Why PM is right to say India needs to fix horrors of partition in its national memory

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For any particular political ideology, the most comprehensive victory is when their opponents end up exposing themselves. The other day, the prime minister put out a tweet saying that 14 August would henceforth be observed as a day of remembrance for the horrors of partition. This was followed by an official gazette notification and a mention in the prime minister’s speech on Independence Day.

The facts of what the prime minister said were not in dispute. And yet, his critics fumed at it. They called it polarising, communal, even undermining the sanctity of Independence Day. This had the awkward side effect of some of them perhaps not realising that 14 August is not our day of independence, but that of a toxic neighbour. It was as if the prime minister had walked in upon some grand conspiracy that had been hidden in plain sight. By their nervousness, the Left has betrayed their own mafia-like approach to history.

Like any good investigator, we must now press the question. What is it about the history of partition that they are so unwilling to talk about it?

The prime minister’s tweet was just an invitation to think about history. But the instinct on the left was to whitewash and cover up. Why would this reopen the wounds of partition? A wound does not go away simply because you act like it doesn’t exist. Instead, it begins to get infected. Why would this polarise society along religious lines? Sensible people don’t get their feelings hurt when facts of history are presented before them. And why would this affect the celebratory mood before Independence Day? Triumph and tragedy go hand in hand all the time. Remembering the holocaust takes nothing away from celebrating the victory in World War II.

A nation is defined by its collective memory, which works in two ways. First, when we fix in our memories the horrors of partition, we understand who we are, what dangers we face, and what must never be allowed to happen again. It forces us to think about our place as a civilisation, and then evolve a strategic national doctrine to safeguard that civilization. Second, it helps the rest of the world understand our perspective, hopes and fears and drive our national interest.

This is one of the ways we have been lacking as a nation. We love to complain about how the rest of the world, particularly Western media and academics, distort our motives. For instance, in Kashmir, or in Ladakh, where they unfairly characterise our security interests. When we object, they say we are being too prickly, or have something to hide. They do not understand our perspective, nor our cultural context. But why would they? Have we made a serious effort to make the rest of the world see things from an Indian perspective?

History matters. The government of Israel has taken steps to ensure that the holocaust is never forgotten. Not just in Israel but all over the world. Every visiting dignitary is invited to the holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. There, they spend a few moments reflecting on the six million people who perished under the Nazi regime. This helps the world recognize Israel’s interests in every conflict and their need for self-preservation. It helps them understand Israel’s unique legal system, including the historical significance of the ‘right of return’ for Jewish people everywhere. Israel also supports a number of awards, exhibitions, museums, academic researches and other cultural initiatives all around the world to keep history alive.

It is in this respect that it is important for us to fix the partition of India as one of the great tragedies of the previous century. Without understanding partition, the world cannot understand India.

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is a perfect case in point. Much of the rest of the world simply failed to recognise our perspective on it. Large sections of Indian society went so far as to say that the CAA actually goes against the spirit of our Constitution! This would not have happened if, in all these years, we had enabled serious reflection on the horrors of partition, as well as the subsequent suffering of Hindus and Sikhs elsewhere on the Indian subcontinent. People would have realised that the CAA is in fact integral to the idea of India!

By moving to recognise 14 August as an official day of remembrance for the horrors of partition, India has made a small but significant beginning. If the public intellectuals of old are getting nervous about this, there must have been something wrong with them to begin with. To press forward with our national interests, we must formulate and adopt a uniquely Indian perspective. And convince the rest of the world about the need for this Indian perspective, along with the historical basis for it.

We have to set this process in motion. None of the excuses made by the Left-wing intellectuals hold up to scrutiny and they know it. But what they may not know is that people, in general, have become wiser to their tricks than ever before. There is now genuine eagerness among people to learn about the facts of history. This eagerness is often fed in crude, unfiltered ways through social media posts and family Whatsapp groups. You can make jokes about the so-called ‘Whatsapp University,’ but you cannot make the hunger for information go away. You cannot extinguish it with insults, nor by picking on the occasional thing they get wrong. You can deal with it only by accepting the cover ups and whitewashing of the past, apologizing and making amends.

By reacting angrily to a day of remembrance for the horrors of partition, the Left-wing critics have in fact confirmed the worst suspicions of the public. The Partition of India was one of the worst moments of misery in all of human history. Two million people were killed and twenty million were displaced. If that much human suffering has to be buried for the sake of ‘secularism,’ how do we believe anything they tell us about the idea of India? If we cannot talk about the caravans of desperate people and the trains full of dead bodies, what can we talk about?

Let us open a conversation. About all the things that we are not supposed to talk about.

The author is a scientist, columnist and author. He can be reached at abhishekbanerjee1313@gmail.com

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