30 Mar 2012

Hindutva's Orwellian Agenda

Control over the past is “more terrifying than mere torture and death,” writes George Orwell ([1949] 2006, p.28) in his dystopian novel, Nineteen-Eighty Four.

Orwell in this novel ridiculed all the ‘totalitarian nightmares’ for manipulating history. He particularly derided the ruling Party’s slogan: 

Who controls the past controls the future: 
Who controls the present controls the past.

“The monopolistic nation states and ‘powers that be’ do not like plurality as it threatens the uniform worldview they want citizens/subjects to hold. Totalitarian regimes were the worst culprits in this regard”. (Yadav, 2002)

According to Heywood (2007, p.217), “totalitarianism is an all-encompassing system of political rule that is typically established by pervasive ideological manipulation (italics mine) and open terror and brutality.”

Nineteen Eighty-Four (first published in 1949) tells the story about Oceania, a society ruled by the oligarchic dictatorship of the Party. Life in the Oceanian province of Airstrip One is a world of perpetual war, pervasive government surveillance, and incessant public mind control. This is accomplished with a political system named English Socialism (Ingsoc), which is administered by privileged Inner Party elite. Yet they too are subordinated to the totalitarian cult of personality of Big Brother, the deified Party leader. The protagonist, Winston Smith, is a member of the Outer Party who works for the Ministry of Truth, which is responsible for propaganda and historical revisionism. His job is to re-write past newspaper articles so that the historical record is congruent with the current party ideology.

This novel popularised the adjective Orwellian, which refers to “official deception, secret surveillance, and manipulation of the past (italics mine) in service to a totalitarian or manipulative political agenda” (see Wikipedia, Nineteen-Eighty Four).

Orwell writes “The mutability of the past is the central tenet of Ingsoc. Past events, it is argued, have no objective existence, but survive only in written records and in human memories. The past is whatever the records and the memories agree upon. And since the Party is in full control of all records and in equally full control of the minds of its members, it follows that the past is whatever the Party chooses to make it”. (Orwell, op.cit., p.181)

“[B]y far the more important reason for the readjustment of the past is the need to safeguard the infallibility of the Party. It is not merely that speeches, statistics, and records of every kind must be constantly brought up to date in order to show that the predictions of the Party were in all cases right. It is also that no change in doctrine or in political alignment can ever be admitted. For to change one's mind, or even one's policy, is a confession of weakness”. (Ibid., pp.180-181)

Various regimes have adopted this technique of manipulation of history to strengthen their hold on the subjects.

So, Napoleon entrusted the administration of history writing to his Minister of Police. He is also reported to have told this minister that the past be treated in such a manner that anyone who reads that history heaves a sigh of relief on reaching 'our rule' (Gooch,1956 cited in Yadav, 2002).

Similarly, Hitler declared that the more urgent goal of history lay not in the 'objective presentation' of facts but in instilling national pride and in recalling the growth of the united nation due to the efforts of German heroes like Charlemagne, Luther and Bismarck topped by Hitler himself. Consequently, Hitler also erased the French Revolution from the curriculum to prevent the German students from turning into democrats (Southgate, 1996 cited in Yadav, 2002).

Ideologically motivated history was also the norm in USSR. For example, in late 1920s the role of Trotsky was eliminated from narratives of the Great October Revolution, a historical manipulation satirized by George Orwell in his famous novella Animal Farm (1945). This was the result of his questioning the Stalin regime - whether the policy of the Soviet socialist rule was a dictatorship of the proletariat or a dictatorship over them? (Stern, 1970 cited in Yadav, 2002)

The educational establishment in India under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led coalition rule from 1998-2004 also set out on a similar agenda of manipulating history.

This is the introductory chapter of my dissertation submitted at Asian College of Journalism. The whole document can be read here - 

You can read George Orwell's  Nineteen-Eighty Four here - http://orwell.ru/library/novels/1984/english/en_p_1

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Anonymous said...

Vipul, you don't have to divorce logic to prove eyourself a libertarian. 2004 is eight years behind us, so please give us a break. Arjun Singh and Kapil Sibal have thoroughly 'seculrized' the curricula in the great Nehurvian-Marxist tradition. Would you deny that Marxist interpretation has dominated the discourse of Indian curricula for all these years? Were they without any agenda? A whole breed of anti-Hindu historians has been raised on the pillars of "theories" and agenda-driven writing - Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, RS Sharma et al. So please would suggest this is the age of internet. Move beyond ideological convictions; read wide and from different sources. Logically if Leftist narrative of Indian curricula is not termed as Orwellian, why should Rightist be?

BTW, I just stumbled across this site. Have fun!


Vipul Grover said...

Dear Anonymous, I would have loved to get engaged in a discourse with you and get enlightened by your 'wide reading from different sources' if only you hadn't concealed yourself behind anonymity.
Two wrongs do not make a right. Similarly, the given agenda of Hindutva parties can not be justified by accusing any other political outfit of carrying on a similar agenda. This whole thesis is based on the former and by no means advocates or supports any alternative agenda.
And, thanks for taking out time to read this post (I hope you did read it and not just commented on the title).

Vipul Grover said...

And if you get a chance to click on the link of the dissertation and go through the bibliography, you'll be able to appreciate how widely read I am.