Review of Aditya Mukherjee’s Political Economy of Colonial and Post-Colonial India: The roots of hate politics

A study of contemporary history discusses the growing challenge of religious communalism

Updated - February 10, 2023 10:28 am IST

Published - February 10, 2023 09:01 am IST

The role of RSS schools, the Saraswati Shishu Mandirs and Vidya Bharati, is questionable. Young minds are often instilled with hatred for non-Hindu communities. 

The role of RSS schools, the Saraswati Shishu Mandirs and Vidya Bharati, is questionable. Young minds are often instilled with hatred for non-Hindu communities.  | Photo Credit: Ramakrishna G.

A little over 30 years ago, noted historian Aditya Mukherjee wrote, “Today, since communalism is wantonly masquerading as nationalism, it is extremely important to study its origins and link with the exact opposite.” In his latest book, Political Economy of Colonial and Post-Colonial India, Mukherjee goes on to do just that. As he writes in the book, “Communalism, as it is understood today (where religion is used to mobilise all sections and classes of a religious community basically for achieving political and economic goals), is a modern phenomenon, which took root halfway through the British colonial presence in India — in the second half of the 19th century.”

After Independence, when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh refused to accept the tricolour as the national flag of India, Home Minister Vallabhbhai Patel banned the organisation. The ban was lifted only on the condition that the RSS would not intervene in politics and not indulge in violent and secret activities and would remain only a cultural organisation. However, as Mukherjee notes in his well-researched and detailed book, which is rooted in history but filled with immediacy, the RSS soon got down to establishing schools and shakhas and through them “continued to spread the communal ideas”.

Taking the school route

The role of RSS schools, the Saraswati Shishu Mandirs and Vidya Bharati, has been questionable. Young minds were often instilled with hatred for non-Hindu communities. As Mukherjee writes, “Part of the hate project is to portray all communities other than Hindus as foreigners in India, who are disloyal and unworthy of trust.” Mukherjee’s words ring true as the recent politics around ghar wapsi, conversion and Love Jihad create an atmosphere of fear. The emphasis of the Hindutva brigade has all along been to control Muslim numbers, and prevent them from intermingling with the majority community. Going along this lopsided view, if a Muslim converts to Hinduism, he is merely doing ghar wapsi but if a Hindu converts to Islam or Christianity, he is doing it out of allurement or coercion. Ironically, this stream of politics has been legalised with Dalits converting to Buddhism or Sikhism — the two faiths which originated in India — enjoying the right to reservation in government jobs and educational institutions, but being denied the same right on conversion to Christianity or Islam.

Incidentally, a National Committee on Textbook Evaluation had suggested in 1994 that “some of the textbooks... currently in use at the primary level at the Saraswati Shishu Mandirs present an extremely virulent communal view of Indian history... These textbooks should not be allowed to be used in schools”. The committee’s recommendations were ignored, and the result is Gaurav Gatha telling Class 4 kids, that the Qutub Minar in Delhi could not have been built by Qutbuddin Aibak, the founder of Delhi Sultanate. The book claims that “it was actually built by emperor Samudragupta”. Now link this assertion with the claims made in a case at a Delhi session court and you understand the chronology.

There is much more to the book than communalism and its many manifestations. It is a solid attempt at enhancing the study of contemporary history, and its transitions through various periods, from the colonial to the post-colonial.

Political Economy of Colonial and Post-Colonial India; Aditya Mukherjee, Primus Books, ₹1,950.

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