Romila Thapar Distorter-in-Chief
No person has ever done more damage to the true Indian historical-past and culture than the so-called acclaimed historian of the left leaning, Romila Thapar. Because of her clout over the institutional-academic positions and control over the narrative of official-history of India along with her coterie, she dictated the mainstream of the official-version of Nehruvian Indian history to propagate her own hidden-agenda. The historical-past and historical-facts were twisted, eschewed, manipulated, distorted and falsified so as to drive a particular ideology.
As per her, history is an understanding and interpreting the past. This understanding of the past should not be from the present perspective or assumptions, prejudices and frameworks. She is right. Academically, a historian is objective and puts forward historical findings, discoveries and evidences based on facts. The modern method of historical-research is collecting facts and evidences leading to theories. Searching for facts in the light of new evidences is ‘re-search’ , which may challenge the already prevailing theories.
Having prophesied this, she starts her history with assumptions and prejudices. If you read the narratives put forward by the Marxist-historians led by her, you find that their perspective is the prison of the Marxist-leftist framework. Marxism as a hypothesis (now discarded world-over) is a religion for its proponents like her. In this, man is reduced to a matter. It starts with the basic assumption that ‘’matter’’ and ‘’material-forces’’ are the moving forces of the world. All the other factors like religion, ideology, social-factors etc, are just extension of the material-forces which are classified in to means of production and methods of production. Those who control these factors of production, controls the ideological and other aspects of the society.
Thapar, ’the historian’ starts with this Marxist-worldview and then collects and interprets facts, events and incidents to understand, explain the historical-events and justify them confirming to her prejudices. Her book ‘From Lineage to State in Ancient India’ (1987) argues that the ways in which state formation took place in ancient India from mere kin relations to complex forms of administration can be explained by a Marxist framework of the development of state in history. Although Thapar does not make a direct reference, it is quite clear that she is intellectually dictated by Louis Althusser’s ideas of society who was a French political thinker and the most influential Marxist intellectual of the 1960’s.
Ironically, the acclaimed ‘re-searcher’ of the ancient-history hates the idea of even starting the ‘re-search’ from a new perspective. Any new-research or counter-narrative is seen as blasphemous and an attempt to thwart the gospel truth of which the Leftist-historians led by her are the repository. Like the New-Marxist who claim to have the idea and monopoly of “truth’ and ‘’post-truth’’, she abhors the idea of giving the counter perspective to the readers since this will be equivalent to giving ‘false-consciousness’ to them! On academic level, the whole idea of re-writing the history based on new facts and research is opposed on this argument. In any social-sciences, the reader may be offered a number of narratives and the judgment may be left to his discretion as to how he registers and interprets any historical-event in his mind.
After obtaining her degree in English literature, Thapar obtained a second bachelor’s honors degree and a doctorate in Indian history under A. L. Basham from the School of Oriental and African Studies, the University of London. These two backgrounds have influenced and defined her. Her understanding of historical facts evolves from a distorted version of the distorted translations of the evangelist Historians. And her whole conclusions are based primarily on ‘linguistic-evidence’ as against archeological-discoveries. She is not even qualified in Sanskrit. Imagine a ‘scholar’ interpreting the Vedic-society and Post-Vedic society without even having a professional knowledge and learning in Sanskrit language!
She builds up her entire narrative on an already built-up British theory that chiefly emanated through Oxford led by Max Mueller, Sir Jones and others. Instead of finding evidences of Indian history here in India, history of Ancient India has been imported from England as created by the British. Leading western Indologist Michael Witzel dismissed her work as ‘mere excerpts from outdated works’. She is accused of plagiarism to have excerpted data from the ‘Cambridge Ancient History’ and ‘Buddhist India’. The British historians very conveniently discounted the Indian ancient-way of keeping historical records, simply because they could not understand the unique ways of recordings in Sanskrit poetry. She assails the Indian past and concludes that Indians lack the sense of historical-writings, though she modifies her stance in later books. She has underplayed the importance of writing in Ancient India which has been heavily criticized by Richard F. Gombrich who points out that the lack of importance given to writing by Thapar gives an entirely misguided view of Ancient Indian Society.
Even when the literary materials on the Ancient-India were translated and understood, they were set aside by the British historians as it was difficult for ruler-class to accept something superior in the subjugated class which could belittle them. It was based on the dictum ‘that unless the people destined to be ruled are convinced of their inferiority, it will be impossible to rule over and rob them!’ This was included in the British-era Macaulayan education system which continued till late under Nehruvian-history thanks to the legacy followed so blindly by the Avengelist-leftist historians like Romila. Leading Historian William Dalrymple lambasted that the early Nehruvian textbooks written by Romila Thapar and other ‘Marxists’ had hijacked History textbooks and turned them into propaganda soon after India attained its independence. He also accused that the Leftist presented a ‘rose-tinted vision” of Hindu-Muslim unity running through the whole of the Delhi Sultanate right through the Mughals.
As an academician-historian, she is not a historical scholar in the true sense. She relies primarily on literary and second-hand sources instead of taking efforts to find the primary sources and their authenticity and originality. She is relying mostly on literary sources. Her interpretation of Ashoka has been heavily criticized by another leading historian Upinder Singh (happens to be the daughter of ex Prime-minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh) who demolishes Romila’s ideas of Ashoka’s reign on the basis of her findings of archeology specifically his edicts.
