Of hearsays, half-truths and outright lies

The use of Malabar Rebellion for the advancement of political Hindutva is not new.

After ‘Killing Fields’, Kerala becoming the land of Jihad is the new trope in the BJP’s campaign parlance. Kummanam Rajasekharan, the state BJP president and a slew of leaders from North India, who have descended on the state to provide the logistics for Kummanam in his yatra, are harping on the Jihadi theme. DC is taking a look at how the BJP leadership is relying on half truths, dubious history and outright lies for the construction of the Jihad land image.

The words of the eminent historian Marc Bloch evokes a special resonance nowadays as the very idea of history has been threatened with obliteration by an organised propaganda system functioning at the speed of thought. The rightwing Hindutva propaganda about Kerala as an outpost of global Jihad by Islamic terrorists is a good example of the very idea of history becoming a sinister concoction of hearsays, half-truths and outright lies in the hands of these speed merchants. The craft of writing history --- beginning with the selection of the subject matter of the project, identifying and collection of the required material sources and verification of the material with as many different sources as possible --- is the worst casualty in the era of instant history. The description of Malabar Rebellion or Mappila Rebellion of 1921 as the first episode of nearly hundred years of Jihad in Kerala by the BJP state president Kummanam Rajasekharan could have been ignored for sheer idiocy but for its sinister dimensions.

The version of Kummanam has been repeated by a slew of Parivar leaders, including union minister, who have descended in the state to provide the much-needed logistical support for the Yatra. The use of Malabar Rebellion for the advancement of political Hindutva is not new. The depiction of Malabar Rebellion as an anti-Hindu pogrom is one of the earliest propaganda by the Hindutva brigade. Dr. K.N. Ganesh, a professor of history in the University of Calicut, says demonisation of the rebellion had begun even before the formation of the RSS in 1925. B.S. Moonje, a founder of the Hindu Mahasabha and mentor of RSS, visited Kozhikode in 1923 and held a meeting with the then Zamorin and a few members of the upper caste elite families in the region as part of the effort. “There has been a systematic propagation of killing and violence against the Hindus in journals in western and central Indian regions”, he said. The Hindutva propaganda was forced to take a backseat with a fresh set of studies about peasant revolts in the country appearing in the 1970s and 1980s made a comeback in the recent past as the resurgent Hindutva is gaining political currency in the country. Historians and sociologists have established a fresh set of paradigms for understanding the rich legacy of peasant struggles in the country during colonial and post-colonial era. The works of A.R. Desai, D.N. Dhanagare, Ranajit Guha and many others have opened fresh ways of looking at these developments and even reading the various historical documents of these periods with new approaches.

The richness of these studies, which is a continuing process, has helped scholars as well as ordinary folks to question every notion of sectarian reductionism about the past. None of these studies have denied the complex character of the revolt and incidents of attacks against the members of the Hindu community during the upheaval. But all of them show that the main thrust of the revolt was anti-British and had its origin in the oppressive system of surplus extraction from the peasants by the colonial administration through the upper caste Hindu Janmis. Most of the historical records about the Malabar rebellion clearly pointed towards agrarian distress as the prime motive behind the revolt. Even the most rabid British records filled with repeated references such as the “fanaticism of the Mappillas” are not having any reference to the event being an anti-Hindu uprising. A number of texts belonging to the period written by persons such as K. Madhavan Nair, Mozhikunnatha Brahmadattan Namboodirippad, M.P. Narayana Menon and many others vouch for the anti-British character of the revolt. “The main thrust of the Khilafat movement was anti-imperialism and the revolt took place in the background of the Khilafat struggle. The Khilafatis cannot be termed communal by any stretch of imagination polarization,” Dr. Ganesh says.

All good historians will readily concede that the discipline called history has always been a discourse of and with the present. Invariably, the writing of history is stamped with the hopes, the agonies and the contradictions of the present. The history of Malabar Rebellion is also not an exception to this general rule. Noted historian Irfan Habib once remarked that the selection of a topic or period of history for study will have an element of the subjective predilection of the historian concerned. The idea of pure objective history thus is against the very notion of history as a discipline. But that does not mean that propaganda, however well crafted, can be called history. The same goes for the Sangh propaganda about the Malabar Rebellion too. The eagerness of the Sangh Parivar to apportion the tag of Jihad to the 1921 Revolt has to be viewed as part of the grand strategy of the Sangh Parivar for Kerala after the successful manufacture of the place being an abode of communists engaged in a ruthless killing spree of their political enemies belonging to the saffron hue. “Against the Red-Jihadi terror,” the main slogan of Kummanam’s Yatra is a pointer towards the grand strategy of the Sangh Parivar. After the Commie ‘Killing Fields’ the land of Jihad is the new trope in BJP’s propaganda armour. But it is time for all those, who have ability to see through the propaganda, to list out the basic requirements of a discipline called history and the need to preserve them intact from the peddlers of hate and fanaticism.

(*Marc Bloch, eminent French historian, was tortured to death by the Nazi secret police Gestapo after his capture in 1944 at the age of 58).

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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