. His prediction seems to have come true in the case of China but it continued to dismay and intrigue Indians that their own country seems to have fallen off the radar.

The post-mandate comments that ‘darkness has descended on India’ show the kind of opposition Modi has to overcome. It is this aspirational India that is attempting to throw away the shackles of Macaulayism. Make no Lord Thomas Babington Macaulaymistake, it is a tectonic shift and a beginning of the end of the Macaulayan mindset that has ‘ruled’ (not governed) India for close to 60 years. But let us first understand what is ‘Macaulayism‘.

Lord Macaulay’s famous Minute on Education dated February 2, 1835, has shaped the Indian elite’s perceptions for close to two centuries. The British prevailed because they had the technology of rail and telegraph combined with firearms to which the Indians had no answer.

But the British were cleverer than other imperial rulers. They ruled India through Indians. To this end they created, through a Macaulayan system of education, a class of Indians that had no pride in their culture, no confidence in their ability and were virtual mental slaves. Extracts from that famous Minute read like it was written in January 2014 and not 1835.

“That English is better worth knowing than Sanskrit or Arabic; that the natives are desirous to be taught English, and are not desirous to be taught Sanskrit or Arabic; We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country.”

The two main points of that education policy were:

A total disdain for any kind of Indian knowledge/achievements in the past as “the entire Indian literature on any subject cannot even fill two shelves in any European library” (paraphrased).

The English must have an education system to serve its Empire and create a class of brown sahibs and clerks.

At the risk of oversimplification, one can summarise the salient points of Macaulayism as under:

  • India was a creation of the British — they unified the several kingdoms etc. Never mind that consolidation of nation states was a 19th century phenomenon when India was already a British colony or that Germany or Italy attained political unity only in the 19th century, or that British India still had close to 400 princely states. Historical memories of vast Indian empires of the past including Chandragupta, Ashoka, Samudragupta or Vikramaditya was not history but mythology. The Indian subcontinent’s cultural unity was also a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh myth.
  • But for British rule India would have remained in the bullock cart age. All modern technology is the gift of the British colonialists, never mind that countries like Japan, China or even Thailand who were never colonies are today far more advanced than India.
  • Indians have no history to be proud of, the society was caste-ridden, backward and primitive. Indians should be ashamed of their faith and but for the intervention of the English India would have remained a disunited, backward country full of superstition. Indian intellectual achievements in mathematics, astronomy, medicine are a part of communal propaganda. Aryabhatta, Sushruta, Bhaskara never existed and there is no evidence on the ground of any Indian achievement in art or architecture.

AryabhataPart II

My first encounter with Macaulayism was in April 1975. The episode is worth a recall. It was April 21, and India had just launched its first satellite ‘Aryabhatta’ from a Russian rocket.

This author, then a junior captain posted on operational staff, was present at an army party in Rajouri (a field area and headquarters of a division in Jammu and Kashmir). All of us were gathered in the main hall with the general as chief guest. The conversation veered around that day’s news, namely the launch of the Aryabhatta satellite.

A very good friend of the author, a senior major, who headed the intelligence department, in a light-hearted manner, commented on this, “Who is this Bhatta Bhatta?” There was general laughter! I think something snapped in me and at top of my voice from the other end of the room, I told my friend (and indirectly the general and others who found this a joke worthy of laughter) that Aryabhatta was one of the world’s greatest astronomers, who had accurately predicted the various facts about planets 1,000 years before Galileo and Copernicus and if he did not know this he should just shut up.

I was lucky to survive, for any fauji will understand that this was gross insubordination, an offence punishable with censure. Luckily, the general, a God-fearing man and a gentleman, possibly saw merit in what I said and my friend asked me the next day as to what was wrong with me! We remained friends for many more years, God bless his soul. But as I recall that episode, I see the Macaulayists all round me.

Just sample this. All Hindi movie actors/actresses prefer to talk in English. Film magazines about Hindi movies are in English. Open pages of the so-called leading newspapers, you will find that even a PhD student or a person based in Paris comments authoritatively on India. The issue is not one of freedom of expression but of the kind of media space given to these sahibs or, as an alternative, those in ‘white’ universities. Sitar, yoga, meditation techniques all came to the Indian brown sahib elite via the West.

An idea, an individual or institution gains respectability only after it is accepted by the West. Many of us have encountered this where even when one tries to use the ‘native’ language, if the shopkeeper senses that you are a ‘sahib’ he replies in English. I have myself been aghast that despite my over 25 years of work on national security and several publications, what seems to impress many is the fact that a Western government gave me an odd fellowship and invite.

Swami Vivekananda & Sister Nivedita (R)Before the usual suspects begin to bay for my blood for English bashing, let me clarify. One is not against English language. It is today a global language and a useful ‘tool’ to acquire knowledge. But language is not an end but a means. What the Macaulayists have done is to use this tool to subjugate the non-English speaking people, as envisioned by Macaulay.

But even the colonial educational institutes sometimes produced great nationalists and thinkers who did not get brain washed. It is a minor miracle that from avowedly Macaulayan institutes, India produced a gem like Swami Vivekananda (who studied in Scottish Church College, Kolkata). But the exception only proves the rule.

