Friday, December 2, 2016

Know the past's darkness to realise the present dark forces

In An Era of Darkness, the consummate debater Shashi Tharoor recreates the British Raj with all its horrors & also puts forth the awe-inspiring struggle of the freedom fighters.

By: Salman Nizami

There wouldn't have been a more apt time for a book like An Era of Darkness to be written. Just as judges look at past precedents to arrive at a conclusion on a present case, we needed a book that told us, in such provoking style, about our past darkness, the perpetrators responsible for it, and the modus operandi they used. For we truly are fighting a darkness today. The darkness emanating from phoney nationalism. A looming darkness that, if it is not countered heads on and expunged, threatens to erode our very understanding of a nation and the values and the belief system that it should uphold.

First things first. Never before had we found ourselves in such bewilderment on vital issues relating to nationalism and patriotism. We are suddenly faced with contrasting views on what does allegiance to one's country mean, what makes one a good citizen, who are the heroes of the nation? Who are the baneful? And dangerous as it may seem, more people are falling for the wrong answers. 

We live in an era where the villain is being extolled. Where the integrity of none other than our first Prime Minister Pt Jawaharlal Nehru, the builder of modern India, is being questioned. Where the pioneer of freedom struggle, the Congress party, is under a hate campaign of the most sinister order. In An Era of Darkness, the consummate debater Shashi Tharoor recreates the British Raj with all its horrors and also puts forth the awe-inspiring struggle of the freedom fighters. This invariably ends up giving us a clear insight of who is a dark force and who are the harbinger of hope---an insight needed pressingly when the thugs are masquerading as our saviours. 

We more or less know the British harmed us. But we may not have a full understanding of how large the scale of that oppression was. With his painstaking research, Shashi takes us to an era where our forefathers were toiling in the opium fields, our economy was being ravaged, our local businesses killed, our exports made unaffordable by levying high tarrif, and education was offered but in a limited way to produce a generation of clerks. 

We need to know this past darkness, where the Indian blood was not valued at all. With man-made famines like the one in Bengal, the British let innumerable people to die. We need to know this barbarism in order to realise the present hate campaign. We need to realise that those who do not consider every human blood to be of equal value, much like the British did not, are the unmistakable dark forces. 

Take for example the divisive forces that rule our country today. They are trying to kill our humanity. They are creating such bitterness in our hearts that there is no mass condemnation, much less uprising, against the systematic targeting of the minorities. From the killing of Pune techie Shaikh Mohasin Sadiq, allegedly by Hindu Rashtra Sena activists, barely a week after Narendra Modi took oath as Prime Minister, to the mob lynching of Mohommad Akhlaq in Dadri over rumour of beef consumption, there is a constituency of people, under apparent encouragement from the ruling party at the Centre, that is lusting to devour up the minorities. While in the context of Dadri, the saffron party's beef rhetoric is well known, Pune MP Anil Shirole of the BJP had commented upon Sadiq's death that "some amount of repercussions was natural".

Surprisingly, the public remained muted. There was not much condemnation for the BJP, which went on to win the state of Maharashtra not much long after the gruesome episode in Pune. This is happening because those who stand against humanity have covered up their vile agendas by telling the people loudly and repeatedly that they are the nationalists. Which is why Shashi's book is relevant. We need to re-understand, re-recognise the dark forces of the past, their tactics, in order to be aware of the present day's dark forces.

Shashi has so astutely exposed the divide and rule policy of the British. We needed to re-understand this again, with all its covert dimensions. For the BJP is making a never-before like attempt to communalise India and make every Hindu doubt the intentions of his Muslim brethren. Before national elections, there was "pink revolution" theatrics, before Bihar elections there was a "Pakistan will burst crackers" comment, and before Assam elections there was a massive campaign to portray bulk of the Muslims as illegal immigrants. The BJP's games are succeeding. And that is why you need to read this insightful book that tells you how a divide and rule is never the approach of a nation builder. It is the approach of the self-aggrandising forces.

Shashi's book also needs to be read to understand who is a nationalist. The BJP and the RSS will perhaps be tops if you ask the average kid who he thinks is a "desh bhakt". And those of us who know about the absolute zero contribution of the RSS, BJP's ideological fountainhead, will also know that irony just jumped from the tallest building in the street. But more people need to know that. By creating a lively description of thousands and thousands of people who sacrifised their blood for freedom, their immense pain and perseverance, their absolutely selfless and agenda-free service for the country, the long struggle of the leaders of the Congress, their unshakable resolution in the face of insurmountable hardship, Shashi's narration will make you laugh at people who pat their own backs after screaming Bharat Mata ki Jai from the comfort of Facebook or Twitter. 

Shashi's book, while it is free from any political agenda, will also tell you what a sorry state the country was in when it achieved freedom. The understanding of the 1947 penury is necessary to beat PM Modi's absolutely bogus "Congress ne 70 saal me kya kiya" dialogue which he repeats in every public address. When you know that penury, you get to also know how much effort it must have taken the Congressmen, in particular Pt Nehru, to build the country from scratch.

Shashi's book serves another useful purpose. It defeats the false narrative that Muslim rulers were necessarily tyrants. Shashi tells us while they have been outsiders, they did not drain the wealth of the country to any other foreign nation. Shashi makes a case that it was under the Muslim rulers that India's share grew up to become more than a quarter of the world's trade. May be, it will help people to stop falling for the sinister forces that continue to polarise us by repeatedly recalling "how Muslims destroyed India".

Lastly, at a time when debate has got reduced to a cacophony by Bhakts, Shashi's writing, with its expansive case studies and citations, sustained argument, and most importantly, felicity of language may just come as an eye-opener to us all.

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