Romila Thapar’s Kluge Prize

Romila Thapar has been awarded the Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Study of Humanity for ostensibly creating “a new and more pluralistic view of Indian civilization, which had seemed more unitary and unchanging, by scrutinizing its evolution over two millennia and searching out its historical consciousness” . Thapar’s US Congressional acclamation seeks to validate a blatantly provocative, uni-dimensional and ideologically extreme view of India’s past, espoused mainly by its Stalinist fifth column, assorted Islamist Jihadis and militant Christian evangelists. The Kluge Prize selection committee might have imposed a simple test on Thapar by requiring her to present examples of two positive statements that she has composed on the Hindu past in her entire career. Instead what the decision of the Kluge committee suggests is racial arrogance, contempt for Hindu sensibilities and the malign influence of a powerful Bostonian non-Hindu Indian, infamous for campaigns belittling Hindu suffering. The award resoundingly reaffirms a deep American animus against Hindu India that has been a constant feature of US foreign policy towards it since independence. It was this vicious hatred and a half-baked strategic calculus that prompted US support for the perpetration of Pakistan’s genocide in East Pakistan in 1971.

Most mainstream Hindus find Romila Thapar’s interpretation of ancient Indian history grossly disingenuous and thoroughly objectionable. Indeed a large number of Hindus regard her as a deeply mendacious enemy of Hindus. She and her genocidal Stalinist associates studiously and maliciously ignore the immense suffering of Hindus as a result of successive Islamic invasions and the brutal rule of violent iconoclasts. It represents an example of holocaust denial that has been sedulously promoted by British imperial deceit and US Cold War aims. The indiscriminate killing of the old, the very young, the systematic rape of girls, boys and women, the destruction of places of worship (eliminating most major Hindu temples in north India), mass slavery and loot are a bitter reality denied, though subsequently echoed in Constantinople, Buda and countless defeated cities. It begs the question whether such a prize would have been awarded to an historian of the Jewish, Christian or Islamic faiths if the pedagogue was so viscerally repugnant to a significant number of the faithful of these communities. I think not, logical profundity and all artifices about intellectual freedom notwithstanding.

It is only in India that a historian without adequate command of Sanskrit can claim expertise on its ancient past right across its entire length and breadth. Social status is all that counts in feudal India, a feature on display in virtually every aspect of its social life and all that is required to silence disbelief. In a pathetic attempt to apply deep thought to Mahmud of Ghazni’s invasions of India, Romila Thapar piles one speculation upon another, fabricating motives and thought processes with abandon. She writes as if she had been a contemporary of the conqueror, priests and participants in major historical events over several centuries. She turns notions of scepticism in judging historical evidence on their head. Her personal authority becomes the only referent for increasingly wild assertions! There is no scholar of ancient Europe or any other part of the world that would dare advance ludicrous claims to expertise without command of the relevant languages and usually over a modest geographical expanse. The likes of Fernand Braudel and Chris Wickham are very rare indeed and Romila Thapar might wish to consult their historical oeuvre in penance for a multitude of sins.

A central purpose of her banal lifetime agenda has been to legitimise the destruction of Somnath by Mahmud of Ghazni. According to Romila Thapar, he was motivated purely by greed, a secular impulse that supposedly erases any iconoclastic religious rationale. One startling claim she also appears to make is familiarity with supposedly extant corroborative Persian and Turkish sources on his lack of religious conviction, presumably the pre-Kemalist script in which even few contemporary Turks claim to read, though it is Sanskrit she really needed to bone up on. Much the same can be said of her sturdy defence of Aurangzeb’s iconoclasm, asserting secular political motives for the destruction of the Kashi Viswanath temple (and countless others) and the erection of a mosque in its place. Her JNU colleagues indulge in even more bizarre fantasies, such as imperial sanction against the temple for the abduction of some local princess though the evidence adduced is miraculously fictitious. This is the stuff of undergraduate student union debates and all that she and her execrable Stalinist JNU colleagues are able to conjure in old age.

