India’s new untouchables: Marx, Engels

CRACKS IN THE BASTION: This poster in Valapad Beach village, Thrissur, Kerala, says "CPIM District Meeting". Photo: Rakesh Krishnan Simha

CRACKS IN THE BASTION: This poster in Valapad Beach village, Thrissur, Kerala, says "CPIM District Meeting". Photo: Rakesh Krishnan Simha

Nearly a quarter century after the Russians gave communism the boot, the Indian state of Paschim Banga has decided to purge Marx, Engels and Bolshevism from school history books. However, a billion Indians continue to be fed other varieties of phony history.

On June 11, 1988 the Soviet Union in a momentous decision cancelled all history exams in schools across the country, affecting more than 53 million students. The reason: under President Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost the re-examination of Soviet history had gone so far that historians, social scientists and even Communist Party theoreticians were uncertain what was correct, what was fantasy and what was a cover-up of crimes in the material taught to Soviet students.

“The guilt of those who deluded one generation after another, poisoning their minds and souls with lies, is immeasurable,” Izvestia, the government newspaper, said in a strongly worded front-page commentary.

More than 20 years after the Russians gave communism the boot, the Indian state of Paschim Banga (which was ruled by the communists for an unbroken period of 34 years until they lost the elections last year) has decided to purge Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Bolshevism from state history books.

Earlier this month, a school education committee set up by Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee, explained why these guys must go. One, the committee took exception to school history books describing Marx and Engels as “great”, and secondly “in the present syllabus, a student might feel there are only three countries in the world – India, England and Soviet Russia”.

So out goes the Russian Revolution. What’s kosher are globalisation, women’s liberation and Nelson Mandela.

It is fitting that the re-examination of history books has come from a state that has been utterly ruined by the Marxists. For more than three decades, the Communist Party ran a mini-gulag in Bengal, terrorising the poor, grabbing land, rigging elections and enforcing a de facto Marxist apartheid that boycotted anybody who didn’t toe the party line.

And as their popularity nosedived, the Marxists smuggled in millions of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, who were allowed to settle in the state in exchange for votes at election time.

Left out but not down

It is a measure of the clout the Marxists and liberals enjoy that Banerjee – probably the only Indian politician with balls – had to issue a statement that she was not treating Marx and Engels as untouchables.

This is because Marxists have infiltrated every strata of life in Paschim Banga. In national electoral politics the Left may only have a marginal role, but their presence in universities and powerful outfits such as the Indian Council of Historical Research is huge. Marxists and academics such as R.S. Sharma, Bipan Chandra, Vijay Parshad, Irfan Habib and Romilla Thapar are known India haters but dead or alive they hold considerable sway over textbooks.

Indian Marxists differ from their brethren in other countries in their attitudes towards their homeland. Russian and Chinese Marxists despite their crimes against ‘class enemies’ were at the very least nationalists. Similarly, Marxists in several developing countries, including Vietnam and Nicaragua, used the bond of Marxism to launch guerrilla movements that defeated imperial powers.

Indian Marxists on the other hand are virulently anti-Indian. In 1942 during Mohandas K. Gandhi’s Quit India Movement, they made a secret deal with the British, declaring that they were suspending their freedom struggle because the Nazis rather than the British were the bigger threat. This was the first of many instances where the Indian Marxists showed their preference for international issues at the expense of India’s interests. (In contrast Jawaharlal Nehru has written in his letters how the Congress leaders lodged in jail rejoiced at the news of every setback suffered by the British against the Germans.)

Again, during the 1962 India-China war, many Indian Marxists in London were known to be openly raising funds for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. One of them became a diplomat (and eventually a cabinet minister) and his selection was approved by Nehru’s party against the recommendations of the Intelligence Bureau.

In 1991 during a visit to the AKG Centre, the Marxist party HQ in Trivandrum, Kerala, I was introduced to a proud Marxist party functionary, whose claim to fame was arranging a secret drop zone in the Himalayan foothills in Nepal from where a Chinese helicopter picked up his party boss.

It is in this backdrop of Marxist deception that Banerjee’s move is welcome, and similar re-examinations of history are required in all states. Currently, what is taught in Indian schools is either a bunch of lies handed down from colonial days or cooked up by Indian Marxists and liberals.

