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Political Furore Over Historical Legacies

Political Furore Over Historical Legacies

As Mumbai and its suburbs bore the brunt of the Maharashtra bandh protesting the alleged violence against Dalits who had gathered to observe the 200th anniversary of the Bhima-Koregaon battle at Sanaswadi on the outskirts of Pune, a feeling that the contributions of the marginalised community towards nation-building are being questioned today is taking deep roots in the minds of the people.

The massive bandh by Dalit groups in Maharashtra had the state on the edge after the anniversary of a two-century-old battle brought to fore simmering caste tensions.

Moreover, when responsible leaders are willing to take this alleged ‘bias’ to ridiculous heights so far as to politicize the whole incident, it does lend a disconcerting note to the whole proceeding.

Likening the BJP and the RSS as organisations that are modern-day Peshwas, representing Brahminism in its worst form, irresponsible statements by Dalit leaders that their present generation continues to fight against the new oppressors clearly adds spice to the over-boiling cauldron of communal ill-will that has come to describe the state of affairs epitomized in caste-politics in India.

However, when protests come at the cost of disrupting normal life in any region, the public, already deeply hurt by communal tensions running high in the country, tends to condemn the political motives that inspire such violent clashes and are quick to berate the leaders for their insensitiveness.

Nevertheless, it is indeed a matter of deep concern that ‘moments’ from our ‘historic’ past continue to fascinate us to no end, even today.

Not that we should be forgetting our glorious past, but why should we continue to be slaves to those fleeting images from our ‘illustrious’ past that are but legacies of a bygone era, a period where India as a land of different sovereigns had territorial borders deciding loyalties.

A fact ably exploited by the colonial rulers who never wanted the regional satraps to mend fences, the divide-and-rule policy of the British ensured that the Hindustan of yore remained a vast expanse of alienated kingdoms which never thought of mutual alignment as the best way to repel external aggression.

Our history books are replete with exploits of bravehearts who took on the might of the British Empire, but our fondness for immortalizing heroes from our historic past has been unique in the sense that even today people are divided over their loyalties and prefer to exhibit them in rather violent means.

The controversy over the Karnataka government’s decision to celebrate the 266th birth anniversary of Tipu Sultan in Madikeri, Kodagu district, in 2015 was one such incident.

Specialising in issue-centric politics, modern-day leaders have had no compunctions over jeopardizing communal harmony in the country to further their agendas. Anything that remotely smells of a controversy-in-waiting is pounced upon and by giving various tones to the disagreement it is ensured that the whole episode virtually snowballs into a problem of far-reaching magnitude that adversely affects the peaceful coexistence between people of various communities belonging to different castes, races and religion.

India’s communal cauldron is thus constantly on the boil! Aided further by strange legislations, social frictions will continue to plague the country. If that is not all, vituperative speeches addressed by rabble-rousing hotheads constantly serve to add fuel to the fire.

A polarizing figure in history, Tipu Sultan has been variously described by leaders of various political factions as a religious bigot and mass-murderer, while many see him as a sterling administrator and the first freedom fighter to take on the might of the British Empire in India.

Cinematic reproductions of historic figures or events have always invited criticism for faulty depictions and dramatic narrations as a means to draw a larger viewing audience. However, filmmakers have mostly got away with the excuse that as producers and directors it is their interpretation of the historic event or character that comes alive on the silver screen.

The celluloid version of Rani Padmavati, a legendary 13-14th century Hindu Rajput queen, has already set the nation on fire with protests over its release in theaters being as much a mystery until recently as the contents of the film that has purportedly hurt the sentiments of Rajput groups who claim that the filmmaker has distorted facts! As of press time, “Padmavati”, the movie in question, is scheduled to be released on January 25.

For that matter, the earliest source to mention Padmavati is an epic fictionalized poem, Padmavat, written by Malik Muhammad Jayasi in 1540 CE. Several subsequent adaptations of the legend characterised her as a Hindu Rajput queen who defended her honour against a Muslim invader. Over the years, she came to be seen as a historical figure appearing in several novels, plays, television serials and movies.

However, while Alauddin Khalji’s Siege of Chittor in 1303 CE is a historical event, the legend of Padmavati has little historical evidence and most modern historians have rejected its authenticity.

Yet locals refuse to see it as a dramatic presentation and have taken up cudgels against the producers of the magnum opus for the misrepresentations that have hurt their sentiments. What does one attribute such a reaction to ‑ parochial mindset that deters them from accepting anything that departs from the traditional!

On a lighter note, though, such controversies have only helped the movies to perform exceedingly well at the box office. With inquisitiveness of an ever-eager public ready to lap up the film for its alleged contradictions, producers of such epics always rake in substantial moolah for all the pre-release harassment they are put through.

And now the Battle of Koregaon fought in 1818 has come to haunt Maharashtra two centuries later!

Could the political standoff between the affected factions in recent times have brought off an entirely different reaction in the bygone era? Could the happenings be reversed so as to have history rewritten? Real foolish notions!

The dominant caste hierarchy in Indian politics has led to an odd situation where reservations and quotas have featured as major bargaining points with political parties not averse to appeasing the masses in order to build up vote banks that are so vital for their sustenance ‑ even if it be at the cost of invoking characters and incidents from our ancient history! 

When will the Indian public learn to sift ‘political mischievousness’ out of historical events and maintain an impartial stand on such matters remains to be known!

(Published on 15th January 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 03)