EH Carr, who once posed the famous query ~ What is History? ~ would have been aghast. Karnataka is set to bowdlerise history. As much is the fineprint of the Chief Minister’s statement that his government will remove chapters that glorify Tipu Sultan, the former king of Mysore, from history textbooks. Mr BS Yediyurappa’s praxis runs counter to the certitudes of historiography, specifically that while facts are sacred, interpretation is free as it is in all the social science disciplines.
Sad to reflect, his justification is decidedly feeble and prejudiced in the extreme. The cavil, if less than explicit, is against a Muslim ruler. “The Karnataka government,” he says, “is against everything to do with the 18th century king who cannot be termed a freedom-fighter either.” This is a case of subjective reflection, perhaps at its quirkiest. The Chief Minister could have been a little more responsible in his presentation on completion of 100 days in office.
Obliterating a critical phase of Indian history may be concordant with the predilections of the day, but there can be no alibi for the distortion of the discipline, almost deliberate. “Such topics,” Mr Yediyurappa has asserted, “must not find a place in the textbooks and 101 per cent we are not going to allow such things.” Thus has the head of government of a BJP-ruled state reinforced an inbuilt aversion towards Tipu. He has articulated his perception on a matter that is best left to professional historians. The reconstruction of history cannot be left to the political class of the left, the left-of-centre, or the right-wing variety.
It bears on the advancement of learning, and lends no scope for ideological meddling. The risk of distorting the discipline by deleting chapters on personalities is dangerously real. The party, it bears recall, had opposed the celebration of Tipu’s birth anniversary by the previous Congress government. More recently, the BJP MLA from Madikeri, Appachu Ranjan, has demanded the removal of lessons on Tipu Sultan from school books on the facile ground that books contain “wrong information”. Almost echoing similar sentiment, Karnataka’s minister for primary and secondary education, has called for reflection on Ranjan’s demand.
He has even sought a report from the Karnataka Textbook Society. The Chief Minister has now extended the loop of disapproval. Altogether, it is an essay towards detoxification of history. Not that the Congress, even when at the Centre, was never engaged in such toxic exercises. Having said that, the official decision to erase personalities and phases is an indefensible spin on the study and teaching of history.
There can be no justification for selective study of history even if the academic circuit concurs with the BJP’s contention that Tipu Sultan was a religious bigot who killed Kodavas and Christians. Let historians have the last word on the topic… free from the fanaticism of the Yediyurappa variety.