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'An Era Of Darkness': Shashi Tharoor's Book On The Raj Invokes The Dark Forces Of Today

02/12/2016 2:34 PM IST | Updated 05/12/2016 9:22 AM IST
Anindito Mukherjee / Reuters

There couldn't have been a more apt time for a book like An Era of Darkness to be written. Just as judges look at past precedents to arrive at a conclusion on a present case, we needed a book that tells us in no uncertain terms about our past darkness, the perpetrators responsible for it, and the modus operandi they used. For we truly are fighting a darkness today. The darkness emanating from phony nationalism. A looming darkness that, if it is not countered head on and expunged, threatens to erode our very understanding of our nation and the values and the belief system that it should uphold.

We need to realise that those who do not consider every human's blood to be of equal value, much like the British did not, are the unmistakable dark forces.

First things first. Never before have we found ourselves in such bewilderment on vital issues relating to nationalism and patriotism. We are suddenly faced with contrasting views on what allegiance to one's country means, what makes one a good citizen, who are the heroes of the nation? Who are the villains? Dangerously, more and more people are falling for the wrong answers.

We live in an era where the villain is being extolled. Where the integrity of our first Prime Minister Pt Jawaharlal Nehru, the builder of modern India, is being questioned. Where the pioneer of the freedom struggle, the Congress party, is the subject of a sinister hate campaign. In An Era of Darkness, consummate debater and author Shashi Tharoor recreates the British Raj with all its horrors and also elucidates the awe-inspiring struggle of India's freedom fighters. He gives us a valuable insight on how dark forces operate and on who are harbingers of hope—it's a valuable lesson at a time when thugs are masquerading as our saviours.

We more or less know that the British harmed us. But we may not have a full understanding of how large the scale of that oppression was. With his painstaking research, Shashi takes us to an era where our forefathers were toiling in opium fields, our economy was being ravaged, our local businesses killed, our exports made unaffordable by levying high tariffs, and education was offered only to produce a generation of clerks.

We need to know this past darkness, where the Indian blood was not valued at all. With man-made famines like the one in Bengal, the British let innumerable people to die. We need to understand this evil in order to see the present hate campaign for what it is. We need to realise that those who do not consider every human's blood to be of equal value, much like the British did not, are the unmistakable dark forces.

Take for example the divisive forces that rule our country today. They are creating such bitterness in our hearts that there is no mass condemnation, leave alone an uprising, against the systematic targeting of the minorities. From the killing of Pune techie Mohsin Sadiq Shaikh, allegedly by Hindu Rashtra Sena activists, barely a week after Narendra Modi took oath as Prime Minister, to the mob lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri over a rumour that he had killed a cow for consumption, there is a constituency of people, under apparent encouragement from the ruling party at the Centre, that is lusting for the blood of minorities. The horrific crime in Dadri was passed off as something that "happens every day" while Shaikh's death was dismissed as an example of "natural repercussions" by Pune MP Anil Shirole of the BJP.

This insightful book that tells you how "divide and rule" is never the approach of a nation-builder. It is the approach of a self-aggrandising tyrant.

Surprisingly, very limited sections of the public voiced any protest. There was not much condemnation of the BJP, which went on to win the state of Maharashtra not long after the gruesome episode in Pune. This is happening because those who stand against humanity have covered up their vile agendas by telling the people loudly and repeatedly that they are the nationalists. Which is why Tharoor's book is so relevant. We need revisit the dark forces of the past and their tactics, in order to be aware of the present day's dark forces.

Shashi has astutely exposed the divide and rule policy of the British. We needed to re-understand this again, with all covert dimensions. For the BJP is making an unprecedented attempt to communalise India and make every Hindu doubt the intentions of their Muslim brethren. Before national elections, there were "pink revolution" theatrics, before the Bihar elections there was a "Pakistan will burst crackers" comment, and before the Assam elections there was a massive campaign to portray bulk of the Muslims as illegal immigrants. The BJP's games are succeeding. And that is why you need to read this insightful book that tells you how "divide and rule" is never the approach of a nation-builder. It is the approach of a self-aggrandising tyrant.

An understanding of the penury of 1947 is necessary if one is to see through PM Modi's absolutely bogus "Congress ne 70 saal me kya kiya" rhetoric.

Tharoor's book also needs to be read to understand who is a nationalist. The BJP and the RSS will perhaps figure top on the list of an average kid when asked who he thinks is a true "desh bhakt." Those of us who know about the absolute zero contribution to the freedom struggle of the RSS, BJP's ideological fountainhead, will also know that irony just jumped from the tallest building on the street. But more people need to know these historical facts. By creating a lively description of thousands and thousands of people who sacrificed their blood for freedom, their immense pain and perseverance, their absolutely selfless and agenda-free service for the country, the long struggle of the leaders of the Congress, their unshakable resolution in the face of insurmountable hardship, Tharoor's narration will make you laugh at people who pat their own backs after screaming "Bharat Mata ki Jai" from the comfort of Facebook or Twitter.

An Era of Darkness will also tell you what a sorry state the country was in when it achieved freedom. An understanding of the penury of 1947 is necessary if one is to see through PM Modi's absolutely bogus "Congress ne 70 saal me kya kiya (what has the Congress done in 70 years)" rhetoric that he repeats in every public address. When you know where we were when we started our journey as an independent country, you get to also know how much effort it must have taken Congressmen, in particular Pt Nehru, to build the nation from scratch.

Tharoor tells us while the Muslim rulers may have been outsiders, they did not drain the wealth of the country to any other foreign nation.

Tharoor's book serves another useful purpose. It defeats the false narrative that Muslim rulers were necessarily tyrants. Tharoor tells us while they have been outsiders, they did not drain the wealth of the country to any other foreign nation. He makes a case that it was under the Muslim rulers that India's share grew up to become more than a quarter of the world's trade. It's a thought-provoking counter to the polarising and oft-repeated argument that "Muslims destroyed India."

Lastly, at a time when debate has been reduced to a cacophony of slogans and insults by bhakts, Tharoor's writing, with its expansive case studies and citations and sustained argument, all augmented by his felicity of language, may just come as an eye-opener to us all.

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