Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Mccaulyism

" My first encounter with Macaulayism was in April 1975. The episode is worth a recall. It was April 21, and India had just launched its first satellite ‘Aryabhatta’ from a Russian rocket.

This author, then a junior captain posted on operational staff, was present at an army party in Rajouri (a field area and headquarters of a division in Jammu and Kashmir). All of us were gathered in the main hall with the general as chief guest. The conversation veered around that day’s news, namely the launch of the Aryabhatta satellite.

A very good friend of the author, a senior major, who headed the intelligence department, in a light-hearted manner, commented on this, “Who is this Bhatta Bhatta?” There was general laughter! I think something snapped in me and at top of my voice from the other end of the room, I told my friend (and indirectly the general and others who found this a joke worthy of laughter) that Aryabhatta was one of the world’s greatest astronomers, who had accurately predicted the various facts about planets 1,000 years before Galileo and Copernicus and if he did not know this he should just shut up.

I was lucky to survive, for any fauji will understand that this was gross insubordination, an offence punishable with censure. Luckily, the general, a God-fearing man and a gentleman, possibly saw merit in what I said and my friend asked me the next day as to what was wrong with me! We remained friends for many more years, God bless his soul. But as I recall that episode, I see the Macaulayists all round me.

Just sample this. All Hindi movie actors/actresses prefer to talk in English. Film magazines about Hindi movies are in English. Open pages of the so-called leading newspapers, you will find that even a PhD student or a person based in Paris comments authoritatively on India. The issue is not one of freedom of expression but of the kind of media space given to these sahibs or, as an alternative, those in ‘white’ universities. Sitar, yoga, meditation techniques all came to the Indian brown sahib elite via the West.

An idea, an individual or institution gains respectability only after it is accepted by the West. Many of us have encountered this where even when one tries to use the ‘native’ language, if the shopkeeper senses that you are a ‘sahib’ he replies in English. I have myself been aghast that despite my over 25 years of work on national security and several publications, what seems to impress many is the fact that a Western government gave me an odd fellowship and invite.

Before the usual suspects begin to bay for my blood for English bashing, let me clarify. One is not against English language. It is today a global language and a useful ‘tool’ to acquire knowledge. But language is not an end but a means. What the Macaulayists have done is to use this tool to subjugate the non-English speaking people, as envisioned by Macaulay.

But even the colonial educational institutes sometimes produced great nationalists and thinkers who did not get brain washed. It is a minor miracle that from avowedly Macaulayan institutes, India produced a gem like Swami Vivekananda (who studied in Scottish Church College, Kolkata). But the exception only proves the rule.

Most of these colonial institutes produced precisely the kind of Indians that Macaulay envisaged. It is these individuals who mostly man India’s administrative machinery, judiciary and even armed forces. Modi has a long, hard and dirty battle on his hands in the future.

Returning to the ‘challenge and response’ theory of rise and fall of civilisations, one can understand the initial Nehruvian years when India and Indians absorbed Western ideas, institutions and language. But it became clear that having adapted and grown in strength, India will assert and free itself from the Macaulayism. After Nehru’s death in 1964, Lal Bahadur Shastri became the prime minister.

Shastri was steeped in Indian culture and tradition and was a true ‘rajyogi’ (an ascetic ruler). But it is a fallacy if one were to claim that his leadership was easily accepted. The author was a cadet in the National Defence Academy at the time and can vividly recall that every time he came up on the screen during a movie show (for those who don’t know, at the beginning of all movies a short ‘news reel’ produced by the Films Division was shown), the cadets would burst into laughter.

After the imposing figure of a pucca sahib like Nehru, the rustic, diminutive, dhoti-clad Shastri with a squeaky voice was indeed a figure of derision for most Macaulayans. But then came the 1965 Indo-Pak war and Shastri showed exemplary leadership in fighting the US-Pakistan combine.

If Shastri would have survived longer, Macaulayism would have been dead and buried. One recalls the kind of national spirit Shastri evoked. When India faced the American food embargo, his call to eat one less chapati got a huge response. It seemed that Indian nationalism was asserting itself. His early death cut short this attempt.

Indira Gandhi, who followed him, was no Macaulayist. But it took her some time to find her feet and by the time she did, in 1980, she became the victim of international politics that was hell-bent on dividing India. Her son who followed her won a landslide victory in the 1984 elections essentially on the plank of Indian nationalism. One of the measures he took to re-assert Indian identity was to revive the public's interest in India’s ancient past. His decision to air the Indian epics Ramayan and Mahabharat, dealt a decisive blow to Macaulayism. But his assassination cut short that attempt. ... "

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