For Marxist, religion is an ‘opium of the poor’ and a way to subjugate the minds of the poor by the rich! Like many religions who propagates the idea of salvation and utopian state, as per Leftist, this material determinism of progression of society would ultimately lead to their ‘heaven’ of classless and stateless society passing through the state of even nationalism which is a temporary state. So both religion and feeling of nationalism are antithetical to the very grooming in Marxism! Now, just think if someone tries to interpret past and society with this assumption of India where religion plays a central-role, how messy the facts and understanding would be? In India, religion is not once in a week act, it is ‘a way of life’ which decides the discrimination between right and wrong, good and bad.
True to her master Marx, for her religion is just a method of hegemony of the poor by the rich and creates false consciousness in the poor. As a corollary, anything which does not suit the Marxist-perspective, is interpreted as mythology. Neither, she ever tried to look at the archeological, anthropologists, palaeontology, geographical or even literary evidences well researched and culled by the other historians of the historicity of the events.
She is not ready to accept the historicity of any of the epics Like the Ramayana and Mahabharata and rubbishes them as mythology, fantasy, poetry or faith make of a believed biography. But she does not refrain from making her prejudiced and preconceived comments and narrations on these ‘mythological-stories’ in the same breadth and has the intellectual-audacity to propagate that Pandavas were born out of an illegitimate sexual union between Durvasa and Kunti. The real fact is that nothing in the epic even remotely hints at such a relationship.
She makes a startling ‘discovery of historical fact’ that Yudhisthira was Inspired by Ashoka while renouncing his kingdom! This has stirred controversy with many people thinking this to be a factual error or a slip of tongue on the part of the ageing acclaimed historian. It is not so. This claim emanates from a deep-rooted conspiracy to prove that everything in the epics including Ramayana and Mahabharat is ‘myth’. If someone has read Arthshastra, which I m sure that the acclaimed scholar on ‘Asoka and the Decline of the Mauryas’ must have read since Kautilya was the prime-minister of Chandragupta Maurya, the grand-father of Ashoka, he will be convinced that she is distorting the facts and creating an academic-fraud which tantamount to a scam. In Chapter 8 of Arthshastra, Kautilya forbids the king from gambling as it is a bigger vice than hunting and recounts “the history of Yudhiṣṭhira” and ‘Nala’ who lost everything in gambling. (refer Arthashastra 8.1 , English translation by Shamsastry). Now If Yudhiṣṭhira was a “2000 year old fictional character” inspired by King Ashoka as Romila Thapar claimed then how did Chanakya (c.320 BC), the minister of Ashoka’s grandfather, mention Yudhiṣṭhira in his Arthaśāstra? So, to distort what is true and to push through the mandate of Nehruvian-history, her own distorted version of the true Indian past is at its full play. Take another example. In the very first chapter of her popular-book which she has written for NCERT and which is extensively used by aspirants of civil-services, she proclaims that Aryan came from central Asia without giving the basis or evidence how she arrives at this ‘historical-fact’. There is a huge debate going on. But she presumed this to be a fact or has failed to tell how she arrived at this conclusion.
Suiting to the Marxist-worldview that nation-state and feeling of nationalism was the concept of modern capitalism, she falsifies that India has never been united in the past and the sense of nationalism emerged only after and in reaction to the Britsh Raj. So as per her there was no ‘idea of India’ or Indian nation before the English came to India. It falsifies the fact of the great empires of India like Mauryan Kanishka, Gupta, Chalukyas, Cholas, Vijaynagar ever united India. ‘Most” of the present India was united from time to time under different empires, long before the British came to our land. Probably she is under the burden of the concept of capitalist nation-state which as per Marxism has to be before the feeling of nationalism can come and that too will wither-away giving birth to stateless and classless society. In her colour-blindness to the Left-ideology, she could not make a distinction between a modern state (country) and a nation. The concept of India being one geographical nation is inherent in the Indian-culture and religious ethos. The setting up for Four Maths by seer Shankaracharya in 4 extreme corners of Bharat in the Ist millennium CE comprising Badrinath (North), Dwarka (West), Puri (East) and Rameswaram (South) was not coincidental. It prescribes all the Hindus to pilgrim to these 4 Maths . Even in Vishnu Puran, the unified geographical concept of Bharat is mentioned which says that the land which is north of the sea and south of the Himalayas is Bharat. The feeling of Bharatvasrha has been writ large in our historical past though the geography may have gone some changes over time because of political reasons.
She has an inbuilt prejudice against the Hindus and for her the Hindu is only the upper-caste Hindus. In her craze to please her master and build up the idea of ‘Secularism’, she gives a rose-tainted picture of Hindu-Muslim Unity in the Mughal-era. So much so, the atrocities committed by the invading Mughal rulers were justified on the fact that even the Hindu-kings also committed atrocities and destroyed temples. How she and other “Eminent Historians’ selectively picks and chooses the ‘evidences’ to bring-out the true facts and push their own versions guided by their agenda is well exposed by Arun Shorie in his book.
It is natural for any student to abide by Ms Thapar, since he has never been presented with an ‘alternate theory’. We cannot blame him for their ignorance, but can persuade him to have a relook at other narratives as well. It is the time to give authentic narratives of the Indian history to one and all.
By Rajiv Tuli