By RAJSHEKHAR PANT
It was yet another dull morning of lockdown-4, well before the ongoing Indo-China standoff, when I just happened to have a crash landing on a news channel clip on my FB. Naming this national channel is not important here. All of them have become so theatrical that more often than not it is boisterous entertainment with a lot of perversion than the news with expected objectivity, which has become their business. I am an accidental viewer of news and avoid watching the mudslinging in the name of panel-discussions. I may be wrong, but I do feel, and feel quite intensely, that whatever is being offered in the name of news and panel discussions, etc., is mentally sickening.
Back to what I was referring to in the opening line- in that channel the anchor was asking, rather shouting at a bearded person in the panel (which had quite a few other ‘professional panelists’ also) – if he was a follower/admirer of Aurangzeb. The bearded person in a Turkish cap was thumping his chest and responding in an equally aggressive manner that he had always been an admirer, and the anchor should better read history before commenting on Aurangzeb. With their fingers raised like threatening spears, some other panelists were looking at the camera with a mixed feel of anger and excitement and a lot of adrenaline rushing to their faces. A burly pacifist in the meanwhile started shouting ‘Jai-Shri Ram’, ‘Allah-hu-Akbar’ and ‘Lord is great’ from behind his microphone. He finally enunciated in a prophetic voice that all religions were great and none could be blamed for violence. With the camera resting on his face every now and then, the anchor turned sniper, armed with the unseen bullets of insinuations hurled in a hysterical manner, he was dispensing justice at the excited averments of the panelists… What Pandemonium…!
What were we going to get out of this? What is the purpose of this wasteful exercise and, finally, is it the right time for this high voltage drama? Don’t we have more serious question to discuss, at least at this hour- when the masses are smitten with fear, death and desolation; when tension is mounting at our borders; when the economy in its worst phase is lying supine and when the nation is battling its biggest labour-migration crisis? To recall the words of Lincoln in a rather broader context- “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.” Whether most of us have, in the given situation, been responding well – or just resorting to knee jerk solutions as we are accustomed to do – it indeed is a conundrum. Either our priorities are misplaced or a deliberate effort is underway to divert the attention and concerns of the masses by way of flaring up shallow emotions and silly sentimentality.
Aurangzeb, Shivaji Maharaj, Rana Pratap, Akbar, etc., have all been dead over the centuries. Their strengths and weaknesses belonged more to the time they lived in, than to them as individuals. Waging wars, conquering neighbouring territories, demanding war indemnities, vanquishing and devastating the conquered nations, letting loose the reign of terror, genocide, massacre, debauchery, and so on were all the ways of life then. Individual ambitions of a tribal warlord could have brought about the deaths of million at that time, it was normal. There was no international law, no understanding, no IPC or NSA then, to stop any adventurer from crossing the Khyber-pass and enter the Indo-Gangetic plain with what we now may call diabolical intent. You fight; if you succeeded, the invader would go, otherwise you were conquered or killed. It was like that all over the world and it has been happening since the dawn of human civilization. Khiljis invaded Dwarsmudra, devastated the king and his kingdom; Akbar invaded Rajputana, before them Samudra Gupta, the said Napoleon of the ancient world, had invaded down-south along the coast line; Kharwela led expeditions to annex the neighbouring kingdoms; Asoka killed thousands on the banks of River Daya; the Shunga kings…history of course is replete with hundreds of such incidents which are callous and cold to the modern sensibility. The concepts of nation-state, of sovereignty, were not there then. Vast swathes of land were there for the warlords to trample, conquer and let loose ruthless persecution and brigandage. Is there a sense in judging the alleged wrongs of the past against the parameters developed in the modern age? Our civilisation has been growing over the millennia; we as a human race have been the ongoing learners from our own conduct. Our definition of right and wrong in all ages kept on changing and getting conditioned by social, economic and other forces. It did evolve over a period of time and hasn’t yet or has never been infallible or absolute. By judging what has happened in the past against the touchstone of the morality, ethics, values and set of do’s and don’ts of our times –we are going to land nowhere. History is there to be learnt lessons from, as it is bound to repeat itself if the mistakes are ever repeated. It is outlandish to reduce it to a ‘fiction generally agreed upon’ – as Napoleon would say. Much in ‘fleeing cities by the migrant labourers for their village homes’ during Covid-19 pandemic is eerily reminiscent of the exodus of 1947. The number of victims of course was larger during the partition but both these tragic incidents have one factor in common -our present leaders also overlooked the feeling of insecurity and fear of the migrants as insouciantly as was done by their predecessors then on either side of the Radcliffe Line. We indeed have failed to learn a lesson from history while trying to fictionalise it to serve a set agenda.
Such a quarrel in between the past and present does nothing better than spoil the future.
(The author is an amateur filmmaker, a photographer, and a writer, who has written over a thousand write-ups,
reports, etc., published in the leading newspapers and
magazines of the country. He can be reached)