There is hysterical denial that any Muslim ruler was ever loyal to his faith and followed the Prophet’s iconoclastic example. By asserting robbery as the principal motive in every significant instance of temples being destroyed they end up in the unenviable position of having to explain why there is so much discussion about division of the spoils of conquest in the numerous wars of Jihad waged by the Prophet himself? The delicious paradox of this assertion, which dear Romila has not evidently thought through, is that Islam, if they are correct in their imputation of robbery as the only significant motive for its imperial expansion, is merely about theft and the recourse to the Almighty Allah a ruse! She is proposing, in effect, that Muslim Jihad against infidels was not inspired by their religious faith at all and they were only out to rob and pillage. But why this extraordinary insight should have reassured the victims of robbery, murder and mayhem is a matter she obviously cannot comprehend. Quite clearly, common sense is at a premium since it would have dictated that religious motivation and desire for loot have always co-existed in most imperial expansions.

Romila Thapar’s infamous patronage of the discredited Aryan invasion theory always had an Islamist rationale as well. By maintaining, on the basis of grotesque colonial historical misrepresentation, and its subsequent validation by the Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg, that contemporary Hindu upper castes were invaders she sought to grievously injure the legitimacy of India’s entire Hindu past. What she was effectively arguing was that racist invaders had subjugated indigenous Indians in the past and casteist Hinduism was their ideology. By inference, later Islamic invasions were no more remarkable since they were merely successors to a well-established pattern of invasions. Of course, for India’s venal Stalinists Islam represented liberation since it was monotheistic and preached equality. That it guaranteed sexual slavery for women and death (enslavement after every conquest) to those who resisted conversion to Islam was a quirk in the prescription of Islamic equality that escaped tortured Stalinist logic. Even now contemporary India heaves with the distorted logic of this colonial historical intervention, which is being used to justify social pogroms against alleged upper caste oppressors no matter how deprived many of them may be and by communities that wield significant economic and political power in India now. Truly, such deep-rooted malice underpinned the eventual extermination of European Jewry. The fact that the Aryan invasion theory lies in tatters has only prompted the devious reworking of its original formulation by her. The blatant Islamist and Christist demonization of alleged upper caste oppression has now been artfully re-phrased by transmuting invasion into immigration, a parallel to the historic libel against Jews of poisoning wells, to renew the charge of illegitimacy against upper caste villains.

She breezily speaks of truth in historical writing, imagining that all her critics are fools who cannot conceivably be aware of a well-worn professional discussion on the contestable nature of historical truth and partisanship in historical scholarship. Some of them are also familiar with the work of historians of greater professional distinction than Romila Thapar and infinitely superior intellectual integrity, who have written rather differently on ancient and medieval India. In her case, what stands out resoundingly, again and again, is a determination to vindicate every aspect of Muslim rule over Hindus and celebrate their most egregious crimes or ignore them altogether with breathtaking impudence? In this context, it is not ancient India in which she proclaims expertise, but any period requiring the usual Stalinist hatchet job of dis-information. And it is for this highly politicised defence of Islamic rule over India that a Christian America, steadfast friend of Islamic Jihad against it, is rewarding a sworn enemy of the Hindu people. Mahmud, Timur, Aurangzeb, Nadir Shah and the Abdali killers ought to feel refreshed with the taste of the blood of hundreds of thousands of Hindu men, women and children even as they find an honourable place at Allah’s table.

Such is the audacity of Thapar and these second-rate Stalinists that profound ontological and epistemological differences with historians of the stature of R. C. Majumdar and Sir Jadunath Sarkar are evaded by merely accusing them of communal Hindu methodology. The eight volume History of India, as told by its own historians, compiled by Eliot and Dowson, is also damned by imputing partisan motives though their contents are not uniformly damaging to Islam, yet highlight enough evidence of despoliation to prompt their blanket denouncement by India’s fifth column. And she herself also makes a disgracefully cavalier accusation against the distinguished K. M. Munshi of an attempt to revive the Hindu Aryan (sic!) past for his endeavours to restore Somnath. Yet, these fifth columnists never detect such base motives in the reams of diabolical contemporary Islamic and Christian hate literature used incessantly to insult Hindu sensibilities in their own homeland. This is a tradition that dismisses those who disagree with them as communal, the pronouncement of an auto da Fe to paralyse them.

