Jaswant Singh must be thanked for opening a Pandora’s box of debates, which was long due. Every commentator worth his words has come up with his own take on the issue. But there is a unanimous opinion that too much has been made of what was an attempt to look at history through objective lens. It’s not just the question of a party banning the book. The party can no doubt disassociate itself from the book. But it has no right on earth to impose its lopsided thinking on the nation by telling us what to read and what not to read. We shout about freedom of expression from the rooftops. But whether the India of today is giving complete freedom to an artist is a question worth pondering over . A beautiful work like Jodha Akbar was banned in Rajasthan as it seemed to hurt the Rajput pride. Taslima Nasreen was hounded out of India in the middle of night for the CPM to build its image prior to the elections. WE were the first country in the world to ban the Satanic Verses, even before Ayotollah Khomeni let out a tsunami of anger against the writer. When a historian like James Laine came out with a scholarly work on Shivaji, self-appointed goons of ‘Mahratta pride’ vandalised research centres/libraries and tore down rare manuscripts. We seek a ban on books and movies even before having a look at it. The worst part is that none of the officials in the Gujarat government have read the 700-page tome which they felt ‘denigrated the Sardar, was against the tranquility of the state and national interest and mislead the public’. How else can the offcial statements of a state government be used more carelessly? The ostensible reason is that the BJP has fared poorly in the Junagadh polls and this is nothing but a desperate attempt to bank on regional pride, by both the Congress and the BJP. The Congress too supports the ban as no one wants to lose a chance to thump one’s chest with pride.
We have been modelled to create pigeon-holed caricatures out of history. History has also been cast on the same mould as the epics, where we fail to see the shades of grey. We are very easily prone to hero-worship.Strange as it may sound today, we are a nation where multiple interpretations of Ram and Ravan were popular simultaneously. But of-late, we have even lost the ability to see the failings of the characters of history, who have been made out to be heros without failings today.
The current state of affairs and the quality of discussions happening on public forums betray the reasons as to why we still have a long way to go to be an intellectually mature nation. Karl Marx has said that in this world, there is thesis on one hand and antithesis on the other. When they come together, synthesis is born. The constables of national pride have removed the scope of a possible antithesis. Many argue, “What will you do with debates and intellectual discussions? At the end of the day, the common man needs food, clothing, shelter, jobs, health and education.” Nations like the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Cuba have made more concrete efforts to improve their social infrastucture than we have. But are these nations counted among the progressive societies? Those who come up with the above argument fail to realise that a nation is built with much more than food, water and jobs. Perhaps this narrow vision of a nation-state is responsible for us not generating Nobel Laureates and intellectuals who can face the world. The argument of the ‘common man’, hence, falls flat. We are no doubt, an immature democracy. We never tire enough of invoking our glorious past, quoting Ashoka and Buddha. We love to picture a bygone era when we were all that we are not now – progressive, open-minded, forward-looking and tolerant.
Such draconian attempts smack of colonial diktats and dictatorship. A free society cannot afford to expose itself to quasi-norms imposed by pseudo-political-social-religious-ethnic orders. These threaten the very fabric of what our nation is made of. A society operates at many levels. The intellectual growth is as important, if not more, as the material and physical growth. The day many shadows loom large over these free thoughts, cracks will be visible in our society. A minoroty of ruffians cannot exert influence through the barrel of the gun over an open-minded majority. No one can stop an idea, whose time has come. Perhaps now is the time to come to terms with the horrors of partition. But Jaswant Singh and his publishers will be having the last laugh. Man, after all, does what he is told not to do. It applies to reading this book as well.