Most of these colonial institutes produced precisely the kind of Indians that Macaulay envisaged. It is these individuals who mostly man India’s administrative machinery, judiciary and even armed forces. Modi has a long, hard and dirty battle on his hands in the future.

Returning to the ‘challenge and response’ theory of rise and fall of civilisations, one can understand the initial Nehruvian years when India and Indians absorbed Western ideas, institutions and language. But it became clear that having adapted and grown in strength, India will assert and free itself from the Macaulayism. After Nehru’s death in 1964, Lal Bahadur Shastri became the prime minister.

Shastri was steeped in Indian culture and tradition and was a true ‘rajyogi’ (an ascetic ruler). But it is a fallacy if one were to claim that his leadership was easily accepted. The author was a cadet in the National Defence Academy at the time and can vividly recall that every time he came up on the screen during a movie show (for those who don’t know, at the beginning of all movies a short ‘news reel’ produced by the Films Division was shown), the cadets would burst into laughter.

After the imposing figure of a pucca sahib like Nehru, the rustic, diminutive, dhoti-clad Shastri with a squeaky voice was indeed a figure of derision for most Macaulayans. But then came the 1965 Indo-Pak war and Shastri showed exemplary leadership in fighting the US-Pakistan combine.

Lal Bahadur Shastri & Indian ArmyIf Shastri would have survived longer, Macaulayism would have been dead and buried. One recalls the kind of national spirit Shastri evoked. When India faced the American food embargo, his call to eat one less chapati got a huge response. It seemed that Indian nationalism was asserting itself. His early death cut short this attempt.

Indira Gandhi, who followed him, was no Macaulayist. But it took her some time to find her feet and by the time she did, in 1980, she became the victim of international politics that was hell-bent on dividing India. Her son who followed her won a landslide victory in the 1984 elections essentially on the plank of Indian nationalism. One of the measures he took to re-assert Indian identity was to revive the public’s interest in India’s ancient past. His decision to air the Indian epics Ramayan and Mahabharat, dealt a decisive blow to Macaulayism. But his assassination cut short that attempt.

In 1999, when an avowedly ‘nationalist’ government came to power in India under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, another attempt was made to dismantle the Macaulayist legacy. Under Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, an attempt was made to re-assert Indian nationalism.

Restoring the Indian historical narrative was seen by him as the first step to national rejuvenation. It is understood that victors write history. Since the British ruled India for long, the version of history taught to Indians had a heavy bias towards their rule.

For instance, the emphasis given to narrating the deeds of various governor generals was far in excess of their long-term impact. On the other hand, ancient Indian history was given a short shrift. It is this that produced the kind of people described by the author earlier, who had no clue about Indian contribution to science or philosophy.

But Joshi’s attempt was fiercely opposed by the Macaulayists, individuals as well as institutions. It was derisively called ‘saffronisation’ of history. The Vajpayee government was weak politically and had to succumb to the pressures.

After the 2004 electoral defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Macaulayists under the United Progressive Alliance government struck back and virtually rolled back most of the changes that had been brought about since the 1980s. But it soon became apparent that the Macaulayists were in retreat. For despite the political changes in India and return of Macaulayists to power, the IT professionals of Indian origin as well as the Indian Diaspora was doing exceedingly well.

The success of Indians abroad and the dismal performance at home began to show up the ruling elite in bad light. It was only a matter of time before the electorate sent them packing in 2014.

IndiaIndia and China, two ancient Asian civilisations, followed different paths to rejuvenation. While India took up the parliamentary democracy route and Macaulayist and administrative system, China adopted Marxism, another Western philosophy, to modernise itself. As China progressed and gained confidence, it jettisoned the Marxist crutches by 1979 under Deng Xiaoping, who proclaimed the Chinese path as Marxism with Chinese characteristics. It seems that India is finally at that ‘Deng’ moment in its history where it is ready to shed the Macaulayan ideological baggage.

It would be foolish of the new government of Modi to think that the battle has been won. It may be easy to deal with opportunists who jumped on the bandwagon of the ruling dynasty and Macaulayism for personal gain.

Ramachandra Guha: Blinded by Nehru worship!But there are others who sincerely and genuinely believe that a pluralistic, modern and democratic India can only survive on Macaulayan foundations. Their number is large and they do occupy important slots in administration and the media. The West understands the danger of the rise of another China-like Asian power. Witness the chorus of criticism and apprehension at the possible victory of Indian nationalists in the Western press.

The fight between the forces of Indian nationalism and Macaulayism aided and abetted by the West is going to be long, hard and dirty. The outcome of this war will decide whether India fulfills the prediction of British historian Arnold Toynbee and like China becomes a superpower or continues to wallow in the swamp of underdevelopment. – Rediff, 17 June 2014

» Colonel (Retd) Dr Anil Athale is a student of military history and author of Maratha Struggle for Empire, Arab-Israeli Wars, 1962 Sino-India Conflict and Comparative Study of Insurgencies. He has acted as  Jt Director of the War Studies Division, Ministry of Defence, and after retirement has been occupied as coordinator with security research for the think tank INPAD at Pune.

Indian PM Shastri atop a captured Pakistani tank 1965

Indian Voters 2014