A cavalcade of shams

One of the biggest lies taught in Indian schools is the Aryan Invasion Theory, according to which fair skinned ‘Aryans’ invaded India across the north western passes, poured into the plains of Punjab, Sindh and Gujarat and destroyed the vibrant civilisation and decimated the dark skinned native Dravidians.

I remember the chapter on Early Vedic History in junior high school. Since I was from Kerala, which is part of the ‘Dravidian area’ in southern India, this chapter caused some funny moments in my school in northern India. One of the descriptions was as follows: “The Aryans were fair and tall while the Dravidians were dark and short.” Another piece of Marxist-colonial wisdom: “The Aryans were a pastoral people who destroyed the cities they found in ancient India.”

Now, a couple of my mischievous classmates teased me during the lunch break: “You people from south India were dark and short and we beat you.” It didn’t occur to me back then that one of them was much darker than me. So I used another line to counterattack: “But you people were barbarians. What do you expect?”

The Aryan Invasion Theory was cooked up by the German scholar Max Muller, who was hired by the British to cook up a theory that could somehow link the vast body of philosophy, wisdom, science, metallurgy and medicine of ancient India with Europe. Without a shred of evidence Muller created the invasion theory which suited the British, who started claiming that they were merely reclaiming the ancient land of the Aryans.

Interestingly, the word Aryan does not even exist in Hindu texts; the word used over and over again is Arya which means “a noble person”. As per the definition of an Arya, anyone – dark or fair, Indian or foreign, atheist or believer – could be an Arya provided they subscribed to the Vedic ideals of right conduct. But Muller and a succession of India-hating Indologists stole the word and gave it a spin, translating it into an ‘Aryan' race.

Max Muller: British agent

C. Beckerlegge writes in Culture and Empire: “Max Muller was a British agent, especially employed to write the translations of the Vedas in such a demeaning way so that the Hindus should lose faith in them. His personal letter to his wife dated December 9, 1867 reveals this fact.”

In 1853 when the salary of an English teacher was £90 per year, Max Muller was paid £4 per sheet of his writing which comes to roughly £800 today. “This is an incredibly high price for only one sheet of writing. But it’s the general law of business that the price of a commodity increases with its demand. The British were in such an imperative need to get someone to do this job and Max Muller was the right person, so they paid whatever he asked for. His enthusiastic letters to his mother reveal the fact that he was desperate to bring Christianity into India so that the religion of the Hindus should be doomed.”

One doesn’t have to be an academic to figure how this British-German collaboration in chicanery proved tragic for the entire world, and especially for Europe. The Aryan theory was gleefully latched on to by several German scholars, who saw the similarities in Sanskrit and European languages, and assumed (perhaps rightly) that Europe shared a kinship with the grand Vedic civilisation of India.

So widespread was the magnitude of the German immersion in Vedic studies that, when in 1871 the various German states finally consolidated into the German Empire, Henry Maine, a member of the Viceroy of India’s council, declared: “A nation has been born out of Sanskrit.”

However, the Germans proved to be too keen. Max Muller’s notion of a primeval ‘Aryan’ civilisation proved to be so fascinating that the Germans nationalists ultimately ran away with the theory, stealing the benign Hindu symbol of the Swastika, and we all know what happened next.

Thugs get a bad name

There are plenty of other examples, in fact too many to list out but a couple of them must be mentioned.

One of them is the complete whitewashing of Hindu history from Indian school books. The period from 1000 CE to 1700 CE is treated as the period of Islamic domination of India, but there is absolutely no mention of the resistance by Hindu rulers. All that schoolchildren read is a series of Muslim dynasties and a succession of Hindu defeats. It is like studying the history of Mongol rule in Russia while leaving out Alexander Nevsky. However, the Marxists have achieved what they wanted – three generations of Indians have grown up with a defeatist mentality.

The second instance of selective history is the British period, which runs from around 1757 CE to 1947 CE. While the books do not whitewash British crimes and genocides, they do tend to soften the impact by saying how some of the British motives were altruistic because the colonialists abolished several barbaric practices. This isn’t quite true.

Take the case of Thugee which is described as institutionalised highway robbery practised by a “diabolical tribe” named the Thugs. It is handed down to us that the British heroically went after the Thugs and destroyed their power base, making Indian roads safe for the common man as well as traders.

