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The Reinvention of India's Past

By Sunanda K Datta-Ray
February 06, 2020 21:09 IST

The BJP's message is that the past must be reinvented as creatively as imagination allows, states Sunanda K Datta-Ray.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com

 

Since West Bengal's governor is a scholar with evidence of Ram's historical existence, he may also have heard of Oscar Wilde.

He may even be aware of the Wildean bon mot, 'Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery' whose less-quoted conclusion is 'that mediocrity can pay to greatness'.

Not that Jagdeep Dhankhar would dream of demeaning himself as 'mediocrity'.

But, undoubtedly, he reveres Narendra Damodardas Modi as 'greatness' epitomised, and repeats -- perhaps even tries to improve upon -- the prime minister's brave assertions about the mythic achievements of ancient Hindus.

Bharatiya Janata Party loyalists are most stridently devoted in states that -- high-decibel propaganda notwithstanding -- they don't have a cat in hell's chance of capturing.

When not using his professional suffix 'Yogi', Ajay Singh Bisht or Ajay Mohan Bisht (Google records both unfamiliar names), aka Adityanath, might say outrageous things and do worse.

But does he really shoot critics 'like dogs' (are even dogs indiscriminately shot?) and 'drag them away'?

When Dilip Ghosh, West Bengal's BJP chief, says this is standard practice for BJP chief ministers, he is probably only fantasising about what he would like to do if ever his soaring ambition lands him in Writers's Building.

Or, perhaps, he is savouring what should be done to 'a female demon, a Lankini', as another BJP legislator, Surendra Singh, calls Mamata Banerjee.

If Assam's chief minister, Sarbananda Sonowal, whom Mr Ghosh also mentioned, is guilty of such criminal murderousness, it must be attributed to his difficulty in reconciling the Citizenship (Amendment) Act with a lifetime of hostility to Bengalis, especially from East Bengal.

Little does Mr Ghosh realise that his reckless utterances confirm that with friends like him, the BJP needs no enemies in West Bengal.

He has also warned the Centre (inadvertently, of course) that if it at all wishes to earn the country's respect for responsible governance and upholding the law, it must invoke Article 356 in Uttar Pradesh, Assam and wherever else saffron rule permits men and women to indulge in such murderousness.

Indian politics being the art of the impossible, West Bengal's governor is heir to several such conflicting and contradictory traditions.

He has travelled a long way, possibly longer than the road from the Vadnagar tea stall in Gujarat's Mehsana district to the newly renamed 7 Lok Kalyan Marg.

Starting out from Kithana village in Rajasthan, Mr Dhankar finds himself in the grandeur of a palace built for British viceroys modelled on Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire, stately seat of the Curzon family, where liveried lackeys disregard Jawaharlal Nehru's advice and call governors 'Excellency' and their spouse 'lady governor' or even 'governess'.

Anyone who scales such dizzy heights must keep eyes and ears open for every rustle of change in how the wind blows, trimming sails and turning coats accordingly.

Mr Modi's announcement in Kolkata's Old Currency Building the other day that nation-building means 'preserving' India's heritage and history sent aspiring listeners scuttling around to demonstrate their inventive zeal by renaming Calcutta port trust after the Jana Sangh founder and proclaiming Mr Modi the new Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.

His further complaint that shallow post-Independence historians overlook important aspects of the past was a clear reminder that it's not enough to be content with the stem cells and plastic surgery to which he himself famously drew attention, ignoring the mirth of realists.

The BJP's message is that since the past can't be checked, it must be reinvented as creatively as imagination allows.

Rising manfully to the challenge, Mr Dhankhar first trotted out that ancient Hindus piloted their own uran khatola or flying machines.

When listeners murmured this was old hat like Ganesh's transplanted head, he broke new ground (as he thought) with Arjun's nuclear-tipped arrows.

That should earn Mr Modi's gratitude.

He can now demand that instead of being harassed with NPTs and CTBTs, India, as the nuclear pioneer, should be the sole inter-galactic authority for licensing nuclear weapons.

Bengal grandees like Maharajadhiraja Bahadur Sir Bijay Chand Mahtab of Burdwan and Nawab Sir Khwaja Salimullah Bahadur of Dacca who sniffed that Marwari stood for 'more-worry' would have been impressed by Mr Dhankar's virtuosity.

Having prostrated themselves before the British Crown to be appointed Knight Grand Commander of The Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire and Knight Commander of The Most Exalted Order of the Star of India they knew all about public service and private profit.

Then as now, political life bristles with careerists who may start out to do good, but stay on to do well.

Sunanda K Datta-Ray
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