Her alleged expertise on ancient India is a badge deployed for typically cynical Leftist aims of aggrandisement, marked by opportunistic alliances and complicity in genocide that has usually ended in historical oblivion. But much blood will first be spilt and on a scale that would make any bloodletting specifically sponsored by Hindus, with all the enormous caveats that signification ought to imply, a few mere commas compared to the respective histories of genocide wilfully engaged in by Islam and Christianity. What most Indian historians seem to lack, in addition to appropriate training in methodology and relevant linguistic skills, is any notion of comparative history. It seems that Hindu India’s encounter with Islam is outside history and all the evidence, written and archaeological, subject to the imprimatur of a bunch of malevolent Stalinists before they can be regarded as valid. Comparable evidence of examples of the expansion of Islam elsewhere has not suffered the same dismal fate, judging from the meticulous recording of the erasure of Constantinople and Buda by the Ottomans. But the two cannot be allowed comparison since they reveal a pattern that refutes all the deceitful contortions Indian history has suffered at the hands of Stalinists, deriving additional succour, for their own mundane political reasons, from India’s foreign enemies. Tellingly, the predators and assassins that Romila Thapar has laboured to vindicate throughout a dismal career are also the heroes of Pakistan for being iconoclasts that kept Hindus in their place.

Romila Thapar belongs to the cynical tribe of Indian Stalinists who thrive by self-righteousness, which in the Indian context bears a familial resemblance to the racial supremacy that Europeans once openly declared and now quietly assert. Basically, it is divide-and-rule by mobilising every division and fissure amongst the non-whites to their advantage and the use of sophisticated media brainwashing techniques that simultaneously affirm equality while ensuring racial hierarchy. The noble campaign against tradition and ignorance melds effortlessly with the depravity of the masters of the universe, eagerly delivering incendiary tonnage on Afghan wedding parties and Iraqi schoolchildren. But the clamorous natives are forever at the door, resentful, gross and uninitiated in the mores of cosmopolitan sophistication. And their imperfect command of the English language is a weapon used against them, to criminalize their ignorance and question their humanity.

But nothing can be allowed to stand in the way of progress, the logical summit of which the great theorists Mark Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno noted was ascended in the gas chambers of the same civilisation that produced Goethe and Beethoven.

The sordid outcome of the Kluge prize for Romila Thapar is an attempted validation of the intellectual genocide against Hinduism. And the Indian Stalinist anti-colonial rant evaporates the moment their aircraft approaches the American shoreline. As a fully paid up member of India’s deracinated upper crust, Romila Thapar loftily declined the native Padma Bhusan, but a million dollar prize, effectively the same kind of state award she found unpalatable, from the racist sponsors of mass murder is apparently another matter. The real high-minded tradition examining the Hindu past represented by the noble efforts of many like Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan were not on the Kluge radar. It will satisfy the evangelical constituency that wishes to extirpate Hinduism and the Islamic Jihadists who assert historical legitimacy for their claims to imperial dominion over India and regularly pursue it by murderous ventures that emulate Nazi pogroms against Jews and Slavs. It is Romila Thapar who is their intellectual mentor and Kluge has emphatically joined the same genocide chorus. The con-joining of the name of historian Peter Brown for the Kluge prize on the same occasion is a cause for mourning since this great scholar has done so much to advance our understanding of the ancient world, with insight that testifies to profound scholarship and elegance that is enviable.

Dr. Gautam Sen
12th December 2008.

(Taught for more than two decades and at the London School of Economics and now writes on international political economy)

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