Popular history has a talent for simplifying the past. It is a tale, told with sound and fury, and liberally garnished with half-truths and mythological trivia as the narrative of nationalism—a philosophy that identifies national identify with religion, race or ideology; which, as French President Emmanuel Macron told his US counterpart, Donald Trump, is distinctly separate from patriotism that assumes all citizens of a nation are united in their love for their country. However, the Age of Nationalism has arrived the world over. The liberals have failed themselves.
The subsequent right-wing upsurge is now attributed to immigration. Immigrants do enrich regional cultures by importing new foods, art, architecture, music and thought streams. The flip side is the bastardisation of the local ethos, leading to religious and demographic upheavals. Western liberal politicians found in immigration a new vote giver which, when injected with conscience and guilt, made a powerful argument. This cultural corruption is what Trump and middle America is afraid of.
After 9/11, only a blind optimist can believe the world has not changed back to pre-liberal times. Immigration has wreaked havoc on the cultural and secular identity of Britain and Europe. Most immigrants who came from Africa, the Middle East and Pakistan had Islamic baggage and rejected the values of their hosts. Mosques mushroomed, where mullahs railed against the very liberal culture that facilitated their refuge from the very poverty and medieval cruelty they had escaped.
In India, immigration came as invasion. Its Islamic conquest began with the Arabs in the 7th century. The most vicious were the Turkic and Central Asian Mongol dynasties whose defeat of Hindu kings led to the founding of the Delhi Sultanate. Then came the Mughals, the most historically influential subjugators of India before the British. The Deccani sultans, too, were violent transgressors. Millions were converted to Islam and Christianity by the sword or economic inducements. The main casualty was Hinduism.
The agenda of Hindu kings such as Kanishkas and Cholas who annexed Malaysia, Indonesia and Central Asia was not to spread Hinduism; it was a byproduct. Liberal clamour against renaming Ayodhya and Prayag ignores the historical backlash of nationalism. Sure, Muslims abjure alcohol while the Mughals were great drinkers.
The sadhus—whose predecessors held yagnas for Hindu kings who loved soma, sex and hunts—are demanding meat-free Ayodhya. Pop history is invoking culture in the name of nationalism.
History is the record of atavistic patterns. The pendulum swings when present systems become untenable. A new conquest is in vogue. The conquest of India’s soul in past tense.