However, upon re-examination of this episode it transpires that the Thugs were former landowners and farmers who had been dispossessed of their hereditary lands by the British. The Thugs were therefore the world’s first guerrilla group, who were fighting the British. This is a classic case of a Goebbelsian lie that stuck.

The British also managed to contrive a face-saving exit from India, mainly because Mohandas Gandhi held armed Indian revolutionaries at bay. The problem with freedom following in the wake of Gandhi’s non-violence movement is that the British are able to claim that after ruling India for 190 years they became so tired of the responsibilities of running an empire that they simply wound up their empire and left.

Something like this version is taught in the name of modern Indian history, allowing Gandhi to corner all the credit for the British retreat from India. In reality, the British rule in India was never secure and was wracked by revolutions across the vast country. In fact, the Indians took the battle to London where revolutionaries murdered a British general and exploded a bomb inside the British Parliament.

It is precisely because of such a slavish approach to history that both Stalin and Mao, who had wiped out every trace of foreign invaders from their countries, could not understand India’s softness towards the British. Truly, they were bewildered by how Indians like Nehru treated British rule as a mixed blessing, when in reality it was a total disaster that transformed India from the world’s richest country to its poorest within a span of five generations. Precisely because of this attitude, the KGB classified Nehru as a reactionary and Mao described him as a British stooge.

Texas-sized lie

The fixing of history is, however, not an exclusively Indian or Soviet preserve. In March 2012, the Texas Board of Education dropped President Thomas Jefferson, widely regarded as one of the most important of all the founding fathers of the United States, from a world history section devoted to great political thinkers. Of course, Texas is one of the most regressive states in the United States, but how did they pull that?

The original curriculum asked students to "explain the impact of Enlightenment ideas from John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Charles de Montesquieu, Jean Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Jefferson on political revolutions from 1750 to the present".

According to the board, the Enlightenment was not the only philosophy on which these revolutions were based.

The new standard now reads: "Explain the impact of the writings of John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Charles de Montesquieu, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone."

By dropping mention of revolution, and substituting figures such as Aquinas and Calvin for Jefferson, the board chose to embrace religious teachings over those of Jefferson, the man who coined the phrase "separation between church and state".

Eerily, the board also voted to strike the word "democratic" from references to the US form of government, replacing it with the term "constitutional republic".

That’s not were it all ended. Six months after the Jefferson episode, the committee passed a resolution to reject textbooks with "pro-Islamic/anti-Christian" sentiments. All future texts are to be fixed.

How does this impact Americans in other states? Texas, which has 4.7 million schoolchildren, is a massive purchaser of textbooks and publishers are forced to follow the guidelines of the Texas Board of Education. The revisions will not only spread to other states it will also ensure a resounding conservative stamp on history textbooks.

Georgian logic

The Georgians have their own take on history. In The Times newspaper, former British diplomat Christopher Meyers, who visited Georgia during the Khrushchev years, recounts this episode: “At the time of my visits, Stalin, a Georgian by birth, was still officially a non-person, airbrushed by his successors from the annals of Soviet history. But in defiance of Moscow his portraits could still be seen in Georgian state farms and government offices. I asked a Georgian official why this was so. ‘Because he killed so many Russians,’ came the sardonic reply.”

Well, Stalin may have been nominally Georgian but he sacrificed his own son for Russia. During the Battle for Stalingrad the Germans had captured Stalin’s son and offered to exchange him for Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus, a POW with the Russians. Stalin replied: “We do not exchange Field Marshals for corporals.” Such are the ironies of history.

Past as future

In 1988 the Russian communist regime, which once claimed political infallibility, decided that cancelling the end-of-term examinations was the only way to break the cycle of lies.

In contrast, it is reflection of the fractured nature of Indian society that the country’s leaders and academics continue to feed the same lies to a billion people. The Russian communists had the guts and the gumption to scratch the syllabus while they were at the peak of their power, whereas Indians communists are calling for Banerjee’s head.

History is not just about the past. It is what gives perspective to the present and offers guidance to the future. History may or may not repeat itself but nations being fed a steady diet of fake history will certainly have an uncertain future.

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